Tarantula Hill Brewing coming to North County

Five-year-old Thousand Oaks beer company to take over brewery at Cohn Restaurant Group’s Draft Republic in San Marcos

In 2017, the parent company of Mason Ale Works opened the third and, by far, the largest edition of its Urge Gastropub concept in the mixed-use North City development abutting the California State University – San Marcos campus. Going by the name Urge Common House, the 28,000-square-foot, new-construction mega-restaurant sported a 15-barrel brewhouse feeding droves of 30- and 60-barrel fermenters. It was the next step in taking both Urge and the Mason brand to the next level, but time and changing market conditions spelled a different future for the ambitious brewpub.

Following the March 2020 onset of the pandemic, Urge Common House suspended restaurant operations, while continuing to operate the brewery component. In the summer of 2021, the business was taken over in its entirety by San Diego’s largest hospitality concern, Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG), which branded it under its successful beer-centric concept, Draft Republic. As far back as 2018, CRG had hoped to open its own brewing operation, having worked for years to do so in La Mesa. The acquisition of the San Marcos facility allowed them to finally do so.

The following January, CRG partnered with Carlsbad-based Rouleur Brewing, allowing owner and Brewmaster Rawley Macias to assume operation of Draft Republic San Marcos’ brewhouse as a partner. Under their agreement, Macias was able to brew Rouleur’s beers at the facility, providing him the increased capacity he needed as he expanded his business, in exchange for producing a quartet of white-label Draft Republic Brewing beers for CRG to offer at its 20-plus restaurants throughout San Diego County. 

It was a win-win, but over the past year Macias has pivoted to a “growing down” business model in which he is no longer looking to expand, but rather decrease production and stop chasing new consumers in favor of selling as much beer as possible to his most loyal customers over his own bar. As such, he recently declined to reup his lease at Draft Republic, leaving CRG in need of a brewer to take over in San Marcos. Thanks to friends in common it didn’t take long to find a new tenant. Draft Republic’s brewery is now the domain of Tarantula Hill Brewing.

Though the five-year-old operation is based in Thousand Oaks, it has well-formed roots in San Diego County. Brewmaster Mike Richmond and Head Brewer Dante Tomei worked together at Stone Brewing for nearly a decade apiece, eventually sharing an office as the Brewing Process Manager and Packaging Supervisor, respectively.

“It was a good job and I learned a lot,” says Richmond. “In 2017 I was up at the Bluesapalooza beer-and-music festival, and someone told me there was a guy looking to open the first-ever brewery in Thousand Oaks. He wanted to know if I was interested and I said, ‘Well, I’m from there.’ He said that was even better.”

Tarantula Hill Brewing Thousand Oaks
Tarantula Hill Brewing’s flagship location in Thousand Oaks, California

Native-son status was a key to Tarantula Hill winning over Thousand Oaks residents who, once they learned the vast majority of the opening team was from their hometown, were excited rather than wary about the project that would convert an ancient downtown furniture showroom into a brewery-restaurant. Richmond spent most of 2018 building a brewery from the ground up. He says it was a lot of work, but an amazing opportunity; essentially every brewer’s dream.

The past half-decade has been one of steady growth for Tarantula Hill. Today, its distribution footprint spans from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County, and the company has maxed out its manufacturing capabilities in Thousand Oaks. When one of the business’ San Diego-based investors, Jack McGrory, approached ownership to let them know that a friend of his at CRG was looking to find a brewing company to take over Draft Republic’s San Marcos brewery, they were excited, but also a little hesitant.. 

“The money is right and the space is pretty turnkey, plus we’re with Stone Distributing Co. and key people from our team have spent a lot of time in San Diego. Dante is actually from there and I worked at Stone for nearly ten years,” says Richmond. “But San Diego is a hard market with breweries and taprooms that aren’t local. We know lots of industry folks down there, so we asked them for their opinions. Most of them thought it was an awesome idea and there wouldn’t be a lot of hard feelings about us coming to town, so we signed a lease in January and have been working with Rawley to slowly switch out their capacity for ours without messing up anybody’s production schedules.”

With a lease signed, Richmond says all they needed was a “top-notch, hot-shot brewer” to run the San Marcos facility. After interviewing a number of stellar candidates, they brought on Tyler Potter, who comes to them after several years spent at Vista-based Pure Project Brewing. If all goes as planned, his first brew will take place next week, and the transition from Rouleur to Tarantula Hill will be fully completed sometime in April.

Potter will brew a rotating stock of collaboration beers, one-offs and specialty beers, while production of mainstays such as flagship Liquid Candy hazy IPA, Cali Day IPA and a namesake blonde ale will take place in Thousand Oaks.

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