Capturing and making history at once

Stubborn Brothers look to restore old vaudeville theater while adding brewery business

Leader photo by Tim Ryan Erik, left, and Aaron Gilling stand in the mezzanine, with the Crescent Theatre’s original vaudeville stage in the background, as construction continued Friday on the craft brewery business that will occupy the building.

Leader photo by Tim Ryan General contractor Larry Laude talks with Erik and Aaron Gilling Friday about how to save one of the original wall columns from the former Crescent Theatre to become part of the architecture of the new Stubborn Brothers Brewery.

The new Stubborn Brothers Brewery in the former Crescent Theatre in downtown Shawano is targeting a limited opening in December and full public opening early next year, albeit a bit later than expected, according to the owners.

“I know this project is taking longer than anticipated and I know a lot of people are anxiously waiting for us to open,” Erik Gilling said. “We appreciate their patience. We understand they want it open because we want it open.”

Renovating the 103-year-old building, which began its life as a vaudeville theater before becoming a movie house, has presented numerous challenges, largely because the Gilling brothers are trying as much as possible to retain its historic atmosphere and even restore some of its key historical features.

That includes retaining the original vaudeville stage and restoring the orchestra pit that was once located in front of the stage.

“We had to do everything to code so there are things that had to change a bit,” Aaron Gilling said. “This has been a huge project, just saving this building, and we hope people understand why it’s taking us so long. Because we’re doing this with such concentration. We want to save it. We want to keep that feel.”

Currently, all the “rough construction” is being completed and final construction will be starting soon, according to Aaron.

“The elevator is being installed. The sprinklers have all been installed and are near completion. We’re getting the brewery area ready for the floor to be poured,” Aaron said. “Things are going along really, really well.”

Aaron said the new venue might just hold private parties when it’s ready in December and start opening up to the general public in January and February.

The brewery itself will be housed in an addition to the north side of the building. Visitors will be able to view it through windows that mimic the size and shape of paintings and other artwork uncovered in the north wall during renovation.

“What we did is we wanted to mimic some of the original architecture that was here,” Erik said.

The former theater will include a main dining area of tables and chairs and booths, and will separate a family area from the bar located against the south wall.

There will also be a staircase to a mezzanine that will provide additional seating and show off some of the other original architecture, including stained-glass windows.

When possible additional seating in the orchestra pit is including, it’s anticipated the venue will hold between 100 and 150 people, according to Aaron.

There will also be a banquet hall upstairs, with an elevator being added to provide access.

“We want people to be able to enjoy the brewing environment as well as see (the building’s) original historic feature of being a dance hall,” Aaron said. “Back when this building was originally built, it was a dance hall. It was an area where people would come and congregate.”

The Gillings are also going as far as to save the original architectural columns and moldings in the walls and ceiling where possible and have salvaged the original tin ceiling that was covered with tile when it was a movie house.

They are also hoping to save the marquee that had adorned the building when it was the Crescent and have held fundraising efforts to do that.

So far, they’ve fallen short of their needs, however.

“We need more raised,” Erik said. “It’s quite expensive.”

The cost of rehabbing the existing marquee is around $25,000. Another option, to bring back the 1920s blade-style marquee that used to adorn the theater, was estimated at around $50,000.

Erik said it might be possible to “semi-restore” the marquee in the meantime until a full restoration can take place at a later date.

The Gillings have also purchased the vacant building next door to the south, where the brewery’s kitchen will be located.

“We’re trying to restore the downtown with our design,” Aaron said. “We didn’t want to take away a storefront, so we have the kitchen in the back of that building.”

That will leave the front of the building available for a new business or for the Gillings to sell brewery-related merchandise.

The brewery will feature 24 types of beers, with about half of them being year-round staples like Amber Ale, American Wheat and Raspberry Wheat.

“There will be some exciting beers as well,” Aaron said, such as whiskey-flavored beers aged in barrels.

Those beers will be more exclusive and customers will have to belong to the brewery’s Mug Club to access them.

The brewery’s menu will be “upscale American pub fare,” Aaron said.

“We’re doing as much farm-to-table as possible,” Aaron said. “Erik grows his own hops. We’re reaching out to local farmers to use their local beef. We’re working with some of the local chefs. There will be seasonal fruits. It’s all dedicated to being a farm-to-table approach, locally sourced.”

Though beer is the main ingredient in the brewery’s business, entertainment will be an important part of the business, according to Erik.

“I think it’ll be a great staple to Shawano,” he said, adding the venue would welcome whatever local entertainment is around or willing to come.

“We are not limited to what’s going to come here,” Erik said. “We want to be a part of Shawano. Everyone has different tastes, and we want cater to all those tastes.”

“We’re just so excited and so blessed to be a part of this community,” Aaron said. “We’re very thankful and we’re so encouraged by people paying attention to our Facebook and reaching out to us and giving their opinion. This whole thing was built specifically to be a community asset and be beneficial to everyone involved in the area.”

Aaron said the Stubborn Brothers could have gone anywhere, but wanted to be part of the revitalization of Shawano.

“We want to be here,” he said. “We’re so excited to be in an area where we’re making a difference in improving the downtown. It’s an amazing area. Access to the Wolf River, a major highway between Wausau and Green Bay, making it a perfect tourist destination. This is a prime area to be.”

Aaron said Shawano was also one of the most supportive communities they had reached out to when looking for a location.

“These people have by far gone above and beyond to make sure we feel welcome,” he said. “So we’re very thankful.”