Before 2020 and the pandemic and, you know, everything, Cincinnati’s food and drink scene was constantly popping with late-breaking foodie news. Neighborhood eateries appeared overnight, a new brewery seemed to open every week, and local chefs regularly made appearances in national headlines.
But then March came in like a highly contagious lion and we got used to a different kind of business news—mostly opening delays, shuttered plans, and closures. Which is why the recent announcement that March First Manufacturing, LLC would acquire the Woodburn Brewery in Walnut Hills felt so monumental. After months of little to nothing, something good was actually happening.
The news does beg an uncomfortable question, though: How was March First able to grow when everything else was in steady decline? When asked how the company managed to stay profitable enough to make new acquisitions, Josh Engel, March First’s marketing manager, is quick to correct the assumption.
“March First is not ‘staying profitable,’” he says. “March First is surviving. We make the most of what we are still allowed to do in an attempt to get to the other side of this situation. The courage and commitment of our entire staff is what gives us a fighting chance.”
If the positivity of the story is somewhat novel during the COVID-19 crisis, the situation behind the opportunity is an all-too-familiar refrain. Circumstances had forced the Woodburn owners to shutter the brewery over the summer, and, with no income to sustain things, they contacted March First to see if there was any interest in a purchase.
And interested they were. With a growth plan that recently saw them adding central Ohio’s FigLeaf Brewing Co. to their portfolio (which also includes Cincinnati Distilling, Voltage Vodka, and Cooper Island Rum, in addition to the titular March First Brewing beers), March First is always on the lookout for products that complement the company’s vision.
“Building on a great team, solid portfolio of beers, and an outstanding production facility, we invested in the FigLeaf taproom and added a full kitchen,” Engel explains. “We will do the same at Woodburn to expand into the city of Cincinnati while preserving a beloved brand. Our model sets up talented brewers to focus on their dream and to do what they do best.”
Adding a kitchen is the primary change March First plans for the Woodburn space, which previously relied on local food trucks for food options. “We believe Woodburn is ready for a full kitchen,” Engel notes. “The menu will complement our beers and will also consider the other cuisine choices in the DeSales Corner area.”
Woodburn may see the addition of a private event space and expanded seating as March First moves some production equipment offsite. And Engel hinted at other potential surprises when the space re-opens in late spring or summer. Enhancements aside, the goal is to keep as much of what’s great about Woodburn front and center. “Woodburn will still, very much, feel like Woodburn,” he continues. “When you pull up a seat at the bar, you’ll be able to order your favorite Woodburn beers.”
Customers will see the beers in cans, too, and March First will enhance the brewery’s offerings with other beverages, including cider, spirits, seltzers, and cocktails (featuring March First’s distilled spirits, of course.)
“Our team will add back other Woodburn favorites as we go and develop new Woodburn products, staying true to the brewery’s identity,” Engel says. “You might even see some exciting expeditions into new categories in the Woodburn logo.”
Beyond just appealing to locals in search of libations, the new ownership also plans to be good neighbors to the Walnut Hills community at large. He points to a to-be-announced schedule of events as a jumping-off point for this goodwill community engagement.
“The East Walnut Hills neighborhood has been very welcoming,” Engel explains. “We want to work with local community groups and businesses to see what we can all do together to make East Walnut Hills stronger and continue to grow it into a destination for people in and around Cincinnati.”