Even after all he has done as a restaurateur in the Iowa City area, Jim Mondanaro is about to do something he’s never done before but always wanted to do — open a brewery.
Mondanaro is teaming up with three local restaurant owners to construct a brewery at Mondo’s Draft House (516 2nd St.) in Coralville. He says the brewery will focus on making German- and Belgian-style beers and expects to serve its first beers in mid-October.
The new brewery will also bring a rebranding to the Mondo’s Coralville location itself. Though Mondanaro says he has struggled to pick a new name, and emphasized that nothing is set in stone yet, he has currently settled on Mondo’s New Union Brewery, which incorporates the familiar Mondo’s brand name and pays homage to the former Union Brewery that was located in Iowa City in the 19th century.
Mondanaro, who has been involved in a number of area bars and restaurants over the past three decades, including Micky’s Irish Pub, Givanni’s and Joseph’s Steakhouse, said he has always wanted to open a brewery. But since it is something he has never done before, he is consulting experts.
“If I don’t know something, I’m going to hire someone who does,” Mondanaro said.
For the brewery, the group has hired consultants who worked at the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company — the largest brewery in the San Francisco Bay area with 35 restaurants throughout the country. The consultants, Mondanaro said, will “take us down that unknown path, so we have the ability to do it the right way.”
“We just want to make sure we get set up properly,” said David Stein, co-owner of Micky’s Irish Pub, who will join Mondanaro, along with fellow Micky’s co-owner Aaron Jennings and Mondo’s Saloon owner Jason Deppe, in the brewery group. Even though Stein said all of those involved are fans of beer, none of them are brewers, so they feel much more comfortable having consultants to guide them.
For Mondanaro, doing it properly includes a focus on presentation. The brewery, to be built where the Draft House’s west room is currently located, will be viewable to customers in the restaurant. Because of that, Mondanaro has decided to use self-refrigerated, steel-jacketed serving tanks to keep all the brewery’s tanks in the same room. Non-jacketed serving tanks would need to be placed inside a separate walk-in cooler, and Mondanaro said he does not like the idea of hiding the tanks inside their own box.
“I want the consumer to see the intricacies of the brewery. I think that is important,” he said.
Along with being able to see the brewhouse staff hard at work, Mondanaro says he wants there to be a neighborhood brewery vibe where customers feel comfortable interacting with the brewers.
Beers brewed at the Mondo’s brewery will be served in-house and at partner establishments such as Joseph’s, Mickey’s, Mondo’s Saloon and the Bread Garden Market, though Mondanaro said distribution to other local bars and restaurants is not out of the question.
Mondanaro says he plans to take “teeny tiny steps” before widening the brewery’s footprint, taking care of the new brewery and its customers first. The recipes need to be exact and they need to be consistent, he says, adding that the group will focus on honing and perfecting their brewing skills over the first couple years. If growth and expansion are meant to be, Mondanaro says it will happen on its own.