A 1951 Sanborn map of Times Square overlayed with a contemporary aerial showing I-95.
After the demolition of Times Square, the Kings Avenue/Philips Highway corridor redeveloped as a car-centered commercial and industrial strip, characterized particularly by the hotels, car dealerships and industrial spaces still present today. As these buildings aged, the corridor came to be seen as a particularly distressed part of the Urban Core. Lately, however, it has seen a flurry of new construction and adaptive reuse projects, spurred by the opening of the I-95 interchange as well as the inclusion of the area in an Opportunity Zones, which provide tax breaks in designated low income areas with the intention of spurring development and investment. Tepeyolot stands to both contribute to and take advantage of the new interest in the corridor.
Behind the bar
Another proposed rendering of Tepeyolot.
Tepeyolot will be Melgarejo’s first startup brewery, but he comes into it with six years of experience in the craft brewing industry. Born in Mexico and raised in Orlando, he had been brewing at home for several years when he decided he wanted to go pro. “This was something I wanted to do since I was home brewing, but I didn’t just want to just jump into it,” he said. He took a job at Alligator Brewing, a small brewing operation formerly located inside Downtown Gainesville’s erstwhile restaurant Tall Paul’s, before he and his wife pulled up stakes to become part of the booming beer scene of Asheville, North Carolina.
“What I wanted to do was get more experience, more knowledge, and do it right,” he said. During his four years in Asheville, Melgarejo worked in several aspects of the brewing industry. “When I had the chance to do my own thing, I wanted to know that I knew what I was doing, and I could do it right,” he said. One particularly valuable experience was at Land of the Sky Mobile Canning, which provided canning services for dozens of breweries stretching from South Carolina to Virginia. This helped Melgarejo learn the ins and outs of working in breweries of all sizes. “I was there talking to the owners, being in the middle of it, feeling what it felt like in different kinds of setups,” he said.
When it came time to launch his own brewery, Melgarejo and his wife decided to come back to Florida to be closer to family. “My wife didn’t like the cold in North Carolina, so that was also a bit of a factor,” said Melgarejo. Jacksonville provided what they were looking for: “We wanted to find somewhere that we liked, and that was doing well,” he said. Melgarejo determined that the city was home to a thriving brewing scene that still had room for newcomers. “I think in the past 4 or 5 years, you’ve definitely seen Jacksonville grow. It was developing into somewhere that we saw ourselves living for the rest of time, more or less.”
In choosing a location, Melgarejo knew he wanted to be in the Urban Core. “I like the community aspect, which is why I was looking at San Marco, Riverside, Five Points,” he said. But with available space in those hot neighborhoods increasingly limited, he started casting a wider net, eventually coming across the Kings Avenue building. He jumped at it immediately. “When I saw this place go up for lease, I said man, this is where I want us to end up.”
Melgarejo knows the competition Tepeyolot will face breaking into Jacksonville’s growing brewing scene. “Even two years ago, there were barely a dozen breweries in Jax. That’s definitely ramped up,” he says. As of November 2019, there are 23 craft breweries in Duval County alone, with 11 more in the suburban counties and several others in the works. But Melgarejo hopes his distinctive concept and neighborhood focus will help Tepeyolot carve out its own niche. “I still think there’s a really big market… my vision for what I want to do is more of a local bar. I want to cater to the people of San Marco. My main goal is you come in and it’s welcoming, it’s familiar, it’s somewhere you enjoy to go.”
Melgarejo hopes to open Tepeyolot Cerveceria in spring 2020.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at email@example.com.