Eli and Taylor Facchinei believe their microbrewery can help play an important role in the revitalization of the borough downtown business district.
By Matt Skoufalos | Photos by Tricia Burrough
Ten months ago, the building at the corner of West Clinton Avenue was a darkened hulk of cinderblock; a quiet, shuttered warehouse at the edge of the neighborhood in downtown Oaklyn.
These days, however, it has a much different feel.
Sunlight pours in from garage-door windows, cascading across an interior room framed by natural wood and corrugated metal. Stainless steel tanks loom off to one side, the demarcation between the warehousing and production guts of a microbrewery and its handmade tasting room. The space thrums with up-tempo, instrumental folk music and the faint odor of fresh grains.
This is Tonewood Brewing, the family business from brothers Eli and Taylor Facchinei of Atco, and the road they’ve taken to get here is a winding one. From failed starts in alternative locations to an extended waiting game for their operating permit, the pair have spent the months since signing their lease with their heads down in the work of getting the building online. After a green light last week from the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, they can actually begin the business of brewing beer.
“Working at a brewery and building a brewery are two different animals,” Eli Facchinei said. “All the decisions and choices to be made, they don’t end. The logistics of pulling it all together is pretty crazy.”
For a June 4 grand opening, Eli Facchinei wants to have a minimum of eight brews on hand, all of which he describes as interpretations of classic beer styles: an American amber ale, an American pale ale, an IPA, a double IPA, a saison, a Belgian Golden Strong, a stout, and a Mexican Lager. Rather than pushing towards boutique flavors, he said the brewers will place their emphasis on high-quality ingredients and traditional recipes.
“Beer’s an agricultural product,” Eli Facchinei said. “Just as in any agricultural product, without enough quality, it doesn’t make it. We’re sourcing the best quality malt, the best quality hops, the healthiest, happiest yeast; all those things work in harmony together.”
Just as important to the Facchineis as the philosophy of craftsmanship in their recipes is an emphasis on beer education. The Tonewood tasting room combines a hand-made, homey vibe while also keeping the industrial process of brewing close at hand. Its intention is to showcase “production of a local product for the local community” in a space where business operations dovetail with social gatherings, Eli Facchinei said.
“[Among area microbreweries], I think we’re probably the closest taps from where the beer is being served to where the beer is actually being boiled and brewed,” he said.
“The beginning is five feet away from the end; it brings it full circle. When we’re serving a pint up to our customers, it allows to not just talk about the beer to them, but to be able to point to what we’re talking about, how it’s being made, and give them a visual idea of what we’re talking about.”
Those conversations are important, Eli Facchinei said, because they help link people to process in ways that are valuable to the local economy. A nationwide boom in craft brewing means that interest in independent operations like his has never been greater, yet the marketplace has also quickly become crowded. When brewers can make connections with their customers on a one-to-one level, the strength of that relationship carries from the tasting room to their next purchases.
“Whenever I’m in a new setting, I’m always seeking out the local beer that’s being made by the local brewery,” Eli Facchinei said. “That’s what we want to be. It’s hard to connect with just a pint glass and the beer. We want our customers to enjoy our beer, and then come have a conversation with us about why we brew what we brew, why we choose the ingredients that we choose, what our philosophy is, and be able to hear it straight from one of us.”
The Facchineis have labored by hand to make their mark on the space. Patriarch Jim Facchinei served as general contractor on the job, completing all the structural steelwork, remodeling the bathrooms, and overseeing the carpentry of everything from the bar to the acoustic baffles on the ceiling.
Eli and Taylor’s mother, Anne Facchinei, hand-painted the faux brick interior and Tonewood logo in the tasting room while her sons built the bulk of the brewery operations, dug out drains, and poured flooring.
“The wood in the building project is sourced from our friend’s mill, Connorwood Farms,” Eli Facchinei said. “Tommy [Marchetty] at The Factory built our railings, [and]our friend Jules [D’Alonzo] helped us out whenever he was free, for free.
“There’s been a lot of people that have lent a lot of hands that have allowed us to build a space that we’re proud of,” he said.
“You’re more invested if you do all the work yourself,” Taylor Facchinei said. “Anyone can hire someone to do all the work, but it’s a different kind of accomplishment if you can say you put the blood and sweat into building it out. I think it’s going to be a cornerstone of the community.”
From the steel ceiling fans to the Edison bulb lighting to the reclaimed wood interior, the brewery offers a lot of details that help achieve the personal experience Taylor Facchinei wants guests to enjoy. It’s also intentionally missing the influence of televisions and screen displays.
“We want people to talk to each other and connect with each other, and not just stare at the baseball game or football game, or whatever’s on,” he said.
While guests will appreciate the attention to detail in the design of the brewery, beer aficionados will appreciate some of its unique offerings. Microbreweries typically sell kegs and growlers and either cans or bottles of their beer. Tonewood is one of the only breweries in the area to offer the “crowler,” a 32-ounce can-growler hybrid filled and seamed at the bar. Eli Facchinei said its advantages over the typical growler include greater portability, a longer shelf life (a few weeks versus a few days), and no need to purchase glassware.
“I like getting a nice, fresh craft beer from a local brewery, but I’m terrible at remembering to bring a growler to the brewery itself,” he said. “[The crowler is] something that people can hold onto for a few weeks in their fridge, and share with someone at a later date. It’s fully recyclable.”
Although it’s designed for maximum hospitality and customer education, the underlying purpose of Tonewood is production brewing, and Eli Facchinei is most concerned with his facility providing a consistent product as it drives toward sustainability.
“We want to be the local downtown craft brewery with a relatively small distribution footprint,” he said. “Small, sustained growth is our goal. That way we can make sure that we can handle managing the quality of the product ourselves.”
The Facchineis are also cognizant of the position their business occupies in the larger context of the Oaklyn downtown. The borough has pushed for redevelopment—in finding new occupants for some vacant storefronts, courting others, and working to renovate the municipal parking lot adjacent to the brewery—and Tonewood has been viewed as a critical amenity to its renaissance.
As the business grows, the Facchineis are planning to add a beer garden with al fresco seating and a pergola to enhance their foot traffic, and are forming partnerships in the district to enhance its overall health.
“We’re hoping to really cross-market and work closely with the guys at the [Oaklyn] Manor,” Eli Facchinei said.
“We’re bookending this downtown, and I think between the two of us, if we can create a reason for people to come out, it’ll help everyone meet their neighbors, help fill up the other storefronts, and help the businesses that are in town already,” he said.
“It’s exciting,” said Taylor Facchinei. “I’m ready for people to come share a beer with us.”
To view an extended gallery of images from Tonewood Brewery, click here to follow Tricia Burrough’s blog at Lilac Blossom Photography.
Get more local news that matters. Check out NJ Pen on Facebook and Twitter, [tinypass_offer text=”or click here to become a supporter.”]