Dixie Beer finally coming home to New Orleans

Updated: Nov. 13, 2019 at 9:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - When you think of Dixie Beer, you can’t help but think of New Orleans.

Founded in the city in 1907, the brewery spent decades on Tulane Avenue, eventually moving operations out of town after Hurricane Katrina.

Today, excitement is brewing again, with Dixie about to be reborn in its hometown.

“We have a 112-year-old brand that we’re bringing back in a way that it can easily be around for the next 112 years,” says Dixie General Manager Jim Birch.

Dixie will soon be produced in New Orleans for the first time since 2005 at a massive facility in New Orleans East. FOX 8 recently took a tour of the brand new state of the art brewery where there’s a whole lot on tap. It has been under construction for almost a year.

Located at 3501 Jourdan Road, it's in a part of New Orleans East many agree has been neglected.

"It's been a minute or two since we haven't had any big investment, definitely since Six Flags before Hurricane Katrina," says Cyndi Nguyen, the council member for District E. "So kudos to Dixie Beer and the Saints for investing in our community."

That commitment came in 2017, when Saints and Pelicans owners Tom and Gayle Benson announced they purchased the majority stake in the company.

When the announcement was made, team president Dennis Lauscha said, “When we came back from the hurricane, one of the things Mr. Benson said to all of us was we want to rebuild this city and that we really need to focus on community.”

At a 210-thousand square foot facility in the shadow of the high rise bridge, that vision is coming into focus.

Birch is confident the $30 million investment is at the right place at the right time.

“One of the reasons Mr. and Mrs. Benson chose this location is because of the opportunity we have just from the sheer scale of production we have in mind as well as the fact that New Orleans East hasn’t benefited as much as the rest of the town with the investment that’s occurred in the last 15-to-20 years since Hurricane Katrina,” Birch says.

The goal is to mix the old with the new, preserve an iconic local brand and in the process, bring back memories.

"The grand entrance right in front here, you'll see the bar right here. We have an old Dixie sign which was down on Tulane Avenue," says Birch. We have a kitchen and seating area and the whole front area is going to be merchandise."

There's space carved out for a beer museum, highlighting New Orleans breweries over the ages, from Dixie to Jax to Regal to Falstaff.

But the real investment is in the modern day equipment.

"This 15 barrel system is where we can innovate, create experiment and do all kind of test that your average customer is looking for today. We have two towers on the front of the bar here with 18 brands each," says Birch. "We have a centrifuge that's from Italy that allows us to spin beer at over 10,000 rpm's per minute, a buffer tank, and almost two dozen 200 barrel fermenters."

Workers have installed 8 miles of electrical wire, 3 miles of stainless steel piping and several tons of iron at the facility.

Right off the bat, Dixie will be able to brew 800-barrels a day with hopes of expanding. Right now, they're only using less than a third of the gigantic facility.

There's also a private event space for parties, community and corporate meetings.

Job seekers are turning out.

A job fair in October drew more than 100 applicants in person and about 80 online, with more job fairs planned. Dozens will be hired before the official opening to the public in January.

Councilwoman Nguyen believes that opening will spark even more development in the area.

She says, "I can see Dixie Beer attracting more companies to the manufacturing area. I can see Dixie Beer attracting hotels coming up."

“I think what it also brings for the city is a whole new attraction. So you don’t have to come to the city for Bourbon Street. This is another family friendly destination,” says Nguyen.

The outside space is ambitious.

"Here we have over 100,000 square feet with a beer garden, a small lake, fire pits and we’re gonna have some bocce courts as well," Birch says.

Kids and pets will be welcome to hang out on a grassy meadow.

The challenge is getting tourists and locals to the brewery without having to navigate through blight in the surrounding area. The city says it's working to address that issue before Dixie opens.

"We're working as fast as we can and as you indicated, there's private property, blighted property there since Katrina," says Nguyen. "We're working with the NOPD to basically address a lot of nuisance taking place and making sure that it's not just for the grand opening, that it stays that way."

It's being called one of the most exciting brands to be re-introduced to New Orleans.

Birch thinks it can easily get back to its historic high.

"We're starting with a brand that has a 112 year legacy. We're starting with the intention of getting back to where Dixie was in the 1950's which was a 30-40% market share," says Birch.

Once the city's favorite brew is ready to live up to its old slogan, 'Around here, it's Dixie Beer.'

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