Franklin Street Station on track for opening of gastropub

'We think it's really a boon for downtown Reading'

Franklin Street Station on track for opening of gastropub

READING, Pa. - A Berks County business is planning to "brew" new life into the Franklin Street Station and surrounding area in downtown Reading, immersing itself in the city's rich history of both beer brewing and railroads.

The South Central Transit Authority which oversees BARTA, approved an agreement Wednesday night for Saucony Creek Brewing Company to lease space for a gastropub in the old train station at South Seventh and Franklin Street.

"We settled on the train station for the history of the location, the unique atmosphere," said Kirby Powell, Saucony Creek's vice president of brewery operations. "We're going to be doing decorations and other themes that have to do with the railroad and the brewing industry of Reading."

Saucony Creek said it's been looking to expand beyond its original location near Kutztown for about the last six months to a year, and it explored five possible options in center city before finalizing its decision.

"All of the owners are from Berks County, and we have a vested interest in seeing the city of Reading thrive and do better, and we see an opportunity there with the Santander Arena, with the DoubleTree Hotel, and the need for additional restaurants and a taproom," Powell said.

While it won't be brewing beer in Reading, Saucony Creek said it will take advantage of the train station's unique features to build upon the "adventurous beers" and locally-sourced ingredients its gastropub in Maxatawny Township has become known for.

"That's really what we're looking to accomplish, is not just good food, good beer, good service. That's a price of admission. We know that," said Julie Kline, Saucony Creek's vice president of pub operations. "We want to create that experience that really harkens back to the traditions of Reading and the Reading Railroad."

Saucony Creek will pay the market rate of $12 per square-foot to lease the station for a period of five years, with the option of two five-year renewals, said Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who serves as vice chairman of the SCTA board.

"They're actually going to have about 120 seats. We provide 36 parking spaces on the surface lot there and an additional 50 at the parking garage that BARTA actually owns adjacent to it," Barnhardt said. "There's more that's coming to downtown Reading. This is the start of something big."

The station, which has been closed since Berks County saw the end of passenger train service in 1981, has sat empty since the completion of a $5-million restoration project in 2013, despite ongoing efforts to find a tenant. Now, it appears the station is on tap to be bustling once again.

"We think it's really a boon for downtown Reading," Barnhardt said. "They're really going to promote very, very hard the lunch traffic, as well as the evening traffic for events downtown."

"Some quick and healthy lunch options in the pub that they can come and enjoy," Kline added. "We want to cater to our visitors coming in from out of town to see a show or something at the performing arts theater."

Maxatawny's food menu features locally-sourced ingredients used to make items like fermented black bean hummus, a quinoa taco bowl, a meatball and sausage flatbread, and a pickle-brined grilled chicken sandwich. Kline said to expect similar offerings on the menu in Reading.

"Our menu theme is really about honoring the traditions of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, but also, our chef, Alice Schneck, is very creative in her flavor profile, so adding a little adventure as well, for people that want something a little different," Kline said. "So, being able to have that eclectic menu that caters to both people that prefer those traditional tastes and those that are looking for something a little more dynamic and interesting will definitely be a part of our menu there."

Saucony Creek said it hopes to open in downtown Reading within six months of signing the lease with the SCTA.

"We have to build a kitchen, we have to build a bar, and do all the decoration, so that will take a little bit of time," Powell said.

In the meantime, it's looking to expand its original location in Maxatawny Township, where it will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month.

"We're very committed to this location," Kline said. "This is where our roots are. We want to honor these roots, and we'll continue to brew the beer here and add some additional outdoor seating here to serve our clients in the warm months and make sure that the people in the northern Reading and Lehigh area also have a fun place to come to."

And there's always the possibility of adding a third location.

"We want to move to Reading as our first step, and there's not to say that we won't be moving to another location in another year or two, after we get this location successfully running," Powell said.

Saucony Creek, known for such beers as the Maple Mistress Ale, Stonefly IPA, Kutztown Lager, and Schnickelfritz Chocolate Stout, is also looking to grow its distribution network beyond its existing footprint of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The SCTA board also approved Wednesday night a renewal of its agreement with the Federal Taphouse to lease space at its parking garage on North Queen Street in downtown Lancaster.

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