Smiley Brewing opens in Melbourne

People sitting at tables at Smiley Brewing's venue

After overcoming delays and challenges, Smiley Brewing founders Trent and Kylie Butcher opened their brewery and taproom in the Melbourne suburb of Pakenham in late August.

Trent has been homebrewing for about 10 years and has 20 years of experience project managing fit-outs of hospitals and aged care facilities. 

While this experience helped Trent manage the fit-out of Smiley Brewing, launching the brewery was still a “learning curve” for him. 

Finding a venue location

Trent said he and his wife started looking for a venue prior to the pandemic, initially in the Cranbourne area, but many vendors and landlords shied away from their brewery plans.

“We found a factory [in Cranbourne] which we were going to buy, and after negotiating with the owner for about four weeks, he pulled out of the deal,” Trent said.

“He owned the building next door that he was also trying to sell and he was a bit concerned that if a brewery opened up next door it might hinder him selling the other building.

“We had about three factories that we found that we tried to lease, and all three of them we had issues with basically as soon as we told the owners that we were setting up a brewery.”

The couple paused their search when Australia went into lockdown in March 2020, resuming later in the year only to be knocked back by more brewery-wary landlords. 

By Christmas 2020, they had found a location and sent the lease to their solicitor for review, but Trent said they had to wait until the new year to hear the outcome of this. 

“In early January, we started chasing them to find out what was happening, and ended up finding out that the building had been leased out to somebody else through another agent,” he said. 

“The owner had dual agent listings, so the agent I was dealing with didn’t even know that was the case.”

It was this agent, however, who suggested the Butchers look at the range of factories that were available in Pakenham’s new industrial area. 

“The first one we looked at we sort of fell in love with, but it was good because there were a few and we were able to negotiate through different owners to try and get the best outcome,” Trent said.

“In the end, we could have gotten a little bit of a better outcome than what we got, but we fell in love with the building that we found due to its corner location and big glass frontage.” 

They signed the lease in March 2021, but it wasn’t an easy journey from there, with Trent saying this is when “the fun and games started.”

High angle shot of Smiley Brewing's brewery and taproom

Development application and building permit issues

Trent said they got stuck in a pattern of receiving requests for information from the Council.

“Straight away parking is what they flagged was an issue. They asked us to get a parking assessment, a traffic assessment, done.”

After the council publicly advertised the development application, two objections regarding parking concerns were lodged from businesses in the area.

The Butchers had a meeting with the Town Planning Department, during which they asked what they could do to get their brewery plans approved. Trent said this included negotiating a reduction in their initial 90-patron capacity.

“We got down as far as saying we would drop down the number to 45 from 90 and we still couldn’t get agreement from them,” he said. 

“Shortly after that meeting, we got a notification from them that they were going to recommend refusal to the Town Planning Committee. 

“The issue that we had was it was November just going into December and that committee wasn’t meeting again until February or March.

“So, straight after that I lodged a VCAT application to take them to VCAT for failure to make a decision because they had well and truly passed the number of days that they were allowed.”

Founder and head brewer at Bandolier Brewing in Warragul, Zander Thompson, contacted Trent via social media offering to have a chat. 

Trent said Thompson, who previously worked as a lawyer, also had some issues with the council when he went through the development application process.

“I spoke to him and he gave me a few pointers, one of which was to try to reach out to the local mayor and the councillors,” Trent said. 

“I wrote a letter to the mayor and the councillors explaining what we were trying to do.

“It was a good move because they were really supportive. The problem then was that we had started the VCAT process, so there was a chain of events that we had to go through.” 

Kylie (left) and Trent (right) Butcher

During their VCAT hearing, which was delayed to April 2022, Trent said a local councillor put forward an alternative motion to approve the development application.

“Every councillor had basically got up to put their support behind what we were trying to do,” he said.

“That was the moment of joy and relief that we had gotten past that hurdle.

“In saying that, that was just the verbal approval, and by the time the actual paperwork for the permit came through, it was July.” 

Trent said that getting their development application approved was progress, but then they were faced with further issues when organising their building permit.

“The building that we’re in is only five years old, but we found out that there were a few non-compliance issues to do with fire services. 

“Incorrect paperwork had been lodged previously when the build was done and it needed to be resolved because it was fire-related.” 

While they worked through these issues, which were resolved when they received their building permit in November 2022, the Butchers also faced challenges that had flow-on effects on their equipment design.

People ordering at the bar at Smiley Brewing's venue

Power supply shortage and equipment changes

Trent worked with Bespoke Brewing Solutions’ Flowmaster, Justin Fox, to design Smiley Brewing’s equipment, but their plans came unstuck when Trent discovered an electricity supply shortage. 

“We were under the assumption when we got the building that we had a fair whack of power coming into the building,” Trent said. 

“It turned out that we didn’t have anywhere near what we thought we did, [so] we applied to the power company to get an upgrade done. 

“It was initially approved and then they came out to inspect it and said what was on site as far as power distribution was no longer up to code. 

“So, any changes that were made to it meant that the whole system had to be brought up to code, which was going… to be tens of thousands of dollars in costs to us.”

Trent went back to Justin Fox from Bespoke to modify their plans, adding to the project’s lead time.

Fox said that Bespoke was already a fair way through production of Smiley Brewing’s hot liquor tank, but they were able to redesign it to suit the available power.

“We… had to halt production on a half constructed HLT, and switch to a direct fire version as it became clearer the planned amps weren’t available,” Fox said.  

“Bespoke installed a 10HL 2 Vessel Direct Fire brewhouse, and 60HL of fermentation capacity.” 

Trent (left) and Kylie (right) Butcher standing with their newly delivered brewing equipment

Advice for navigating council red tape

Fox said those who are planning to set up the first brewery in an area are likely to face council push-back, but this is a strong business model.

“Unfortunately, Trent’s path navigating the various councils and permits is quite common,” Fox said. 

“Being the first brewery in a particular council area is tough, as part of the process becomes educating the council on our industry, and the various reasonable expectations around parking, noise [and] tourism benefits.

“Despite the troubles, being the first small brewery [or] tap room in a particular regional area is still one of the best business models out there, so it’s a path that many more are likely to tackle in the years ahead.”

Smiley Brewing beer paddle

Vision and community support

Since opening, the Smiley Brewing has received much support from the community, as well as local musicians and food trucks interested in offering their services.

Trent said that from the start of their journey, their vision was always to create a community-centred brewery, and this hasn’t changed.

“When we planned to set this place up, our aim was always to set something up for locals. 

“I don’t have grand plans to start running off thousands of cans of beer each month to sell to BWS and Dan Murphy’s. 

“We will have packaged product, but our focus is more going to be on having beer for locals to buy from the taproom [and] supporting some of the local bottle shops – try to be a little local hub.”

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