Hudson Couple To Bring 'Spirited Business' To Madison Avenue In Time For Holidays

The original scale from the Fridrich warehouse will be featured in the Western Reserve Distillery tasting room.

The eclectic mix of bars, churches, homes and unique businesses on Madison Avenue helped persuade Ann and Kevin Thomas to fulfill their dream of opening the Western Reserve Distillery by renovating the former Fridrich Moving and Storage Company building. That and a promise to the former owners not to tear down the iconic structure.

“The Fridrich Family is so happy that we wanted locate on Madison and that we didn’t want to tear the building down,” said Ann Thomas during a recent tour of the property at 14221 Madison.

“Other people looked at it and wanted to tear it down, but we didn’t. The city is happy too, and the building is perfect for us,” she added, noting the original exposed brick, recently stripped of paint, in what will be the tasting room for the distillery, which they hope to have ready by the beginning of December.

“We looked at five other locations and decided this will give us room to grow,” added Kevin

The four- story Fridrich building dominates the skyline at Madison and Ferndale Avenues, which unlike Detroit Avenue, Lakewood’s other major business corridor, preserves more of the original low rise “street car” era buildings, built in the 1910s and 1920s, featuring storefronts with apartments above.

“When we were looking at a location, we definitely wanted a living community, with good fire and police response times,” said Kevin. “We wanted to make sure we were doing this in a community that wants us here.”

Beginning the journey through city commissions last October, the Thomases said the city was helpful and supportive of their project. Ann added that the state’s changing regulations regarding distillery operation posed some additional challenges.

Originally planning on just a distillery, tasting room and gift shop, Kevin, who said he has been in the restaurant business for 35 years, explained that Ohio laws, which originally did not allow an associated restaurant serving up the spirits, have changed.  He said he and Ann are now in negotiation with several parties for heading up an eatery which will neighbor the distillery.

On the menu of spirits will be vodka, gin, rum, bourbon whiskey. Beer and wine will also be available.

Ann noted that everything made in the distillery will be organic and as locally sourced as possible. In fact, she said the distillery has filed to receive a federal license to be called organic. She said grains will be supplied from a radius of 150 miles. Molasses is the only ingredient not from Ohio.

“One thing that we really liked about Lakewood was the people from all walks of life,” stated Ann. She and her husband anticipate a wide range of clientele, from 20 somethings to older people sipping their favorite cocktail.

Since a distillery is a rather unique concept for the area, the Thomases look to Western Reserve to be a destination. “This really has people intrigued because it’s not another brewery,” said Ann.

City economic development director Bryce Sylvester agreed. “Western Reserve Distillery represents such a big physical transformation of an iconic building. Madison is going to get a fresh new upgrade. This will be a regional draw.”

Looking out of what was once a loading dock, Ann said that there were some nice surprises discovered during the renovation, including an original truck scale, which will be displayed in the “Scale Room” tasting room.

While old inner doors, some of them bearing the Fridrich Moving Company name, must be replaced due to fire code, a plaque attached to the 1915 store front will remain. Stucco was also removed from the exterior of the building, and Ann said they were a bit disappointed that none of the Fridrich signage remained underneath.

How does the Fridrich Family feel about the transformation of the over 100 year old building? Looking from the former loading dock, across the planned restaurant site, Ann pointed out a small house, the home of an elderly Fridrich family member. While Ann said that she has not met the woman, those who have report that she is pleased with the progress, as is Michael Fridrich, who occasionally passes by the building. He once stopped to comment on the restored storefront window, which showcases the distillery’s copper stills.

“He said he hasn’t seen the front of the building open since he was a kid in the 60s,” Ann noted.

Sue Botos

Grew up in Lakewood, still like to keep up with all that is going on

Volume 13, Issue 21, Posted 5:02 PM, 11.08.2017