Trinity River Distillery
1734 E. El Paso St.
Fort Worth 76102
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Fort Worth businessman Bruce Conti has a habit of turning whatever he touches into gold. In the case of his latest business venture, he is looking for liquid gold.
Conti, 59, has turned the historic Ranch Style Beans plant into Trinity River Distillery. The landmark building with the big sign folks could see from Interstate 30 just southeast of downtown Fort Worth is still there, but the cans of beans have been replaced with bottles of smooth whiskey under the Texas Silver Star label.
“It just falls in my lap,” Conti said of his success since entering the real estate business in 1997. “I would have never guessed I’d have equity in a whiskey distillery, but it’s a fun deal.”
Indeed he does, and word is getting out that Trinity River Distillery is a fun place to hang out, listen to music and chill. Like numerous other places in which Conti has gotten involved, it appears to have a strong future.
Among his other successful ventures is one that is closest to heart. In 2015 he opened a neurological center in Fort Worth to help his son, Spencer, rehabilitate after doctors discovered he was not getting enough oxygen to his brain and his organs failed.
Spencer, who was home from his freshman year at the University of Alabama, was using a Lokomat machine while rehabbing in Houston. When his son returned home, Bruce Conti bought an old Target store off Interstate 30 in West Fort Worth and turned it into a neurological center used by Spencer and many others.
While the distillery is the biggest business in the former Ranch Style complex, it does not stand alone. Across the lot is Wild Acre Brewery, which specializes in beer. And there’s Dollamur, which has nothing to do with beverages but instead features portable sports surfaces, such as cheerleader and wrestling mats.
Put it all together, and it’s quite a hill of beans.
“I thought this would be set up good for a brewery. A startup said they had the stuff to step right in,” Conti said of Wild Acre. “I like that deal also. They’re going pretty well.”
Wild Acre’s CEO and founder, John Pritchett, agrees.
“I loved everything about the place when I saw it for the first time, its proximity to downtown, the old brick warehouse, its familiarity with people who remember the sign on the tower, plus the size and pastoral landscape of the property,” Pritchett said.
“From our beer garden facing east, you would think you were in the country. Facing west you can see the downtown skyline. I love that contrast. It makes the property and the experience it delivers very unique.”
MORE THAN BEVERAGES
Both places do much more than produce their beverages, however.
Trinity River is open to the public each Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m. for tastings and live music on the patio. It usually features two bands, one playing from 2 to 5 p.m. and another from 6 to 10 p.m. It is available Wednesday through Friday for private parties, events and corporate outings.
Wild Acre is open to the public every Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m., and it books the taproom and beer garden for private events.
And if it’s a larger musical outing you’re looking for, each can provide that as well.
Trinity River has an outdoor concert stage with space for about 2,000 patrons. Performers have included Fort Worth’s own Austin Allsup, recently seen on television on The Voice.
“It’s not too big or small, a perfect, comfortable setting,” Conti said.
Likewise, Wild Acre has a climate-controlled tap room with garage doors that can open to link it to a spacious outdoor beer garden with picnic table seating. There are large interior windows to view the brewhouse and tanks.
Wild Acre has live music most every weekend and has twice hosted The Hardline from Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket.
Both venues are working on concerts for the spring.
“We’re just getting the feel for getting people in here,” Conti said. “They flow in and flow out.”
Always thinking ahead, Conti is already excited about Phase II of Trinity River Distillery. The upstairs portion of the old Ranch Style Beans building will be turned into a party area with a dance floor and an elevator between floors.
“Sometimes you just need a little more space,” Conti said of the additional party area, on which work is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2017.
There will also be windows for “overlooking Gotham,” Conti said.
What will not be touched, however, is an old area where the beans were cooked and put on a conveyor belt in cans. Although the belt and, of course, the beans are no longer around, folks can get a glimpse of what it was like back before the iconic company went out of business in 2010.
WHAT THEY DO BEST
Before all the fun, however, comes the work and producing the specialties. For Trinity River, it’s Silver Star Whiskey, which includes the top seller, Texas Honey Liqueur Whiskey. It also has a premium distilled vodka that is popular.
In the small but productive lab, Conti said, experts are working on a variety of other blends, including apple, cocoa and toffee. They are also looking into a crystallized honey abstract involving area honey bee farmers.
“We want to get more local, and there are several good ones around here,” Conti said.
Texas Silver Star is headquartered in Dallas and owned by the father-son duo of Dan and Ben Alexander. Recipes are designed locally and sent to Tennessee, where they are then returned with alcohol. The blending process also includes harvested rain water from Texas.
“It is cool, especially the vodka. You really want it clear, fresh,” Conti said.
The goal, Conti said, is to do all the work at home in the Trinity River plant. It already has a still and two rooms with nearly 100 barrels made of charred white oak.
And, for those who visit, Conti said there could be a special treat.
“We might have products here that never hit the streets,” he said, noting that they are always experimenting with flavors.
Wild Acre sells four core beers and works with special release/seasonal items, a program Pritchett said will continue to expand.
“The Billy Jenkins Sessions Bock and the Tarantula Hawk Red IPA have been our best-selling items to date,” Pritchett said.
Billy Jenkins is a light-bodied lager brewed in the bock tradition and named after Fort Worth’s namesake, Gen. William Jenkins Worth.
“It’s a wonderful beer that can apply to any occasion,” Pritchett said.
The Tarantula Hawk is a hoppy beer with a rich and beautiful red color and tremendous balance for the IPA style.
The beers are sold throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area on draft in bars and restaurants and in 12-ounce cans in select liquor and grocery stores. Silver Star Whiskey is also available in liquor stores.
“We have a great group of people that care deeply about the brands. This reveals itself in the quality of the liquid itself, where it is placed and how it is presented in the marketplace, online, etc.,” Pritchett said. “We work hard to deliver on all of those aspects, and have plenty of work to do yet. It’s never-ending. You have to be adaptive and very nimble in this marketplace.”
NEXT FOR CONTI
Conti said his next venture in 2017 is starting a virtual reality company for neurologic patients who require gait training.
Conti also bought the old Fort Worth Star-Telegram printing plant in south Fort Worth and now leases space to several companies. They include accounting offices for Cook Children’s Health Care System, a Ben Hogan golf equipment company and Pier I Imports.
Conti had owned manufacturing companies for items such as plastics, labeling, data and industrial screen printing before switching careers in 1997.
“As I was growing I would buy a crappy building and fix it up, put something in it,” he said. “I found I enjoyed that much more, so I sold everything and put it into real estate.”
As he prepares to celebrate 20 years of success following that decision, Conti said he does not see an end in sight.
“I’m always looking,” he said with a smile.
And that keeps others smiling.