After staying afloat through pandemic, River Bluff preparing to open new KC location


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River Bluff Brewing opened its Frederick Avenue location a little over two years ago. The brewery is now preparing to open a second location in downtown Kansas City. Photo by Tommy Rezac.


St. Joseph Post

River Bluff Brewing is relatively new to St. Joseph.

“A little over two years ago,” said Co-Founder and Vice President Edison Derr when asked about the brewery’s opening.

“Holy smoke.”

It wasn’t long before the local brewery on Frederick Avenue became a popular spot. The Chiefs who made the Super Bowl in 2020 certainly helped the business.

“Last year’s Super Bowl was a good time for us here,” said Derr. “We gave away a shirt … it was a good time.”

Then came March. We all know what happened next. Theaters, hair salons, entertainment venues, bars, restaurants and non-essential stores all had to close their doors after COVID-19.

River Bluff was closed for more than six weeks. And like so many others, their co-workers did what they could to stay afloat. In the case of River Bluff, that meant filling the growlers and taking them to the parking lot to fill an avalanche of to-go orders.

“We were pretty busy,” Derr recalled. “There were three of us and we ran around the parking lot to take orders. And although the service wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be, ”he chuckled,“ luckily everyone appreciated it. And we really appreciated them.

“There were sure to be some exhausting nights when we ran around. We tense up, stretch each other’s calves, and just try to bring beer to people. “

River Bluff eventually switched to cans for their to-go orders, which helped relieve the stress. And the cramps.

The to-go orders helped, but the pandemic took its toll.

“We stayed … pretty well,” said Derr. “Even, I would say, you know? If that. But our employees never … they really haven’t lost any tact. “

Everyone kept their jobs, but money was tight. Derr and co-founder Chris Lanman wanted to find a way to keep their business growing and keep their employees on the books.

In late summer, they began exploring the idea of ​​a new second location in Kansas City.

“We were just doing a lot of brainstorming,” said Derr. “One of the options was to find an affordable place. You know, if we’re stuck at 50 percent or less (capacity) forever, maybe the best way to move forward would be if the numbers are right and have about the same number of workers. ”

The search for the second location really didn’t take long.

“We loved the first place we went,” said Derr. “We kept looking and in every place we went we kept comparing to first place, so we got first place.”

That first location was the historic Kansas City Water Department building at 201 South Main Street in River Market – a brick structure that first opened in 1904 and listed on the National Registrar or Historic Places 90 years later.

Derr is south of the Missouri River and a stone’s throw north of the Power and Light District. He is confident that the experience will be almost identical to that at St. Joseph.

“We hope to keep the atmosphere very similar,” he said. “We hope we’re just as lucky to be hiring some of the world’s greatest people to help us.”

The new location will bring a mix of new beer and some of the most popular options in St. Joe.

“We’re going to have some of the similar beers,” said Derr. “Our staples are selling really well up here and people get angry when we drive off, so let’s take them down there too.”

The exact first day is not yet known, but management is optimistic that it will open in late spring or early summer.

River Bluff is also renting a kitchen at the new location so they can serve food in Kansas City – something that isn’t on the menu in St. Joseph.

After a difficult year and a mix of old and new in the heart of Kansas City, Derr hopes a second River Bluff brewery will mark better times – both for his company and for everyone else.

“We work hard,” said Derr. “Our people up here work hard and we can’t wait to see everyone after their vaccinations and after getting the okay from the CDC and the government and everything to come back to life.

“Let’s do it, let’s have a good time, man. Life isn’t fun if you can’t smile and have a beer, you know? “

You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.



Robert Dunfee