On Friday, the couple were inspecting progress on their latest venture — a cidery in a former car dealership in downtown Norton.
“We see an opportunity here in Norton with the intersection of two major highways, two hospitals and Kentucky just a few miles away,” Greg said as he stood in the middle of what decades ago was an automobile showroom on Park Avenue.
In 2016, the Baileys opened Sugar Hill Brewing Co. in St. Paul. On the strength of word-of-mouth, good marketing and good timing with the Spearhead Trail system development and town tourism development efforts, the brewery and restaurant began attracting customers from the Tri Cities area, across southwest Virginia and neighboring states. That got the attention of Norton city officials in 2017.
“It just happened that the time (City Manager Fred Ramey) asked to talk with us, we were in a moment of weakness,” Jennifer said with a laugh. “We looked at this building and thought, ‘How perfect.’ We thought about the idea and then it occurred to us, ‘What if we started a cidery?’ ”
Jennifer said she and Greg talked with their brewer at Sugar Hill about the idea.
“He said, ‘I can be a ciderer. I can ferment anything,’ ” she said.
Later that year, a state Department of Agriculture official was eating at the brewery, and a conversation with the Baileys turned to the cidery idea.
“It was like doors started opening,” Jennifer said.
The official said loans and grants were available for using Virginia agricultural products in ventures like a cidery. With Norton’s interest in the Baileys’ success in St. Paul and the city’s receipt of grants, the cidery was turning into a funded business plan.
The Baileys and Norton both have financial stakes in the project. Norton is using about $400,000 of a $700,000 state downtown revitalization grant to renovate the building’s exterior and develop parking around the building. Ramey said the city is also using another $480,000 in state Industrial Revitalization Fund monies for basic interior renovations — part for removing debris and old structures inside the cidery’s space and part for updating a garage in the rear structure that has been used for the city’s farmers market and other events.
The Baileys have already received a $50,000 loan for the cidery part of the business from the Virginia Department of Agriculture that will become a grant after the cidery has completed three years of operation, Greg said. Another $90,000 U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan from First Bank and Trust will help develop the restaurant and cidery, and Jennifer said at least two more loans could be finalized soon.
Because of Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission laws and regulations, the Baileys could not be joint owners of both the brewery and cidery, so Greg is now in charge of the St. Paul location and Jennifer is in charge of the cidery. Just as beer and cider are different yet similar in how they are produced, Jennifer said the two businesses will also be different yet similar.
“The menus here will be different from what’s at St. Paul, but we’ll serve some items that we have there over here, and St. Paul will have some items we’ll have here,” Jennifer said. “We’ll serve some of the beers we make at St. Paul, and St. Paul will serve some of the ciders we’ll make here.”
As in the St. Paul site, the Baileys decided to keep bare brick walls in the cidery but went with open-frame ceiling girders and ductwork to give an industrial feel to the restaurant.
While Sugar Hill has been distributing its beers in kegs, Bailey said it will start bottling its beers and ciders for sale in area stores by late 2019.