ITHACA, N.Y.—Some business projects get off the ground quickly, while others may have a more drawn-out incubation process. Launching any business can be a risky venture — not only are there costs of getting it up and running, and finding the money to cover those costs, any number of external factor can throw a curveball into the best-laid plans.

Such has been the case with “Personal Best Brewing,” a microbrewery planned for the former City Health Club at 402 West Green Street, just outside Ithaca’s Downtown. The project is led by local businessman Anthony Cesari with assistance from his brother Michael, with brewer Luke Thorley as Production Manager. The project has been in the works since 2018, and initially hoped to open in late 2019 or 2020, potentially in phases, as renovations to the City Health club were completed.

Unfortunately, the logistics of renovation were complicated and other business activities took precedence. Then came COVID, with all of its impacts. However, despite the delays and “black swan” global events, the brewpub is 90% complete and finally looking towards opening its doors to customers. The heavy equipment is in place and the renovation is largely complete. If all goes to plan in the home stretch, the new microbrewery will be available for happy hours by the end of August.

Image property of Personal Best Brewing.

As currently laid out in documents filed with the city, Personal Best Brewing will be an 8,000 square-foot facility with production, service and recreational areas inside and outside the building. The plans include seating for 125 patrons, three full-size shuffleboard courts, a full-service commercial kitchen and a brand new, ten barrel stainless steel brewery system. Alongside the brewing operation, Personal Best will host shuffleboard leagues, arrange for small outdoor music events, broadcast sporting events on large screen TVs, and host outdoor fire pits for Ithaca’s many cool evenings.

As an operation, Personal Best plans to focus the majority of its craft brew sales (80%) on site. The plan is to have it serve a local clientele and be a hang-out spot where people will spend a leisurely couple of hours and play games, watch sports or enjoy small-venue live entertainment. Contrary to some lines of business, Personal Best states that its competitors, such as Liquid State, Ithaca Beer and Dryden’s Hopshire Farm have been very helpful, and see a new entrant as an opportunity to assist in growing Ithaca’s reputation as a destination for food and drink.

The State Street view of the future Personal Best microbrewery. (Photo by Syd Pierre/The Ithaca Voice)

Now, note that “filed with the city” part mentioned above, because this update comes courtesy of the city of Ithaca’s Urban Renewal Agency. The brewery is applying for a $140,000 low-interest loan from the IURA’s revolving small business loan fund, which has assisted a number of downtown businesses open and expand over the years. The success rate on repayment is very high because applicants are thoroughly vetted by the IURA staff and citizen-appointed Economic Development Committee before any dollars are doled out. However, that means Personal Best Brewing has to explain why they’re a good candidate for a loan, which involves operational details as well as the business’s financial documents and budget plan.

According to the application, alongside the $520,000 already invested by the Cesari family themselves, Personal Best is seeking the $140,000 to finish out the interior and exterior of the brewpub and complement their operational financial cushion – “(f)unds will be used for furniture, fixtures and equipment, supplies, inventory, landscaping (to turn part of the parking lot into a beer garden), and working capital.” The loan would be for five-years at a 3.56% rate, about three-quarters the interest rate of a conventional business loan. (Remember, like with a mortgage, a lower interest rate means lower repayment costs for the recipient).

In return for the loan, Personal Best offers the benefit of a new foot traffic generator on the State Street Corridor that the city has been targeting for revitalization and development, as well as 13.5 jobs, in front-of-house (bartender/servers), back-of-house (cooks) and brewing operations. Initial analysis by the IURA notes the application appears sound with low-to-moderate overall risk given the large investment already made by the Cesaris.

With potential IURA help and a bit of luck after a long stretch of planning and work, Personal Best will be putting forth their Personal Best brews in a matter of weeks. For those who want to follow along their progress and keep an eye out for a formal opening date, the microbrewery’s website is here and the Instagram can be found here.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.