VIRGINIA BEACH — If locality is king, then beer is its beverage of choice in Virginia Beach.
That’s why the guys at Young Veterans Brewing Company have decided to expand their business to the heart of the kingdom — the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
“Your location now matters,” said Young Veterans co-owner Neil McCanon. “If you grew up in this town, you know the beach is a powerful place.”
Before Memorial Day, McCanon and his partners, Tom Wilder and Chris Holyfield, plan to open the doors to their new venture: The Bunker.
Located beneath Peabody’s Nightclub, the 211 21st St. building was once home to Sharx Sports Grill and, briefly, The Jewish Mother.
Now, the trio are working to transform the 8,000-square-foot space into a brew pub that will cater to families living around and visiting the beach, as well as those who want to party on its shores.
“We are in the heart of it,” Holyfield said. “There’s no better place for great exposure.”
Food and entertainment allowed
When The Bunker opens, guests will walk through the front doors into a 125-seat restaurant decked out in chrome, concrete slate and olive drab green, which is the Young Veterans’ signature color.
Much like the Young Veterans Brewing Company headquarters on Horse Pasture Road, the walls will be lined with vintage military propaganda posters from long-ago wars and, hopefully, in the future, genuine military artifacts.
The restaurant’s menu isn’t set in stone, yet.
The seasonal menu will feature “southern coastal” cuisine, like shrimp and grits, crab cakes and coastal tacos, Holyfield said.
“We’ll switch it up season-to-season,” Holyfield said. “During the summer time, we’re definitely trying to stay a little more standard just because of the amount of production, but during the off-season we’d love to change it up and really do some things that’ll hit home runs and drive locals into that area.”
The 20-tap bar will feature Young Veterans flagship beers, like Pineapple Grenade Hefeweizen and Jet Noise Double IPA. Although much of the beer will be produced at its flagship location, The Bunker will also have a brewery in the back for making beer on site, including micro batches for new and experimental flavors, Wilder said.
There will also be a few “guest taps” that will serve beers form other local breweries, like nearby Smartmouth Brewing Co. and Back Bay Brewing Co., Wilder said.
Unlike the original Young Veterans brewery, The Bunker will serve wine and spirits.
Production at the flagship brewery will increase to support both The Bunker and the Young Veterans Brewing Company taproom at 2505 Horse Pasture Road.
But, for Wilder and McCanon, the most exciting part of opening The Bunker is the opportunity to reintroduce what was banned at their original brewery location: Entertainment.
It wasn’t by choice that Wilder and McCanon stopped allowing food trucks, bands and games at their original location on Horse Pasture Road.
In November 2016, Southside Daily reported that after investing $1.5 million into the brewery and an expanded taproom, Wilder and McCanon were put on notice by the Navy, and prohibited from using the space for “recreational or amusement purposes or activities,” according to a Sept. 26, 2016 letter sent to Young Veterans by Navy Capt. R. J. Meadows.
Failure to comply could have resulted in litigation, the letter states.
The reason? A restrictive use easement bought by the United States for $900,000 in June 1983. The easement limits activities allowed on about 219 acres of land near Naval Air Station Oceana, according to documents filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
Per the easement, Young Veterans Brewing Company is zoned in an area that’s meant for manufacturing, which is fine for a brewery but not adequate for a taproom.
The zoning classification also means that only 10 percent of the brewery’s space can be used for retail purposes — and none of it is allowed to be used for entertainment.
The restrictions created an environment where Wilder and McCanon felt they couldn’t compete with other Hampton Roads breweries that host festivals, bands, food trucks and charity events.
So last fall, they decided it was time to expand.
“Ultimately where the Navy plays into this is, basically it began the search for another location,” Wilder said. “We lost all of our entertainment value here, so the goal became ‘let’s find a place where we can do that.'”
In addition to the restaurant, about half of the building will be transformed into an entertainment venue called Cadence Hall. Named for traditional military marching music, the Cadence Hall taproom will have its own bar, a stage where local and touring musicians can put on shows, and space for charity events, games and wedding receptions.
“My biggest dream about this is the entertainment side of things,” Wilder said.
“The Bunker is going to be a sweet venue,” McCanon added.
The brew pub and Cadence Hall will be in separate parts of the building, allowing patrons who want a quieter dining experience to coexist with those who are seeking out a more “raucous” time, McCanon said.
“You can host an event or a show on the backside and still keep the restaurant going,” McCanon said.
The trio also want to host charity events, including fundraisers for the Combat Wounded Coalition. Wilder and McCanon are both Army veterans, and credit their experiences in the military to giving them the tenacity to weather the challenges of being small business owners.
“Everything that I didn’t like about myself as a young kid changed because of the military. I became the man I wanted to be,” Wilder said. “When I look back on that, I look back on one specific period of time, and that is basic training, that is my tour in Iraq, that is my time in the military that has made it so that I have the discipline and the wherewithal to even take on this venture.”