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Long-awaited Ward 1 BBQ and brewery still on the menu

After a being delayed a few years, Ward 1 Brewing Co. plans to open in the next few months more focused on the barbecue side of things, says owner
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Ian Leis and girlfriend Jessica Hurren pose outside the not yet open Ward 1 Brewing Co. in Guelph/Eramosa Township. Leis originally hoped to open in Guelph's Ward 1 but was unable to find a suitable location. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

GUELPH/ERAMOSA – It may have required a little more work, a little more time and a little more money than expected — and a slight pivot in the business’ direction — but a long-awaited barbecue and brewery on Highway 6 is still happening, the owner said. 

Ian Leis, with his partner and brains of the operation Jessica Hurren, said Ward 1 Brewing Co. is aiming to open at the corner of Highway 6 and Guelph-Nichol Townline  – between Guelph and Fergus – in the next couple months. 

It had already been a several-year journey when Leis told GuelphToday back in July 2020 that they were aiming for the spring.

“I think it’s a combination of both work, time, money and then this just being a much bigger project than one person or one couple should have been taking on,” Leis said in a phone interview on what’s caused the delay.

Leis was already an electrician and ended up being pushed by his partner to get his master’s and start a new business to have another income stream to support opening Ward 1 Brewing Co. 

“In retrospect, I would have started the electrical company, met up with a few other contractors who had money to blow and then open up something that wasn't a make-or-break sort of project and more of a fun project.”

The original plan when they bought the former restaurant years ago, Leis explained, was for strictly a small craft brewery but was told by the township they’d need to serve food. Soon after they bought a smoker from a Guelph restaurant that went under. 

“Barbecue and beer, yep I love it,” Leis said.

The barbecue ended up being a big hit. For a period they sold it out of Frank and Steins, which Leis said did well, and had success doing takeout orders. On a Father’s Day, Leis said the entire 500 lb smoker was filled and sold out. 

“We’ve had so much attention from the barbecue game that there’s no point in holding it hostage any longer for the craft brew side,” Leis said, referencing supply chain issues holding back to necessary parts for brewing.

He noted trends have changed since he first conceived of the brewery seven or so years ago and doesn’t think beer will be driving visitors as much as the barbecue. 

“Craft beer was a very lucrative game (years ago), now every craft brewery wants to add a kitchen because you have to diversify a little bit,” Leis said. 

While the craft beer side of things gets off the ground, Leis said he plans to collaborate with other breweries to have on tap to go with the barbecue restaurant. 

There’s no official opening date but Leis is aiming to have it open in the next couple of months.