By Diane Catanzaro and Chris Jones
Randy Thomas had a problem. An experienced general contractor and the vice president of Spacemakers, he found the perfect place for someone to build a combination brewpub, distillery and musical entertainment venue, in the old armory in downtown Hampton. Hampton had put out a request for proposals to establish a brewery or entertainment venue in this venerable brick structure. But, Randy didn’t have a client who wanted to hire his organization to build it. He spoke with business partner Bjorn Marshall, and said, “Somebody’s going to hit a homerun with this building.” He saw the potential for this circa 1936 facility, and envisioned a venue unlike any other in our region. This was a characterful but neglected building that could be repurposed into a craft brewery, restaurant, small-batch distillery, and live music venue that could host national and regional acts. After chatting about it a bit, Bjorn bit, and said “Why don’t we do it ourselves?”
And that’s how Randy Thomas and Bjorn Marshall decided to transform Hampton’s eighty-year-old former National Guard Armory from “arsenal” to “artisanal,” a combination craft brewery, small-batch distillery, restaurant and premier entertainment destination. Want a fresh craft-brewed beer from a ten-barrel brew house on the premises? Check. How about some gin or vodka distilled on-site to go with that tonic? Roger. Hungry to dine in a restaurant with a menu that emphasizes well-prepared, locally sourced fare? Go no further. Want to groove to one of your favorite bands, along with 800 to 1,000 of your best friends? Yes, yes, and yes!! The Vanguard will be a unique independent craft brewery-distillery-restaurant-entertainment facility, and unlike any other venue in Virginia.
Randy and Bjorn believe that artisanal beverages and locally sourced foods are a key part of the vision for the Vanguard. They also tapped local sources for one of their first personnel decisions. Conor Halfpenny will lead the Vanguard’s sales and marketing team, and will also be involved in brewery operations. Conor is well-known to the local beer community from his many years as part of the team at St. George Brewing in Hampton.
The Vanguard will turn Hampton into a major destination for craft beer and craft distilled spirits fans, as well as those who enjoy live music at places like the NorVa in Norfolk, or the National in Richmond. While not as large as those venues, the Vanguard will be of sufficient size to attract national acts touring the East Coast. The plan for the building includes an open area in front of the stage, a mezzanine, and an area for restaurant seating. Randy and Bjorn believe that by the time they open in the Summer of 2017, they’ll be able to accommodate 800 to 1,000 guests in the 14,000 square feet venue to experience a big, but still intimate, concert.
Randy, a retired Naval Officer, has been with Spacemakers for ten years, moving people’s dreams “from concept to reality.” In the last three years Spacemakers has built two breweries in repurposed buildings, the new O’Connor Brewing location in Norfolk, and Commonwealth Brewing in Virginia Beach. Continuing their brewery-building success, Spacemakers is presently building Tradition Brewing in Newport News and is consulting with the folks planning Makers Craft Brewing in Norfolk. We can’t wait to see the transformation of the old Armory into the Vanguard. And, we are even more excited about the Vanguard’s potential to provide a transformative entertainment experience including craft beer, artisanal spirits, farm-to-fork dining, and a concert hall. Truly a feather in Hampton’s cap, and a benefit to our entire region. We’ll keep you updated as plans develop.
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