John Dantzler has lived in Lower Manhattan his entire life, and he loves the area’s energy. In 2016, when he started looking for locations for the brewery he wanted to open with his friend and business partner, Joe Correia, there was no question where they should be.
Hundreds of site visits, a pandemic, and four years later, Dantzler and Correia finally opened Torch & Crown in SoHo. The result was well worth the effort and wait—in addition to being Manhattan’s only production brewery, Torch & Crown has become a gathering place for the local community and a celebration of all things New York.
Here, Dantzler shares his journey to Torch & Crown and how it won New Yorkers over.
Tell us the story behind Torch & Crown. Were you always interested in brewing beer?
I started brewing beer at age 16. My best friend and I got our fake IDs confiscated at a bar in the East Village. We could no longer buy beer, so we figured we’d make it. The first batch exploded all over mom’s kitchen stove and counters, and we both got grounded. But we discovered that we had a passion for the process and the beer community.
By the time we were 18 we were winning local and national home brewing awards, which let us know that maybe we had a future in it. Over the next decade, Joe studied chemistry and moved out west to Rogue Ales, and I worked in finance here in the city. The goal was to build up both sides and have a partnership that could work.
What was the road to opening the brewery like?
We started looking at real estate in 2016, and we set out to be Manhattan’s only production brewery. Hundreds of site visits later, we had nothing to show for it. We didn’t sign a lease until late 2018. In the meantime we acquired a brewing facility in the Bronx, which set us up for production and distribution while we were getting our SoHo place online.
We were about 90% done with construction when COVID came. We had to pivot to direct-to-consumer delivery—I myself made about a thousand deliveries in our first month. We can’t begin to express our gratitude for the neighbors and people who kept buying beer directly and kept us afloat.
We opened our SoHo location in October 2020. One week of indoor dining, and then they shut down indoor dining again for the winter. We’re fortunate to have some outdoor space, so we served people in freezing temperatures outside. And a year and half in, it’s finally coming together as we envisioned.
New York City, and the local community, are central to your concept. Tell me how that plays out and why you decided to focus on it.
New York is 100% of the focus. As founders, it’s where we identify. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world, live in a few different countries, and the energy and ambition in New York is something you can’t find anywhere else.
That mirrors our story, taking this aggressively ambitious—to the point of stupidity—approach, building a manufacturing business in the most dense and logistically challenging atmosphere that you can think of. That mirrors the journey of most New Yorkers, who are from somewhere else and came to the city to make it. Regardless of their profession, New York is a proving ground. We get the best of the best from across the globe. To rise above, you have to be world class. That was a challenge that really excited us.
You mentioned delivery. You offer same-day delivery in NYC and one-hour delivery below 24th St. Is that a hold-over from COVID, or is that central to what you want to offer people?
It’s always been a central part of our focus. We have no interest in shipping our beer out to Oklahoma or wherever. Our entire model is reaching New Yorkers wherever they are. Whether that’s coming to experience us in person at our SoHo location or other locations in the future, or getting beer delivered to your offices or homes. Any time there’s an occasion, people gathering for a good time to be inspired by other New Yorkers, we want to be there.
With the office program, you deliver to offices and offer in-person and virtual tastings. What has that been like, with people going back to work over the past year?
It’s been interesting and challenging. Companies are now struggling with this new normal: how do we retain the flexibility that work from home offers? But there’s nothing that can replace the in-person element, the bonding that can happen face to face.
As companies embrace a more flexible work environment, in-person time—since it’s lessened—has become much more important. Driving social events, ways for their teams to still experience camaraderie, has been a fun and rewarding thing for us to be a part of. You can Zoom, but there’s nothing that can replace sharing a beer or beverage together in person.
You have a dynamic and rotating beer menu. How do you decide what to brew? Are there certain styles or flavors you aim to highlight?
It’s a mix of flavors that inspire us personally, as well as what we see demand for from the broader consumer. We like the element of, every visit to our brewery and restaurant in Soho is unique, and you can try the latest offerings brewed fresh that week. That dynamic element keeps things exciting.
We think of ourselves as style agnostic, as in, we do a lot of different styles as well. The one unifying characteristic is that we look for nuance and balance in everything we do rather than extremes. As opposed to the stereotypical West Coast IPAs —more hops, more bitterness, a race to extremes—we like to take a more balanced approach. We want you to have more than one.
The walking tour tells stories of beer and local spots in Manhattan. What can participants expect from that experience?
We partnered with Erin [Fitzpatrick], who leads these walking tours every day. It’s an insiders’ guide to the neighborhood. She’ll point out spots, architecture, things that tourist books don’t mention. It ends with lunch, beers, and a tour of our production facility.
In the 1800s, early 1900s, our neighborhood was predominantly a manufacturing district. Looking at that architecture and historic buildings, and then coming to an interactive tour of a live manufacturing facility, is a unique experience.
What about the brewery space. What’s special about it?
To build a brewery you have a lot of specific constraints: structural capacity to hold 20,000-pound tanks, enough water service, electrical and steam capabilities, gas. There were a lot of spaces that felt like we were making trades or concessions. This building checked all the boxes, allowing us to build out our process.
It has big, high ceilings and wide open space. Our hope is to be a community hub for our entire community of the 10 million people here in the city. There’s this inviting open space and the outdoor space. There’s nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day outside. The large variety of spaces are great for events: beer pairing, dinners, corporate parties, weddings, rehearsals dinners. You can come and feel the city and have it be a fun place to gather with friends or colleagues. Or enemies! We were immediately taken aback by how perfect it was.
You also feature cocktails, wines, and spirits, but only from New York producers. Why is that important to you?
We’re all in it together, fighting the same battle. For all of us, there’s an industry full of the big guys who muscle the smaller guys out of shelf space. Having an environment where small producers can be front and center was important to us. We fight that battle, too, for shelf space or tap lines. We don’t have the resources to compete on price like the big guys do. What we can offer is a better and more exciting product. For us to be able to give a pedestal to other producers is exciting for us, and a responsibility we take seriously.
Most bars that serve our product mostly serve the big guys as well. That’s true for wine and spirits producers, too—even if you have a good placement, you’re still not the well drink. We wanted to remove that dynamic and purchase only from small producers within New York state.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been short an ingredient and called another brewery owner and asked to borrow hops or whatever. And vice versa. We’re all here to help each other, and it’s very much an atmosphere of camaraderie.