As a child growing up in West Africa, Leo Sawadogo would watch his mother transforming native grains, herbs, and spices into a tasty alcoholic beverage. A week-long process, the custom of home brewing is not uncommon in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), and his mother, in his eyes, was a master brewer long before the popularity of craft brewing took hold in the US, his adopted country.
Fast-forward to today and Sawadogo, a Montclair resident for 10 years, with his wife Denise Ford Sawadogo, are now building his hobby of home brewing into a business honoring his family legacy of hospitality, community, and tasty beer. They hope to open Montclair Brewery in late March.
Leo has dreamed of opening his own brewery in Montclair for years. Last year, the entrepreneurial couple seized the opportunity to take over a building occupied by Poor Richard’s Furniture Repair, and started working on a business plan.
“I want to bring something new to my community and create a friendly, welcoming place to experience both tradtiional IPAs and Pilsners as well as my unique brews,” says Leo. It will be a place where you can stop in for a flight, fill a growler, a keg, or enjoy a pint. “A traditional tap room” in a place where brewing and bottling takes place.
Leo is enthusiastic about “beer tourism” which is sweeping the country. “I want Montclair Brewery to be a place where people can learn about beer making and craft brewing.” He plans to feature a rotating menu of about 40 brews, incorporating traditional West African teas, herbs, and spices in some specialty beers.
Leo has been a home brewer and distiller for 20 years, growing his fan base of friends and family who encouraged him to go pro. “It literally has taken over the basement,” Denise laughed. Leo attended a brewing academy to refine his skills, adding master brewer to his impressive resume of TV and radio host, trained pastry chef, and woodworker. French being his native language, he took his TV experience to a position in Montreal for a few years, then came to New York to work in the French Trade Office.
Leo and Denise are business partners whose strengths compliment each other – Leo takes over the creative half and Denise, a marketing professional, is the business counterpart. Leo has his own mail order business for specialty sauces, jams, and syrups, all artisanally made in Montclair, MITAfoods.com.
Leo Sawadago may be better known around town as “Coach Leo.” Passionate about soccer, he’s been training Montclair Rec, Sparta Club, and Bloomfield Soccer Club teams. Denise is very involved in IMANI and the School Action Team at Renaissance School.
Currently, work is in progress on the interior of the building, to retrofit brewing equipment on the property. They will be requesting a variance from the town to approve the parking area which falls 13 spaces shy of the requirement.
Montclair Brewery will be located at 101 Walnut Street. Follow the progress on Facebook and visit their indie-gogo site to become a part of the dream.