A week into its soft opening, Garden City’s first brewery, Flat Mountain Brewhouse, has seen nothing but packed nights.
By the end of the week, every bar stool was filled. Tables were brought up from the lower floor to accommodate all the guests.
After over a year of planning, renovating and experimenting, the brewery has made a soft opening with a limited menu and hours, until its grand opening in late January or early February, so the staff has time to get fully acclimated.
“It's such a pride. It's definitely a pride. I mean, we’re it, this is it. We did it,” Angelica Castillo-Chappel, one of the brewery’s six owners, said during the second night in business. “That was the exclamation point. That was the silver lining of the day last night. We did it.”
The business is the baby of three Garden City couples, Castilo-Chappel and her husband, John Chappel, Carrye Jane and Carlos Mantilla, and Carmen and Jorge Guzman. The Guzmans purchased the property in the fall of 2017 when Carmen, an agent for Home Town Real Estate, came across the listing and partnered with the Mantillas to move forward on the project soon after.
The Chappels joined the pair about six months later, partially to offer construction experience, Castillo-Chappel said.
None of the six are strangers to entrepreneurship. The Mantillas have roots in Crazy House and C Bar H Farm & Home Supply in Garden City, and Carlos owns a produce export company in Columbia. The Guzmans run Las Margaritas, and the Chappels Labrador Apartments and CASCO Homes, Inc., all in Garden City.
But building something new in an old building and creating an establishment focused on alcohol pushed all owners into uncharted territory, the Chappels said.
Carmen Guzman said the whole endeavor has “been a challenge since the beginning.”
What began as a plan to transform the storefront’s first floor expanded into plans to recreate the building's basement, once only accessible via a manhole, into a cozy, classy winery, and the upstairs, still in progress, into indoor/outdoor seating, possibly for private parties or members.
“I think we’ve done more than what the original plan was,” Chappel said. "I really do. I think we took the original version and then tweaked it and made to it where I think we’re all pretty happy with where we’re at now.”
The main floor of the brewery is an homage to old-school Garden City, with rustic aurora emanating from its wooden floor to the original tin ceiling. Along the north wall, a sprawling photo mural shows the town how it used to be, while outside, the number “1879” sits at the top of the storefront, calling back to the year in which the building was built.
It’s a combination of the old and the new, Chappel said.
The look isn’t random. Flat Mountain’s new home, 207 N. Main St., was originally built by Frederick Finnup and is one of the oldest buildings in town, said Finney County Historical Society Assistant Director Laurie Oshel. For years, it was the Finnup Furniture Store, its owners living in an upstairs apartment of the building next door, she said.
Oshel said Flat Mountain’s owners stopped by the society to get a sense of the building’s history, looking at older pictures to see how it used to look.
“It doesn’t look exactly like it did, but it’s got some of that historic flavor to the outside and inside…” Oshel said. “I really appreciate the fact that businesses are trying to do that … I think it makes downtown more interesting.”
And the local love isn’t skin deep. The owners said they made an effort to keep elements of the renovations local. AJ Graphics provided the main floor’s photo mural, Scott City artist Mindy Allen took care of interior painting, and John Palacios of Garden City helped weld the brewery’s custom tap tower.
All of it was done to make the new business feel like the town that bore it, owners said.
“That was our main goal, was being unique. We didn’t want to do anything that was common here. We wanted it to be different,” Carrye Jane Mantilla said.
Part of what makes Flat Mountain unique is the beer itself. Brewed by Garden City native Cody Cundiff and David Mentus of Boulder, Colo., the brewery’s beer selection includes cherry wheat and chocolate stout and pineapple hops, all of which can be paired with burgers, steak, shrimp, pork chops or wings, among other options. By the end of the year, using fruits and spices and wheat from around the world, Cundiff said he and Mentus hope to create 50 new flavors. Visitors can see the process in action behind glass down the back hall of the building and are even free to buy some to go.
It’s a chance to be innovative, but also to reference the history and high points of Garden City, Cundiff said. When Cundiff used to live elsewhere, coming home always meant stopping at Traditions for a chocolate milkshake, he said. When he and Mentus got to work on Flat Mountain flavors, the chocolate stout, or the Cruisin’ Main Milkshake Stout, was their love letter to that feeling, and to downtown Garden City.
Future drinks will have names that are silly and serious and include shout-outs to Garden City, Cundiff said. He and Mentus may collaborate with some other businesses in town, and, far in the future, hope to ship the product out to other establishments in and outside of Garden City.
Above all, as a Garden City business’ first beer brewed in town, it will be a source of pride, he said. And, of course, it will be good.
“I had somebody that says ‘I don’t know. I only drink Bud Light.’ And then he tried that cherry wheat and he goes, ‘I don’t know if I'll drink Bud Light again,’” Chappel said.
In its 2009 master plan, Garden City Downtown Vision identified a brewery as something citizens deeply wanted to bring to the community, said Sheila Crane, the organization’s executive director.
The Finney County Economic Development Corp. met with several prospective brewery owners in the past, but none came to fruition, said FCEDC president Lona DuVall. Some did not want to serve food. Others couldn’t find a suitable location or naturally fell apart, she said. Now, one had made it and had added another entertainment option downtown, she said.
The owners said they hoped the brewery, open 4 to 9 p.m. through its soft opening, will bring more foot traffic to downtown during some of its slower times and attract other businesses to the area in the future. As Cundiff said, it will give the area “a pulse after 5” p.m.
Crane said the additional foot traffic is likely and that she had heard positive feedback about the brewery from downtown retailers. They are glad to possibly see an uptick in customers in the area, she said. Since Garden City now had the only brewery for miles, it will likely bring a good amount of out-of-town traffic, as well, she said.
“We have a great downtown. We have great businesses downtown, but we don’t have a lot of nighttime offering, yet,” DuVall said. “So, I think giving folks a reason to come downtown or come in from out of town to go downtown in the evenings is going to be wonderful.”
And, Crane said, the brewery brings an “additional diversity” of experience to downtown. Owners said they wanted Flat Mountain to be different from other bars in the area by making it a place where families felt welcome.
Chalkboards hang low on the back walls for children to play with. During one of the brewery’s soft opening nights, kids ran up and down the stairs to the lower seating area. The Mantilla’s 8-year-old son, Mateo, wandered up to his parents wearing a Flat Mountain T-shirt and apron, eager to be on the job.
The owners, all parents, said the restaurant is meant to be many things at once: casual upstairs, classier downstairs, and all over a place where patrons feel comfortable and at home — no babysitters necessary. It was an environment they didn’t see elsewhere in Garden City, and hopefully one locals will latch onto.
“We made this for the people of Garden City … because people have been asking for this kind of business for a long time,” Carlos Mantilla said. “And we made it happen, and I want people to be proud.”
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.