The local craft brewery explosion helped fuel St. Petersburg’s renaissance as a culture, arts and hospitality destination, and the Dozark family was there from the beginning.
Doug Dozark was brewing beers long before zoning changes allowed him to launch Cycle Brewing, the first brewery downtown. His wife, Tara, had an intimate view of the area’s transformation as a local architect.
The bootstrapped, family-owned brewery has endured long enough for Doug to wonder if the city’s ever-growing popularity will price out the small businesses that make it unique. However, the next several days are a chance to reflect on and celebrate 10 years of serving brews from a small Central Avenue location that – unlike its surroundings – has only undergone incremental changes.
“Having a consistent place is something we set out to do,” Dozark said. “Consistency, I think, has been a cornerstone. That’s really important to me for a brewery.”
Cycle Brewing opened Aug. 15, 2013, at 534 Central Ave. The celebrations begin Saturday afternoon (today) and culminate on Tuesday, the official anniversary date.
Accustomed to operating in the background as a master brewer, Dozark said he put his wife and some staffers in charge of event planning. As always, he will “take care of the beers.”
Cycle Brewing has plenty of those, and about a dozen people filled its barstools to watch soccer at 10 a.m. Saturday. Several more walked in to pick up anniversary edition, barrel-aged stout growlers.
Dozark is proud of what his family has built. Tara gleefully showed pictures of her baby daughter Adeline crawling along the bar as they renovated the space. Adeline is now 10.
For Doug, the anniversary represents a chance to reconnect with early supporters.
“It’s not really living in the past – it’s just kind of revisiting,” Dozark explained. “Some people from out of town that were a part of Peg’s, I think we’ll get to see there.”
Cycle Brewing’s roots extend to the neighboring City of Gulfport. Dozark began crafting its first beers inside Peg’s Cantina and Brew Pub, owned by his mother, Peg Wesselink.
The family received its brewpub license in 2009, just as Cigar City Brewing opened in Tampa. Peg’s closed in 2018 after an 11-year run, and Dozark often spoke fondly of the people present during that time.
That is when Dozark said brewing became “the thing to do.” He also worked at Cigar City and recalled St. Petersburg city officials visiting in 2010 or 2011.
They toured the facility and explored the commercial potential of breweries and tap rooms. “It was a whole thing,” Dozark said. “Because the city didn’t have any provisions where a brewery could be. Zoning requirements were the first major hurdle.
“They knew about restaurants that had breweries. But a brewery that didn’t have food, they were very unsure about where they could allow that to exist.”
Dozark credited Green Bench Brewing’s ownership for their integral role in the city code changes. However, he recalled that opening a location in the city was still quite the process.
He noted that younger, enthusiastic owners and their friends shared a vision of transforming downtown St. Pete from “God’s waiting room” into a thriving destination. Breweries often feature local art and music, and Dozark said the facilities provided additional creative outlets.
There is also the economic aspect. Dozark said the craft brewing era provided younger residents full-time jobs and benefits not typically offered in the service industry.
“Breweries ended up being kind of a cornerstone place of stability,” he said. “That I think remains of value to the business community and St. Pete.”
Unlike many brewers, Dozark said his family lacked financial backing and grew organically. He began brewing in five-gallon buckets and distributed products in a Volkswagen van.
Those continued “baby steps” eventually led to people forming lines that stretched several city blocks to purchase barrel-aged stouts. The small brewery could not keep pace with demand, and Dozark said people would resell the special editions for hundreds of dollars.
“There was not much else going on in town,” Tara said. “There was so much enthusiasm; people would camp out and sleep overnight … to buy our beers. It’s all people would talk about.”
Altercations ensued, and the Dozarks made a concerted effort to increase their supply. Tara explained that Cycle Brewing only carries beers brewed on the premises – except during charity promotions – and said Doug tosses entire batches that do not meet his standards.
Tara recently entrusted a childhood friend and New York City-based designer to create the company’s labels. She called Doug a “beer nerd” who still prefers to focus on brewing.
The dedication and attention to detail have paid dividends. In 2020, a beer rating organization placed Cycle Brewing 19th on its list of the top 100 “Best Brewers in the World.”
“I’ve seen things go from dreams into reality (in St. Petersburg),” Tara said. “And this is just a part of that.”