Sneak Peek: Sunny Grove Brewing

What to expect when a family-run brewery soft-opens in the former home of Pacific Islander Beer Co. in Santee

After expending a great deal of energy to convert a Lemon Grove auto-body shop into a brewery, Scott and Tessa Christian’s efforts were thwarted by a lack of utilities. It sounds like an easy enough problem to fix, but doing so would have cost them $100,000, not to mention two years of waiting. After moving on from that project site, they discussed the possibility of purchasing the former home of Lemon Grove’s first-and-only beer concern, 13 Point Brewing. Equipped with everything they needed and familiar to locals, it seemed like a safe spot that they could quickly get up, running and open. They went into escrow on the brewery and tasting room, but four months later it became clear that the financials simply didn’t pencil out. This was the year-and-a-half-long double false-start beginning of Sunny Grove Brewing’s story. Yet, despite those dour initial chapters, it would appear this tale will turn out to be a happy one. 

Last October, the Christians were able to take over a portion of the facility previously operated by Pacific Islander Beer Co. Located just west of Cuyamaca Street and Prospect Avenue in Santee, it had all of the required utilities and plenty of space for a brewhouse, cellar and patrons. With all of those boxes checked, the couple signed on the dotted line and have spent the last eight months demoing the brewery and building it back up to most effectively suit their needs. That included bringing in their own production equipment and significantly increasing the tasting room’s square-footage. It’s been a lot of work, but the Christians are nearing the finish line and are eager to introduce locals to Sunny Grove when the business debuts on Saturday, June 15.

During that soft-open period, three beers will be on tap: a blonde ale, pale ale and a West Coast IPA called Hammerhead. Those house offerings are currently fermenting away, with a German-style Pilsner and Mexican-style lager next up on the brew schedule. As Scott continues to brew and fills out Sunny Grove’s 18 taps, he intends to always have a few lagers available. Those bottom-fermented beers will change with the seasons, with a dunkel and darker lagers tapping during the fall and winter months. Colder seasons will also bring the opportunity to brew Irish and Scottish styles, while multiple clear and hazy IPAs of varying strengths will be available year-round.

Tessa and Scott Christian
Tessa and Scott Christian

Given how much they wanted to open a brewery in Lemon Grove, one can’t help but wonder how they felt about bringing their concept – a longtime dream of theirs that they’ve sunk everything into – to another community. To that, Tessa says Santee, and to a greater extent all of East County, is perfectly suited for Sunny Grove and its mission to provide quality beers in a comfortable, hospitable environment where people feel seen and taken care of.

“People out here want to hang out and want to drink,” says Tessa, noting that the space’s previous tenant had a nine-year run before bowing out. It’s proof of one brewery’s concept, but she feels even more confident about her own as she outlines the alterations she and Scott have made to the venue’s public spaces.

Key among them is a mural running the length of the east wall displaying the silhouettes of “hop palms” – an element plucked from Sunny Grove’s logo – against a rainbow-colored horizon. There is also the installation of a wrap-around quartz-topped bar that extends beyond the tasting room’s original footprint and into the back half of the facility. Stylishly downlit for nighttime appeal, it is stocked with plenty of high-top chairs, a seating option that extends to a rail bar looking out onto Prospect. Making the bar the centerpiece of the space and ensuring it allowed visitors a view of the brewery (where the tanks are lit by bulbs that change color) spoke to the Christians’ personal preferences.

We love sitting around and talking at bars, and want guests to be able to pull up a seat and enjoy that here. We also like seeing brewery operations and want people to be able to watch what’s going on at our brewery.”

Tessa Christian, Co-owner, Sunny Grove Brewing

Additional seating is provided at the back of the tasting room in the form of two farm tables and some four-tops. That area is lit by overhead strands of lights and abuts a roll-up door which will provide access to food trucks.

A small balcony area overlooking the brewery is located three-fourths of the way up a staircase leading to a private room which will be reservable for private events (e.g., parties, fantasy sports drafts). Outside, a fenced-in turf patio which was incredibly popular during Pacific Islander Beer’s tenancy is sure to remain a draw despite having been downsized so that it is compliant with zoning regulations (which it was not previously). There will be biergarten-style tables and vines climbing up a palm-framed exterior wall bordering the outdoor area.

It’s taken a great deal of time, stress and sweat to get to this point, and while the Christians admit that self-financing Sunny Grove is a little scary, they say it’s mostly exciting and has been all the effort they have put into it.

“We’re living our dream. It’s been something in the making for a long time,” says Tessa. “I believe in us as a team. I believe in Scott’s beers and him as a brewer, and I believe in myself as an operator. I know what comes with opening a business from career experience. We’ve put lots of effort into our jobs up to this point, and it’s time we are the ones that get to benefit.”

Once open, Sunny Grove’s hours of operation will be 3 to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Back to top button