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Local Brewery Expanding with New Concept at Open Air Building

Susan Post Susan Post Local Brewery Expanding with New Concept at Open Air BuildingUnderstory will open inside the Open Air School in Old North Columbus - Photo by Susan Post
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Downtown’s Wolf’s Ridge Brewing is headed north, opening a new concept this fall inside of the Open Air building at 2571 Neil Ave.

The new sister concept, Understory, will occupy roughly 10,000 square feet of space and include a dining area, cocktail lounge and private events space, as well as outdoor patio space.

WRB Co-Founder Bob Szuter says they wanted to be deliberate in giving the concept a new name because the experience will be different than that of Downtown. While guests can expect the same attention to detail and quality food and drink, Understory will bring a more relaxed, nature-focused atmosphere.

“We’ve always felt like there’s a piece of us that’s missing, and I think specifically the connection to nature,” Szuter says.

In a sea of concrete Downtown, the brewery has tried to find other ways to build connections to nature, but at the Open Air building, the proximity to the great outdoors is a major draw.

The location is just off the Olentangy Trail with the patio overlooking the forested area leading down to the river.

Szuter describes Understory as the kind of casual place where a biker could hop off the trail and grab a beer and a bite to eat, but is just as much for the crowd looking for somewhere to spend a night out.

In the middle of the Old North, Understory will also see a different neighborhood demographic than Downtown with college students, post-grads, and young families in Clintonville. It’s a community which they are looking forward to integrating with.

“We really are going to try to engage the community as best as we can to do something that they’ll be excited about,” Szuter says.

Understory’s menu will be progressive, veggie-focused and easily executable. Details on dishes are still coming together, but the space will offer quick, counter-style service.

The restaurant will occupy the ground floor, and above it will be a lounge focused on craft cocktails. And, yes, there will be beer. While Szuter says the square footage didn’t leave as much space to dedicate to the brewery, they will install foeders to serve oak-aged lagers, and round things out with a selection of beers from the Downtown brewery and production facility.

The events space will occupy the top floor with a capacity for about 150 guests.

“What we’ve seen is that a lot of people are interested in smaller events, more unique wedding venues, more unique venues in general,” Szuter says.

Constructed in 1928, the building fits the historic style Szuter sees many people looking for. He imagines that events at Understory will fall more into wedding, rehearsal dinner and shower territory than Downtown, which tends to see more corporate outings with its proximity to office buildings and the Convention Center. The events space will also have its own unique menu.

Understory will soon begin booking gatherings with the events space slated to open first in October. Szuter hopes the lower level will open by November, with the cocktail lounge joining the lineup in December.

The speed at which the operation can hire will likely determine how quickly the subsequent parts of Understory open. Szuter says WRB is not quite fully restaffed Downtown, but he’s optimistic as they see more movement. Awakening an economy that’s been in a coma for months takes time.

Coming out of a global pandemic might seem an unusual time to expand, especially in an industry that faced major hurdles over the last 12 plus months. However, it was surviving the pandemic that really gave WRB the final push to pursue a new concept.

“Coming out of the pandemic, there was a lot of soul searching about what we as owners wanted to do with this business and it really came back to, for me, there was a lot of passion behind doing another concept,” says Szuter, who co-owns the brewery with his father, Alan.

Szuter says WRB has explored a lot of opportunities over the years, some on their own accord, some of which they have been approached with, but were looking for the right opportunity.

The brewery is no stranger to expansions, initially opening as a brewery and restaurant in 2013, before adding a taproom, events space, and its own production facility, but Szuter was excited to create a new concept and new experience.

The Kelley Companies actually initially approached WRB about being part of the project when it was first coming together back in 2018. At the time, the brewery had just opened its event space so they passed on the opportunity.

In early 2021, the search resumed for a potential expansion location, when Szuter remembered the Open Air school. Kelley Companies had moved ahead with refurbishing the building, but had not yet found a tenant for the space. The history of the building and its location quickly sold Szuter that the Open Air school was the place for Understory.

The new concept from WRB will be joined in the building by a to-be-announced local cafe, as well as two office tenants. A newer building on the property houses a Butcher Shop Fitness location.

For more information, visit understorycbus.com.

The patio overlooking the forest and Olentangy Trail – Photo by Jenny Hauck of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
Photo by Jenny Hauck of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
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