When Scott Blackwood walks around a former fire station in Mount Holly, his vision to convert it into a brewery and restaurant comes to life, and he sees an opportunity for the community to be part of the journey.
The longtime restauranteur and East Gaston High grad plans to open Firehawk Brewpub, Mount Holly’s first-known brewery that will feature creek-side dining and southern fare, at the former fire station at 309 N. Main St.
Brewpubs typically refer to breweries that incorporate in-house dining.
Blackwood has worked in the service industry for more than two decades. His most-recent endeavor includes opening The Bottle Tree in 2019, which has since grown into a crowd favorite in the Belmont dining scene. The Mount Holly native sold off his part ownership of The Bottle Tree over the winter.
“I wanted to be as close to home as possible,” said Blackwood, who noted he lives within a brief drive of the future brewpub. “This is a return to home for me. I don’t know if it’ll be the last restaurant I do, but it will probably be where I end up.”
Searching for startup resources on online brewery forums, Blackwood came across Mainvest, a totally-online platform designed to help prospective small businesses raise money. His counter-style concept has generated more than $63,000 from 48 investors on the Mainvest website this year, which Blackwood said will help take care of startup capital.
Rather than donating to a cause using a crowdfunding website, those who invest – ideally someone who lives in the same community as the business they’re investing in – can give a business funds in exchange for a portion of the business’ revenue each quarter.
“You’re not donating. You’re investing,” Blackwood said. “The way it is set up, you get a return on your investment, so it’s definitely not charitable.”
Mainvest takes care of distributing investments to businesses and sending revenue back to investors for a 6% cut of the business’ earnings.
In Firehawk Brewpub’s case, the business has agreed to pay a portion of revenue to those who have invested the minimum amount of $100. Those who invest more than $100 could be in for a number of perks provided by the business, such as discounted merchandise and VIP events. Blackwood has published his business plan for his brewery on Mainvest for investors to review for investing.
But Mainvest warns that investing on the online platform doesn’t rid the risks of traditional investing, and investors can still lose money, according to the website. Those considering investing should make sure they’re in a position to front the money and make sure they fully understand the business they’re investing in.
Mainvest built its platform so that community members can have control over their downtown economic development by empowering local entrepreneurs with investments, according to Mainvest’s website.
Blackwood was immediately sold on the idea.
“For a restaurant like this to be successful, it has to be supported by the community. On this platform, the community is investing in the business, and I just think that’s super cool.”
What to expect
Many aspirations flow through Blackwood’s mind as he tours the 58-year-old fire station Thursday. While the fire trucks moved out around 20 years ago, the 5,800-square-feet shell and large garage doors remain in place, giving him plenty of room to transform the building while nodding to the past.
Blackwood’s memories of growing up in Gaston County are filled with trips to nearby fish camps, barbecue joints and church and family potlucks flooded with casseroles. His fond memories of local fare have an important role in Firehawk Brewpub.
“Lots of grilled meats, lots of smoke and barbecue, lots of fried fish,” he continued, “all things are exceptionally familiar to people in the area.
“My mantra is ‘feed everyone.’”
That also includes a candy wall near the entrance to the future brewpub, which will pay homage to the candy selections at Blackwood’s favorite fish camps.
“As a kid I always loved after eating at the fish camp, my grandmother would give me a couple of quarters and send me to the candy wall,” he said.
Behind the three garage doors would be the main dining room, open kitchen and a full bar featuring cocktails and classic and modern styles of beer made by Firehawk. Blackwood hopes the extend the dining area outside between the garage doors and Main Street.
Firehawk Brewpub – located just a brief sidewalk stroll from the intersection of Main Street and N.C. 27 – sits on an acre of land along Dutchman’s Creek, which connects to the Catawba River downstream.
With the building’s proximity to the U.S. National Whitewater Center and nearby streams, Blackwood hopes to build Firehawk Brewpub up as a dining hub for those who enjoy outdoor recreation.
Plans include a creek-dining area next to the future brewpub, and a potential kayak launch along Dutchman’s Creek. He also hopes to take advantage of Mount Holly’s plans for expanding greenway connections.
“With my experiences during COVID-19, I think the future of dining is going to start moving away from fine dining and focus more on comfort, convenience and a lot of takeout.
“Mount Holly is setting itself up as an outdoor activity lovers oasis,” he said. “Being a brewery… I think it all makes sense that we’ll tap into that here.”
Blackwood – also a musician – plans to incorporate music into Firehawk Brewpub. He envisions local musicians performing on a stage behind the old station for those enjoying food and spirits outdoors.
Blackwood expects Firehawk Brewpub will open in March 2022, with construction beginning this year.
You can reach reporter Gavin Stewart at 704-869-1819 or on Twitter @GavinGazette.