Couple Plans Artisan Food Hall in Lake Mirror Brewery

Jon and Sarah BucklewJon and Sarah Bucklew have big plans for the former Lakeland Brewing Co. building on Lake Mirror: They’re converting it into an artisan food hall with six or seven eateries and a brewery/tasting room.

The Bucklews want to capture the vibe they experienced at urban food halls they encountered when they traveled frequently in previous careers — he was the drummer for Copeland for six years and she was a software rep.

Some nearby examples of the kind of food experience they envision are at Tampa’s Armature Works and Orlando’s East End Market, though both are much larger than the Lakeland project.

The idea sprouted when Jon, 40, and Sarah, 36, were looking for a new home for Seventeen20, their company that designs and hand crafts minimalist/industrial home furniture.

Originally they wanted to combine a furniture plant and food hall in a single facility, but the properties they looked at didn’t work out. Then they started looking at the former Lakeland Brewing facility at 640 E. Main Street.

Jon and Sarah Bucklew
Jon and Sarah Bucklew

The Bucklews put together a proposal that no longer included a furniture plant and presented it to building owner Wesley Beck and his business partners. They got the go-ahead and now they’re working full speed trying to get the business running by next April, a timeline they concede is ambitious.

The couple envisions a mix of food vendors: coffee, breakfast/brunch, wood-fired pizza, gourmet street tacos, ramen, desserts, ethnic eateries.

They’re negotiating with potential vendors but say it’s premature to name any specific tenants other than to say they are close to terms with a popular Tampa Bay-area beer maker to brew beer there and operate a public taproom.

They haven’t firmed up a name for the food hall yet, but Sarah has a clear idea of its design. They’re going to sidestep the dark, vintage look favored by many other food emporiums and go for a lighter look that Sarah described as “Florida nostalgia meets Japanese /Scandinavian modern.” It will have bright, bold colors set off with lots of white, black, and wood, she said.

She names West Palm Beach’s light and airy Grandview Public Market as a food hall whose look she admires.

The Bucklews plan to open up the building, removing the drywall and placing large sliding doors to the outside to create an indoor/outdoor, open feel. The main entrance will be moved to the east side of the building (the side facing the existing parking lot), opening up more space for dining on the front patio overlooking Lake Mirror. They also plan a patio at the rear of the building.

Views of Lake Mirror
The front patio offers views of Lake Mirror

The structure needs some attention: roof repairs and expanding air conditioning to cover the whole building.

The Bucklews, who are leasing the property from Beck, are getting help with infrastructure upgrades in the form of a $250,000 grant from the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Authority.

The grant should cover the costs of the HVAC enhancements as well as installing disabled-accessible restrooms, the CRA’s Alis Drumgo says.

Drumgo said the food hall will help “activate Lake Mirror” and called it a no-brainer. He compared the Bucklews’ project to The Hall on Franklin, an 8,000-square-foot “restaurant collective” in Tampa Heights just a few blocks east of the larger Armature Works and closer in size to the 12,000-square-foot Lakeland Brewery building.

In addition to food vendors, the Bucklews are thinking about reserving a space or two for small retail or gift stores. They say they’ve talked with the Catapult Lakeland small-business incubator about rotating some of its entrepreneurs into a space for several months at a time.

Catapult is breaking ground this month on its 38,000-square-foot new facility just three doors down Main Street — the other side of the Amtrak station.

More growth in the neighborhood (bringing more nearby customers) includes the 305-unit Mirrorton apartment-and-town-house community planned just north of the railroad tracks that run behind the food hall. The city of Lakeland and Florida Department of Transportation are looking at several ways to move pedestrians across the tracks, connecting Mirrorton residents with Lake Mirror and downtown.

Other Millennial-friendly neighbors will include a planned city dog park going in under the U.S. 98 overpass at Lake Mirror Drive and Rose Street and just beyond it the Poor Porker complex, which re-launches Oct. 12 with some design changes and a taco truck added to its mix.

Taken together, these projects will “transform how we use Lake Mirror. You’re going to see daily activity,” said Julie Townsend, director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.

The food hall will be getting another neighbor, she said. Beck will be filling in vacant land between the brewery building and the Amtrak station with a modern, three-story office building, she noted, adding, “The north side of Lake Mirror a year from now is going to be completely transformed.”

The circa-1945 future food hall, formerly a dry-cleaning production plant, was converted into a brewery and opened in March 2015 as Lakeland Brewing Co. and Old School Annex. That business closed its doors earlier this year after the bank foreclosed on the property.

At the time, Swan Brewing was about to open seven blocks away on Lake Wire and owner Dan Thumberg told The Ledger, “It serves me no good to not have them in town. Concentration is good for everyone.”

Now Thumberg is taking a wait-and-see approach and trying to be optimistic that Lakeland will support both businesses: “I’m concerned that Lakeland is still a growing craft beer community and I hope that everything can survive. But my concern is that Lakeland is still very, very, very much macro beer centric. I certainly hope that something like this will change that. I’m concerned that Lakeland isn’t like Tampa and Orlando.”

Drumgo says he sees things slightly differently. A big-name brewer will attract fans from Tampa and Orlando and then they’ll discover Lakeland’s other craft-beer offerings, he surmised.