Thunder Canyon Brewery Embraces Downtown

January 2, 2013

By Teya Vitu

You may think of Thunder Canyon Brewery as a long-time Foothills Mall, Northwest Side, distinctly suburban restaurant/brew pub.

Thunder Canyon's Downtown brewpub will reflect the century-old ambience of its warehouse setting.

Thunder Canyon’s Downtown brewpub will reflect the century-old ambiance of its warehouse setting.

You’d,  of course, be right. Thunder Canyon has drawn legions of regulars to its Marana brews and delicious food for 15 years now.

At the same time, you’d be dead wrong, too.

The real Thunder Canyon Brewery is what’s opening Jan. 8 at 220 E. Broadway, a couple doors east of 5th Avenue. It will be Downtown’s largest restaurant, a humongous nearly 8,000 square feet.

The Thunder Canyon kitchen will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and to midnight on Friday and Saturday. The bar will serve from 11 a.m. to about 2 a.m.

The Downtown version of Thunder Canyon is the first time owner Steve Tracy and general manager Jason Schneider have had a chance to really put their stamp on the brew pub.

The stylized canyon scene in Marana came with the original owners, John and Roxane Nielsen, who these days own the Prescott Brewing Company. Tracy was a partner with them from the outset in 1997 and bought them out in 2004. Also in 1997, Schneider started at Thunder Canyon as a server and has been there ever since, except for a couple brief absences.

“We both felt like fish out of the water up there,” Schneider said about their Foothills Mall operation. “We’re excited to be in this kind of environment.”

Tracy’s a New Jersey native from just across the Hudson River from New York City and loved to head into the city. Schneider’s long been a fan of Downtown, definitely pre-dating the renaissance of the past three-four years.

 Thunder Canyon will be Downtown's largest restaurant in terms of dining room size.

Thunder Canyon will be Downtown’s largest restaurant in terms of dining room size.

“I’ve always loved Downtown, even before the restoration,” Schneider scene. “I’ve always loved the atmosphere of Downtown and 4th Avenue, the live music, there’s something about it that just agrees with me.”

The urban scene suits both gentlemen just fine. And urban is what they’ve got for you on Broadway – a vast warehouse space with the classic century-old touches of exposed brick walls and worn concrete floor with recycled wood tables and a bar top made from a Marana barn to build on the historic theme.

Thunder Canyon Northwest and Thunder Canyon Downtown pretty much have the same number of tables. The Foothills Mall version has its 34 tables tightly packed in a stylized canyon décor environment with plenty of partial walls to set areas apart.

The Downtown brew pub has the same 34 table count scattered across a vast, open space.

“We don’t have walls separating any tables,” Schneider said. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. The timing was just right. What allowed this to happen was the recession.”

Thunder Canyon will dispense draft beer from 40 taps with a rotating selection of 12 beers crafted by Thunder Canyon and a sampling of 28 beers from other small breweries. Eventually, Thunder Canyon will brew beer Downtown, but for the first year all the brewing for both restaurants will continue to take place in Marana.

“Right now, we brew over 50 beers. We’re brewing new beers all the time,” Schneider said. “The two most popular are the Amber Red Canyon and the Thunder Canyon IPA.”

Thunder Canyon will offer 40 beers on tap.

Thunder Canyon will offer 40 beers on tap.

Thunder Canyon will also have four red wines and four white wines on tap. Beyond beer and wine, Thunder Canyon will have a full bar

Downtown will have a scaled down version of the same menu offered at Foothills Mall.

“We don’t have a smoked section or pizza, but for the most part the menu is the same,” Schneider said.

Brewing beer may be the foundation for Thunder Canyon Brewery, but food gets just as much loving attention.

“When the brewery opened up, we had a 98-percent scratch kitchen,” said Schneider, referring to food made from scratch. “We got away from that a bit. We’re going back there. We make our own sausage. We ground our own beef.

“Chicken pot pie sells like crazy. Fish and chips is one of our best sellers. We’re the only people in the world who can make our pudding. People go crazy for it.”

Schneider is talking about the Brewhouse Pudding made with Thunder Canyon’s home-made malt sugar syrup. Stout comes into play in the apple pie and white chocolate shake. The deep-dish cookies is the only dessert with no influence from the beer family. It’s only been in the past two years that the brewery has spilled over to dessert.

“One of our employees said ‘How come we’re not doing more beers in our desserts?’” he said.

Thunder Canyon is a restaurant that brews its own beer. The restaurant can seat about 150 and could likely accommodate twice as many, but Thunder Canyon is not a venue for big private events.

“We won’t rent out the whole place for one group. That pisses off your regulars,” Schneider said.

The brew pub has six moderate sized televisions on the wall. Some places a third the size have twice as many TVs.
“We’re not a sports bar,” Schneider insisted. “We don’t have any special sports packages. If a game’s on, we’ll show it.”

What Thunder Canyon is, is a brew pub.

Thunder Canyon will be on Broadway, just west of 5th Avenue.

Thunder Canyon will be on Broadway, just west of 5th Avenue.

“Brew pubs, everybody goes to them, college kids, old folks. Women make up a large percentage of our clientele. Literally 50 percent of our clientele are women. We’re not just for guys,” Schneider said.

Like at Foothills Mall, Schneider anticipates three different crowds Downtown: lunch, dinner and late night. He figures Downtown will have a busier late-night crowd and more the Downtown crowd for lunch on Broadway rather than the mix of retirees and business lunches in Marana.

“Late night up there is pretty mellow,” Schneider said. “We expect it to be a little busier Downtown.”

The Downtown Thunder Canyon espouses the essence of simplicity: big space, brick walls, concrete floor and scattering of tables. Were it so simple.

“It wasn’t even an empty warehouse when we got it,” Schneider recalled. “We had to tear down the walls from the existing. The bricks were all painted and covered. We wanted to get everything back to as original as possible.”

They removed the floor coverings and then sanded and sealed the original concrete floor.

They built a bathroom into the room. The sinks are made out of sink-sized beer kegs.

The roof had skylights but they added more to bathe the brew pub with abundant daylight.

“The place at night is phenomenal. The Meet Me at Maynards walkers would just stop and look in.”

Tracy and Schneider were already looking Downtown five years ago. Now the 456-bed The Cadence student housing is going up across the street; in a year, the eastbound streetcar will roll right by; and they join a Downtown restaurant scene that has arrived.

“Businesses are starting to make it happen,” Schneider said. “We’re excited about the streetcar. If you go anywhere else with a streetcar, the businesses along it are doing well. I don’t think anyone’s going to be complaining in three years.”