Iconic Walnut Hills landmark to become city's first minority-owned brewery

CINCINNATI -- The former Paramount Theater, a once-iconic Walnut Hills landmark that fell into disrepair before the turn of the century, will soon get its own second act as the first minority-owned brewery in the city of Cincinnati.

The graffiti-laden building at the corner of East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue, which towered above Peebles Corner when it opened in 1931, has been "down in the dumps for about 20 years," Brian Jackson said. The first time they stepped inside, he and marketing partner Marvin Abrinica weren't sure it was the home their company, Esoteric Brewing, needed.

"We looked at each other and said, 'Hey, is this even doable, making something out of this space?'" Abrinica recalled.

CEO Jackson believed -- and convinced Abrinica -- that they could. He saw the potential for a restoration that moved the space into the future while preserving the art deco aesthetic that made it fashionable in the '30s. 

He wasn't the only one. When Esoteric Brewing opens in 2019, it will be just one part of a $15-million-plus development meant to reinvigorate the heart of Walnut Hills. 

The project, which has been dubbed Paramount Square, will include apartments and retail spaces in the same renovated building as Esoteric. Abrinica and Jackson said the goal is not to paper over Walnut Hills' history or culture but instead to contribute to it and help join an ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood.

"The diverse neighborhood that Walnut Hills is racially, demographically, socioeconomically -- we want to maintain the integrity of that," Abrinica said.

In doing so, they'll be adding a little diversity to the overwhelmingly white world of craft brewing. In 2013, NPR correspondent Alastair Bland wrote that few of the nation's then-2,600 craft breweries had non-white owners. Years later, Jackson said, the scene looks much the same.

He hopes to earn his place by brewing good beer and providing a fun place for customers to spend time, naturally, but he said representing minority members of the growing industry was important.

"We feel like that's very humbling," Jackson said. "We want to be able to show other people that you can break some of those glass ceilings. As we expand and grow, sky's the limit."

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