Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown Sanford

For about two years, I biked a long, lonely road each day as part of my commute to work in Downtown Sanford. With nothing but the empty windows of abandoned buildings staring at me like so many eyes, I pedaled for what seemed like an eternity past the familiar vacant landscape between my little bungalow and the gently bustling Downtown scene, wishing there was some spark of life to brighten the dreary ride.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t an eternity– it was like 45 seconds. And it wasn’t some strange, distant abyss, it was three blocks of 2nd street. But that’s how I remember feeling each day biking past the old Dog Day Afternoon and the largely empty lot across the street from it: lonely, quiet, and sad.

Fast forward a year or so to 2018, and all of that is about to change.

Dan St. Pierre, one of the new owners of Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown Sanford

Dan St. Pierre representing Tuffy's Bottle Shop at Sofas and Suds 2017

Credit: Benevolence Photo

Sanford, you might not know Dan St. Pierre, so let me introduce you. Dan is the co-founder of Central 28 Brewery, one of the most popular craft beer breweries in Central Florida (and one of my faves). After a successful career managing some movies you’ve probably never heard of (one starring some sort of Spiderman and something called Hunger Games), Dan turned his focus three years ago to one of his great loves, beer.

Downtown Sanford was the first choice for Central 28, and during the same period of time I was riding my bike past the old Dog Day Afternoon building, little did I know that Dan and co-founders were trying to make it the home of their brewery.

“We wanted this building, but the timing just wasn’t right,” Dan explained to me on a tour of the building just before the holidays. The original vision was a comprehensive brewery, tap room, and beer garden, a place to spend long hours with friends listening to music and drinking great beer, but the building was foreclosed and in the process of switching banks. Nothing was going to slow down the Central 28 team, so they switched course and opened their slightly-slimmed-down-and-simplified concept just across Lake Monroe in Debary in 2015.

Of course, that’s when the original building became available again.

Sanford Indie Market

The new location of Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown Sanford

“Months after we opened the brewery, we got a call asking if we were still interested in the building,” Dan said. “So our Sanford concept has been a few years in the making, it’s just been a matter of putting all the right pieces together.”

Dan and his business partner Chris Halliday will be breathing new life into 200 S. Myrtle Ave with Tuffy’s Bottle Shop and Lounge, a place to enjoy local craft beer and made-on-site cider, with a selection of curated beverages available for sale to take home. The concept will also feature a game room and an extensive beer garden that is almost the same size as the building.

But that’s not the story here, Sanfordites. We know Sanford has a growing reputation as a beer town and attracts thousands of people from all over Central Florida with its huge beer-based events throughout the year. We know that business owners like Paul Williams and Paul Buster have built small empires based on the love of beer and the culture of craft in Downtown Sanford.

This isn’t about “getting another beer bar in Downtown Sanford”, and anyone who frames it that way is missing the point.

What’s exciting here is Dan and Chris’ commitment to the promise of our scene. It’s about gaining two more teammates who are ready and willing to dive head first into a collaborative community, bringing their talents and ideas to the table. Let’s take a quick look at what these guys are doing:

We’re talking about transforming a 9,000 sqft historic building into a new concept that not only complements the growing culture of our downtown district, but takes it new heights, expanding the scope of walkabilty all the way to Myrtle Ave. For reference, that’s five full blocks walk away from Magnolia Square, a block more than the distance to Buster’s Bistro, in the opposite direction.

The future bar area of Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown SanfordThe future bar area of Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown Sanford

The interior of Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown SanfordThe lot across from Tuffy’s is owned by Mark Nation, who is already undertaking extensive repairs to the existing two story structure there, with plans to build up the rest of the lot over the next few years. Piece that together with Palette Coffee Brewery, Fuel BBQ, and the District on the next block and we’re well on the way to connecting the east side and the west side of the commercial district together– brightening up my once desolate bike route.

The reality is that those sad empty blocks were never very long, but they sure seemed like they were. Having newcomers who are full of energy and hope open a new business there is a huge step forward to re-conceiving the boundaries of what is considered hip and worth visiting in Downtown Sanford.

It takes a lot to be the first “Western Settlers”, and boy are we lucky it’s these guys.

Their enthusiastic willingness, as successful owner-operators, to take on this mammoth historic building that has stood empty for years and transform it into a place where people can meet, talk, and fall in love with Sanford signifies that we’re entering a new era. And the wildest part of it all is that they are just as excited about our scene as the folks who have been here since the beginning.

“Being able to talk to business owners here about how they worked through things has been great,” Dan said. “There’s a core group of businesses here that all push each other and share a common vision, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Image result for da kine pokeTuffy’s clearly plays well with others; the concept is also teaming up with Da Kine Poke, a successful Orlando poke bowl food truck that already has two brick and mortar locations and a devoted following.

Owner Pete Downing shares Dan’s enthusiasm for the project.

“We’ve put together a cool little plan,” he said while explaining that Da Kine will be serving from their food trailer, located in Tuffy’s giant beer garden. Pete hopes to add more options to their menu, including kalua-style smoked pork, giving everyone a little something to choose from. He said that he loves “the vibe” of Downtown, hinting that he and his fiance may even be in the market for a home here (which sounds like an emotional commitment if I ever heard one).

In another interesting development, Julian Burgos, one of the owners of Bitters and Brass, confirmed that their bar would be opening a satellite concept within the walls of Tuffy’s, and while the details have yet to be finalized, it’s obviously safe to say craft cocktails are on the menu. (Tiki cocktails! It’s tiki cocktails, y’all!)

Tuffy’s has also hired Sanford neighbor Park and Seventh Woodwork to put their own unique touch on the interior with a custom bar top and wrap.

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Wood that will become part of the butcher block bartop at Tuffy’s. Photo Credit: Park and Seventh Woodwork FB Page

“Our experience with Dan has been as pleasant and as easy as a contractor could ask for,” said Park and Seventh owner Michael Nall, citing creative freedom and smooth negotiations. “I love seeing the development on this side of town! I think seeing the downtown area expand is going to be great for business owners that are forward thinking and can adapt and is probably a bit scary for those who can’t and or won’t.”

Dan St. Pierre is definitely forward thinking. What I find most admirable about his rhetoric is his unwavering confidence that Sanford is moving in the right direction. There’s no self doubt, no defensive backtracking, no apologies for what has been, just a vision of Downtown Sanford as an unquestionable destination for shared experiences.

“I think we’re doing it; we’re in the middle of this great step forward. When the businesses here thrive, it creates this response from the outside,” he explained. “A successful beer scene attracts creatives and craftsmen, and it just continues to build. If people don’t get it by now, then there’s no way they’d get it even if I explained it.”

Tuffy’s anticipates an opening with the next two months. Be sure to like them on Facebook to stay updated on their opening, features, and any new collaborations they have coming our way.

The new sign going up at Tuffy's Bottle Shop in Downtown Sanford

Photo Credit: Tuffy’s Bottle Shop and Lounge FB Page