Greg Piecora evaluated a number of places to locate his business, Wops Hops Brewing Co. Conventional wisdom dictated that Winter Park and Maitland were among the top choices.
Piecora chose Sanford.
“I love a city with personality, and Sanford has personality,” Piecora says. “We could have been anywhere, but this city has a heartbeat. The history, the people, the vibe — this place is real.”
What’s also real is Piecora’s dream to turn his passion — brewing — into a full-fledged business.
Piecora and his partner, Peter Minelga, recently signed a lease at 419 S. Sanford Ave., better known to locals as the Stokes Fish Market building. The business will occupy about 1,000 square feet on the south side of the building.
The partners are currently working with the city of Sanford — “They’ve been very helpful,” says Minelga — to get approvals and building permits. They hope to begin the interior build out April 10, after which a 3-barrel system capable of brewing 96 gallons of beer about every two weeks will be installed.
In addition to the brewing area, the Wops Hops facility will have a small 16-seat tasting room, as well as an outdoor area capable of seating about 30 people.
Piecora hopes to open the tasting room in mid August once the streetscape project on Sanford Avenue is completed.
“Right now the area is a mess, but it’s going to be nice once it’s finished,” says Piecora. “We’re excited to be a part of returning Sanford Avenue to its former glory.”
Minelga says most of the beer the company brews will be consumed locally, either through the tasting room or at Sanford pubs and restaurants. Marco Dino’s Italian Ristorante has been serving Wops Hops beer for about 18 months, and the partners say they are in negotiations with an Irish pub in Ormond Beach to have their beer on tap.
“The long-term plan is to distribute locally — Sanford, Orlando, as well as Volusia, Brevard and St Johns counties,” says Minelga. “We’re going to live within our growth capacity so we can stay very hands on with the business.”
Wops Hops will have two employees — Piecora and Minelga — to start, but plans to add assistant brewers, sales and taste room staff as the business grows.
Piecora, a Navy veteran who recently retired from the Florida Department of Corrections, was introduced to craft beer brewing during a scuba trip to Yap Island in the western Pacific Ocean. The hotel had an on-site brewery. Piecora spent a lot of time talking with the brew master and was intrigued with the process.
“It’s a combination of skills,” says Piecora. “There’s the artistic side of a chef to come up with flavor combinations, and the scientific side of making sure the chemistry is right in your brewing process.”
He liked the idea that craft beer, unlike wine, offered the ability to experiment with different ingredients.
“With wine, a pinot has to be a pinot, you can’t add honey or oats,” says Piecora. “In craft beer you can add vanilla or pecans, whatever you can dream up.”
That can lead to some amazing beers, as well as some less than drinkable beverages.
“I once tasted a smoked wood bacon light brown ale,” Piecora recalls. “Probably the worst beer I ever had.”
Piecora’s brews won’t earn that title, but he does admit he has poured gallons of beer down the drain.
“I’ll dump a whole batch. If I don’t like it, I won’t serve it,” he says.
Evidently lots of people like his beer. Since Piecora began serious brewing in 2006, Wops Hops lineup of beers — Sweet Potato Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Honey Nut Brown and Roman Red IPA — have won a number of local awards.
“Friends and family will always give you high marks, but beer geeks have no problem telling you your beer stinks,” says Piecora. “That’s why we’re so encouraged because we consistently get nothing but positive feedback from those guys.”
For more information and updates on Wops Hops Brewing Co., “like” them on Facebook.
— By Dan Ping