Grabbing the last empty picnic table behind Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville on a recent afternoon, Frank Bonomo looked along the nearby Richland Creek, to bring his attention to the buzz of people, conversation and live music swirling around the vast patio.
“We’re trying to redevelop Frog Level to make it a very exciting and vibrant place – where new businesses can thrive, where people can come and enjoy the area,” Bonomo said. “It’s not just a location, it’s an area — riverside friendly, downtown friendly. It could be another part of Waynesville that is used.
Bonomo and his business partners at CCB Beverage, LLC — which includes his wife, Julia, and another couple, Morgan and Travis Crisp — have made great strides over the past few years in the Frog Level District, with many dormant buildings finding now a new breath of life.
- Julia Bonomo and Morgan Crisp, co-owners of 7 Clans Brewing, one of the only women-owned breweries of its kind in western North Carolina. (Photo by Garret K. Woodward)
To catch up on everything happening in the district, Frog Level Brewing was sold and changed hands to CCB Beverage on March 17, 2020, the exact day of quarantine and closure due to the pandemic.
“We were in our lawyer’s office signing the brewery purchase documents just as the governor was saying everything was going to shut down,” Frank said in a humble tone. “We couldn’t even get together to have the party to celebrate the purchase.”
And while it might have seemed inauspicious to enter the agribusiness industry at this uncertain time, the transition did the exact opposite – it not only fueled the fire within CCB to move forward with his plans, but the large outdoor space behind the brewery has become a haven for people looking to interact with others, while adhering to social distancing guidelines and protocols.
“Frog Level has always been about people – it’s a community brewery, and that’s how we’ve always seen it,” Morgan said. “We wanted to create a space where people could come after work, bring their children, this family atmosphere that welcomes everyone.”
Prior to the purchase of Frog Level Brewing, Morgan was already the head of 7 Clans Brewing, one of the only female-owned and operated breweries in western North Carolina. A registered member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Morgan sees craft beers as a vehicle to raise awareness and share the proud heritage of his ancestors.
“Seven Clans continues to do what we do – we tell our story through craft beer and also try to incorporate Indigenous ingredients into our products,” Morgan said. “Farming is really important to Cherokee women, and incorporating that into our beer making is important to me.”
With Frog Level Brewing under the CCB banner, 7 Clans now had a base to brew and sell their wares. The sister businesses are thriving and constantly growing, with constant additions to the equipment of the brewery, the riverside patio and the dining room, which includes an on-site restaurant.
- Live music on the back patio of Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville (below) is a regular occurrence, with blues rockers JJ Hipps & The Hideaway a popular comeback band. (Photo by Garret K. Woodward)
Of note, CCB has a long-term lease on the current brewery building, as well as the old thrift store and soup kitchen next door. The soup kitchen was recently refurbished and re-opened as The Green Room, a versatile event space that has already hosted several gatherings since its launch last summer.
With the thrift store’s massive structure between the brewery and The Green Room, the wheels are in motion to transform the property into a larger multi-purpose event space – the hope of eventually bringing in live music, a craft market and , perhaps, create another food/drink component.
Looking towards the corner of Commerce and Depot streets at Frog Level, CCB has also purchased a handful of buildings in the neighborhood, including the structures across the driveway from The Green Room to the stoplight, and the old Furniture Village Building next to the train tracks.
“It’s all going to grow organically,” Morgan said. “It’s part of the business model, to listen to what our customers are telling us, what they want, what they like and what ideas we can incorporate into these properties.”
And finally, at least for now, CCB has recently moved into Buncombe County, with its new 7 Clans bar on Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville, a quaint property that will also serve Frog Level products. Even with all that is happening on both sides of the Haywood/Buncombe line, CCB remains focused on the continued development of the Frog Level District.
“If you look at Asheville, there’s the River Arts District. We think Frog Level could be like the [RAD]”, Franck said. “Everything we do here is a team effort, whether it’s my business partners or our excellent staff – it’s a team effort that is that catalyst for change. .”