toast of the town
SETTING THE BAR (WITH A SPLASH)
Three Reno friends brew a winning mix of creativity, craft, and caring.
WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTOS BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN
The year is 2005. Longtime friends Zachary Cage, Michael Connolly, and Chris Kahl are college graduates with business degrees and easygoing personalities. They figure they’d work well together and agree to pool their resources to start a business. While they don’t have a ton of money, they have miles of vision and entrepreneurial spirit to match.
“We looked at everything, from service stations to laundromats,” Cage says. “We were open to any good opportunity.”
That opportunity came in the form of Legends Grill, Sports and Spirits in Reno, which they launched in 2005 with the help of family and friends.
“If it hadn’t been for their generosity, not only with money, but with time and labor, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Kahl says.
The partners dove into the food and beverage business, always with an eye toward providing extraordinary products and service. At the time, locally made brews were just establishing a foothold, and that grabbed their attention.
“We watched the success of Silver Peak (at the Wonder Street location) and thought craft beers might be the way to go,” Connolly says. “Within a year (of opening Legends), we opened Sierra Tap House, partnering with Sierra Nevada Brewing (Co. in Chico) to serve their beer.”
The downtown Reno location on the Truckee River, a stone’s throw from event-filled Wingfield Park, proved a success. Continuing to invest in downtown made sense to the three, who were committed to building their lives in Reno. They snapped up another riverfront location, and in 2009 they opened Ole Bridge Pub — a European-style pub serving craft beers, wine, and well drinks — at 5 N. Sierra St., and nationally recognized Campo restaurant popped up next door two years later.
“Then the craft beer market took off,” Cage says. “Pretty soon, we were all competing for the same customers. We were fine, but figured it was time to make our own beers.”
The three men found another downtown location and hired brewmasters with creative spirits that matched their own. In 2012, The Brewer’s Cabinet opened on the corner of Arlington and California avenues in Reno, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with their craft beers, wine, and spirits. By 2015, they’d mastered the art of brewing, down to nuancing flavor by storing beer in oak barrels from wineries and distilleries. Trellised hops, grown just for fun, add a beer theme to the outdoor garden patio.
When breweries popped up all over Reno, the partners started thinking bigger. That meant distribution, and distribution required two things: the ability to can large quantities of beer and create a signature name. They purchased a building for a brewery in West Reno (near Patagonia’s distribution center) and brainstormed for a name that reflected the local area. Tahoe Beer came to mind — a name firmly rooted in Nevada history. Max Stenz coined the name in 1913 after he purchased what was to become Nevada’s longest-operating brewery, the Carson Brewing Co., which sold its first beer in 1860. While operations ended in 1948, various companies have used the name throughout the years, including Wisconsin brewer Mark Lang.
“We knew about Tahoe Beer growing up and loved the idea of using the historic name to brand our beer. So we acquired the rights to it,” Kahl says.
Now in operation, the new brewery is churning out four varieties of ale, with room to expand. Tahoe Beer already is sold at The Brewer’s Cabinet, in local bars, restaurants, and Raley’s Supermarkets. If the trio’s efforts go as planned, this is only the beginning.
Despite operating five different businesses, the partners give each the attention it needs. Connolly and Kahl are hands-on managers, while Cage works behind the scenes.
“Our priority always is to give our customers the best experience possible,” Kahl says. “That just means we work a lot.”
Although banks now back their ventures, the three haven’t forgotten their humble start. They support the community in every way — from the use of local products to promoting business growth by offering low-interest loans to hopeful entrepreneurs from their nonprofit organization, The Reno Rebuild Project, funded primarily by a nickel from every sale in each of their establishments. So far, two businesses they have supported are Café DeLuxe and Bella Bucha Kombucha, both in Reno.
Equally valuable is the collaborative spirit they’ve created amongst fellow brewers, restaurateurs, and local business owners. The result is corporate buy-in and sponsorship for The Reno Rebuild Project, and joint ventures that boost the local economy and aid charitable entities.
It’s only natural that other alliances include beer making. The partners have taken to crafting custom beers with chefs from restaurants such as Campo, Peppermill Hotel Resort Casino, Old Granite Street Eatery, SouthCreek Pizza Co., and Louis’ Basque Corner, other breweries such as Silver Peak Brewery, and even general businesses (including surgeons from Great Basin Orthopaedics). Proceeds from the sales of these special brews all are donated to nonprofits such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, C.A.R.E. Chest of Sierra Nevada, and High Fives Foundation. The collaborations not only fundraise, but also gain attention for local businesses, a goal of the three entrepreneurs.
“We do what we can to keep consumers shopping, eating, and drinking here,” Cage says.
They’ve even supplied their beer to a local brewer when the brewer ran out of product.
“We’re really all in this together,” Connolly says. “We see how great Reno can be, and we want to keep that going.”
Freelance writer Sue Edmondson has written for various publications in Nevada and California. She wishes she could manage anything half as well as Kahl, Connolly, and Cage manage five busy restaurants and bars.
Interested in serving or selling Tahoe Beer? It’s available wholesale for Reno and Sparks customers via Morrey Distributing Co., for Carson Valley and the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe customers via Capital Beverages, and for Truckee and the California side of Lake Tahoe customers via DBI Beverage Inc.
Legends Grill, Sports and Spirits
6015 S. Virginia St., Ste. J, Reno
Ole Bridge Pub
50 N. Sierra St., Reno
Sierra Tap House
253 W. First St., Reno
The Brewer’s Cabinet
475 S. Arlington Ave., Reno
Reno Rebuild Project