“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
This is the directive of Ecclesiastes 9:7, a favorite Bible verse of the local Greater Purpose Community Church, which has big plans for an expansion in downtown Santa Cruz.
Pastor Christopher VanHall says the progressive-minded church will be opening the Greater Purpose Brewing Company in the former Logos bookstore building on Pacific Avenue. The group has already signed a lease with former Logos owner John Livingston, who still owns the building.
“Jesus drank wine and had a reputation of hanging out in places where people consumed alcohol,” VanHall says. “But for some reason, American churches have been vigilant in saying ‘You can’t drink alcohol.’”
After a remodel, the building will have a full restaurant upstairs and a brewery on the basement floor. VanHall describes the idea as more of a community space than a traditional church, although there’ll be literature available and normal church services on Sunday. He explains that the menu will feature their craft beer and mead, while the dining will be mostly soul food, “Southern fusion,” as VanHall calls it. A coffee corner nook will serve as a common area for people to hang out and chat.
Greater Purpose is not your typical Christian congregation. The church, which marched in Santa Cruz’s recent Pride parade, already has regular Faith On Tap meetings, which are open to people of all religions to gather and drink craft beer while discussing how to raise money or volunteer their time for local issues.
“If there’s something that needs to be done in the community we should do it together,” emphasizes VanHall.
While the connection between brewing and Bibles may sound tenuous to some, VanHall notes that monks have brewed their own beer for centuries, so it’s not a radical idea, but rather one that Greater Purpose hopes to resurrect. Some of the most famous brewing monks were the Trappists, who began brewing in the 1600s. Today, seven Trappist monasteries still brew their own suds, with Chimay being the most recognizable to Americans. VanHall says Greater Purpose will even take a page from the Belgian company’s business model of giving back and will split their profits with local organizations working for social and environmental justice, as well as homeless rights.
“Giving people the opportunity to ‘pour with a purpose’—knowing every pint you drink goes to a charitable cause—was very attractive to me,” he explains. “One of the most common things that bubbles up in conversation with nonprofits is their lack of funding.”
VanHall says starting a brewery and restaurant has been the church’s plan for some time, ever since selling its Garfield Park location, known as the Circle Church, in January. Since then, the pastor and his board of directors looked all over the county for a building to house the project until their rental agent mentioned the Logos vacancy.
“It’s more about community than anything,” Livingston, their new landlord, says. “I really like their approach.”
Livingston has owned the building since 1991, after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake left Logos’ previous Cooper Street location condemned and red-tagged. That forced him to move his beloved used book and music store to Pacific Avenue, where it remained until closing in September.
VanHall says he likes that Planned Parenthood has local offices just upstairs from the church’s soon-to-be new location in the old Logos building. “A woman’s right to choose is something most churches are silent on or opposed to, but that’s not where we stand in the faith community,” he explains.
The church hopes to open next summer, but VanHall says that date could change. Not only will Greater Purpose need to completely remodel the inside of the building, but it has also only just begun to file all of the necessary paper with the city of Santa Cruz. The new company’s leaders have to apply for an alcohol license in a town that is already saturated with 260 alcohol outlets—one of the highest concentrations in the state, according to Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Rick Martinez. After the earthquake, alcohol permits were used as an incentive to attract businesses back to the devastated downtown area. However, Martinez says Greater Purpose Brewing Company shouldn’t have any trouble securing a license. “It won’t be that hard if they keep it low risk,” he says.
Compared to high-risk outlets such as liquor bars, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control defines low-risk outlets as pubs and restaurants. These permits are easier for businesses to obtain because these businesses generally close earlier and offer patrons food to soak up the booze.
Once open, the space could be seen as another step in Pacific’s continuously changing climate. In the wake of booming online retailers, the faces of American brick-and-mortar stores are becoming increasingly niched, while eateries are on the rise. Santa Cruz isn’t any different.
“Over the last number of years, the growth has definitely been in the restaurant/pub area,” says Santa Cruz Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb.
She feels that many local business owners excel at creating unique dining and retail experiences that fit a Santa Cruz vibe. The city’s Economic Development Office is awaiting an updated retail analysis from business expert Robert Gibbs, who first visited Santa Cruz in 2011 and came back earlier this year.
As for Greater Purpose Brewing Company in particular, Lipscomb praises the idea. “Its primary purpose as a restaurant and brewery really fits our downtown core,” she says, adding that there will be plenty of demand, given consumers’ changing habits.
Aside from spreading the Gospel, VanHall really just wants to turn heads and help people challenge their own preconceived notions—not unlike the message that the church’s original messiah sent some 2,000 years ago.
“We hope to be an absolute conundrum for people walking by,” he says. “A church that serves beer and gives the profits away to places like Planned Parenthood is really exciting to me.”