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In a time when many businesses are struggling, West Oakland’s Ghost Town Brewing is expanding. Last month, the craft brewery acquired a 10-year lease to property at 3506 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland’s Laurel District, where they aim to open a taphouse and beer garden by the end of February. The property is the former location of chef Ryan Farr’s Oakland outpost of 4505 Burgers & BBQ, which operated on the spot for one year before the closure. Farr still owns the space.
“They were one of our customers,” said Ryan Nosek, co-owner and co-founder of Ghost Town Brewing, “and now they’re our landlords.”
Farr shuttered 4505 at the end of July due to the loss of business during the pandemic, but had hoped to reopen the restaurant in spring 2021, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Nosek is unsure why Farr decided not to reopen in the space, but is happy for the opportunity to expand and extend his own business.
“We always loved that space, thought it was a cool neighborhood, and it’s got a good beer garden vibe,” Nosek said. “And it’s completely outdoors, which bodes well for the pandemic, but even post-pandemic.”
“It’s unfortunate that they had to close,” he said, “but at the same time, this expansion is something that we really don’t want to miss.”
A quiet start in West Oakland
Ghost Town Brewing started out quietly as a side project for a group of bandmates. Then in 2018, they opened their flagship brewery and taphouse at 1960 Adeline St. in West Oakland. The four co-founders — Nosek, Sam Carr-Prindle, Jason Gehman and Adam Hill — wanted to serve up quality ales at reasonable prices. When they opened the taproom, they were adamant about creating a type of hangout that they and their neighbors could afford.
Ghost Town prices its beers based on brewing time and ABV content. The longer the brewing time, or the higher the ABV, the more a pint will cost. So beers range in price from $3 Scumbag cream ales at the low end (At only 4.6% ABV, these ales are “highly crushable,” said Nosek) to $7 sour beers, which take longer to produce, at the high end.
Part of the reason Ghost Town is able to offer beer at such prices is because it maintains tight control over production and distribution. It does all its own brewing and all its own delivery, which is no small feat considering production has nearly doubled since Nosh first wrote about Ghost Town in 2018. It now sells its beers as far north as Windsor in Sonoma County, as far south as San Jose, and east to Sacramento. “Basically within a 50-ish mile radius of West Oakland,” said Nosek.
As with many businesses, the coronavirus has forced Ghost Town to reconsider how it had been operating. While it still does a brisk business in draft beer out of its West Oakland taphouse, in the early days of the pandemic Ghost Town pivoted to offering its more than 30 beers in can form. Readers can find Ghost Town ales, IPAs, sours, porters and stouts packaged as four-packs of 16-ounce cans in liquor stores, bottle shops and grocery stores, including Whole Foods and at both Berkeley Bowls. Or they can always pick up beers to-go at Ghost Town’s West Oakland taphouse.
In another bit of good news, Ghost Town never had to lay off or furlough any of its 20-plus employees. Even when one of its staffers tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a temporary shut down last weekend.
On Jan. 8, Nosek confirmed that a sales representative tested positive for COVID-19. Nosek closed the business for two days, to clean and sanitize the facility and test other employees. As of publication, no other Ghost Town employees have tested positive. “Everyone else has tested negative,” said Nosek, “So we’re back in operation, and he’s quarantining and doing well.”
“It’s our first [case] and overall we’ve had pretty good luck over the course of the pandemic,” said Nosek. “We were fortunate because the person in question didn’t have much exposure to the in-house brewing staff, or in a customer-facing role. So it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
What to expect at the new Laurel location
Nosek had hoped to open the second location by California Craft Beer Week, running from Feb. 12-21, but he can’t guarantee the opening date. At any rate, whenever the new location opens it would likely only be for to-go orders anyway.
“We’re envisioning launching with all of our beers that we have here over there,” said Nosek, in growlers, crowlers (32 oz, single-use aluminum cans), and four packs. “We have every single beer that we make available in cans as well.”
Ghost Town’s second location will have two significant differences from its West Oakland flagship. For one, it will be almost entirely outdoors. (“During the spring, summer and fall it should be beautiful out there,” said Nosek.) Should outdoor dining be allowed with social distancing, the space could comfortably accommodate 40 people. And once widespread vaccination is achieved, perhaps 100.
“We’ll have to see how we feel about it once everything is set up,” said Nosek. “It’s more about comfort than stacking bodies.”
Another point of difference is that the MacArthur location will have an in-house restaurant. The taproom in West Oakland does not have an on-site kitchen but has hosted a rotation of food trucks, like Oakland’s Taco Panzon and San Jose’s Mesquite & Oak. Ghost Town also allows patrons to bring their own food. “But we have seen the value of having food there,” said Nosek. “So the new taproom will have a full restaurant on premise.”
Exactly what that restaurant will look like — staff, style, menu — is still being worked out, but it will be Ghost Town-owned and operated, “and hopefully pair well with beer,” said Nosek. Patrons will have plenty of beers to choose from, as Ghost Town is installing 32 draft lines.
Nosek is excited for the opportunity to open in the Laurel neighborhood, an area he describes as “underserved from the craft beer perspective.” When it opens, Ghost Town will join one other business focused on craft beers — Degrees Plato taproom and bottle shop.
“[As a brewer] you could make the case for moving into a highly saturated area like Jack London or Temescal,” he said. Being in such a location could mean plenty of business from casual bar-hoppers and destination drinkers. But Nosek says he has learned from experience that going the less-traveled route has its advantages, too.
“When we opened here in West Oakland, people said, ‘Who’s gonna come out there?’ And it really blew up. And we think that’s true for other neighborhoods as well,” he said. “And even for a city the size of Oakland, driving across town from east to west is something people sometimes don’t feel like doing. So rather than having to come to us, we’ll bring the beer to them.”
Ghost Town Brewing’s soon-to-be second location will be at 3506 MacArthur Blvd. The Ghost Town West Oakland taproom at 1960 Adeline St. is currently open for takeout sales from 2-7 p.m., Monday to Wednesday; noon to 7 p.m., Thursday to Sunday.