Brothers Richard and Mengistu Koilor hope to open in summer 2023 in uCity Square in University City.

Two Locals Brewing Co., Philadelphia’s first Black-owned brewery, has signed a lease for a brewery and taproom at uCity Square, a mixed-use development on the Drexel University campus at 37th and Market Streets in University City.

Brothers Richard and Mengistu Koilor, whose beers are now being contract-brewed out of Mainstay Independent Brewing in Northern Liberties, hope to open in summer 2023.

The Koilors are working with Wexford Science & Technology to develop the space, which has not had a tenant since it was completed in 2018. The nearly 6,000 square feet will house a 15-barrel brew house, typical of a medium to large brew pub, that will be visible from 37th Street. The taproom entrance will be midblock, closer to Filbert Street.

The Koilors said Wexford was helping with the buildout. Besides bootstrapping the project, they have an investor and hope to obtain a loan from the PIDC.

Two Locals’ beer list — now two — will expand to include 12 taps. They will also sell Pennsylvania wines, ciders, and spirits. The menu will feature bar food plus a weekly dish inspired by the brothers’ Liberian and Jamaican heritage. Megistu, 42, moved from Liberia to Philadelphia when he was 7, while Richard, 31, was born here; they grew up in what is now known as the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia. It’s 10 minutes from the new location, a point that drives home the Locals in their brand name.

“There are not a lot of places in West Philly that can house a brewery,” Megistu said. “The places where there might be a building, the area isn’t really ready for a brewery. University City puts us close enough to where we grew up that we can still have an effect on the community, and it’s a higher visibility for our first space.”

First space?

“Anytime you’re in retail, the more points of sale that you can get, the more eyes on you that you can get, the better,” Richard said, suggesting an expansion beyond this flagship.

Rendering of the planned exterior of Two Locals Brewing Co., on 37th Street near Filbert. Courtesy of Wexford Science & Technology
Rendering of the planned exterior of Two Locals Brewing Co., on 37th Street near Filbert. Courtesy of Wexford Science & Technology

Besides bar and dining areas, the Two Locals taproom also will have outdoor seating. “I think the design does a really nice job of activating the streetscape,” said Pete Cramer, a Wexford vice president.

The Koilors also envision the space as a focal point to support community initiatives such as school supply drives, apprenticeship programs, and events featuring local artists — an overall mission that attracted Wexford to the project.

Two Locals’ Nubian, a brown ale, and Prolific, a hazy IPA, can be found now at supermarkets, grocery stores, and bars such as Local 44 and City Tap House.

In 2016, Richard Koilor bought a one-gallon home-brew kit and brewed an Irish red ale that they both enjoyed. They started brewing together in Mengistu’s back yard and then in Richard’s kitchen. They joined the Philadelphia Homebrew Club to bond and get tips. Three years later, Nubian won a silver medal at Winter Warmers, a meet hosted by the club.

Initially, the beer business was a “5-to-9″ job for the brothers. But Richard, a graduate of St. Joseph’s Prep and St. Joseph’s University who was doing accounting for a tech company, joined a local brewery to gain experience. Megistu, a graduate of Haverford School and Morehouse College, is in financial-service data management.

The more they got into the brewing scene, the more they saw the lack of Black brewers and Black breweries, Richard said.

A 2019 survey by the Brewers Association, a national trade group, found that brewery owners are 88% white, 4% American Indian or Alaska Native, 2% Asian or Latinx, and just 1% Black, and that about 23% of breweries are owned by women. In 2020, the association began a program called Entrepreneurship and Equity in Brewing in an attempt to address the inequity.

“I see more interest in brewing, whether it’s people wanting to get into brewing or start a craft-beer blog or do events that’s based around craft beer,” Richard said, pointing out the growth of Barrel & Flow Fest, an annual Black beer and arts in Pittsburgh that had its third meeting in August. “It’s been good to see.”