Drive along Interstate 35W in Fort Worth and you'll see a painted sign on a three-story brick building: O.B. Macaroni.
For more than a century, the building was home to a family-owned maker of macaroni and other starchy products. Now, this old landmark is getting new life: Entrepreneurs are moving in and finding space to make their own goods and expand their brands.
Craftwork Coffee Co. is the first tenant to move in. On a recent afternoon, Craftwork co-founder Riley Kiltz was scooping green coffee beans from a giant burlap bag. Those green beans will go into a big, gleaming, high-tech roaster.
Once Kiltz and master roaster Josh Tyer get the process perfected, they'll be turning out about 1,500 pounds of dark coffee — ready to grind and brew.
“We’re three to four months into roasting, and we’re just about to get to a point where we can release our espresso blend,” Kiltz says.
Craftwork is about 18 months old; it’s a hybrid coffee shop and co-working space. Just a few months ago, they started roasting their own beans when they moved into this old pasta factory.
Kiltz says it’s been a lot of trial and error. He points to a stack of a dozen gallon-sized buckets of failed roasts.
“That was just last week,” he says, a bit sheepishly.
While Craftwork is up and running – or up and roasting – the rest of the building is a work in progress.
So far, three other tenants are slated to move in after the first phase of redevelopment is finished: Melt Ice Cream, W. Durable Goods and TexMalt will use the space primarily for production. The second phase will turn the upper floors into office space.
'A gorgeous building'
The project is the brainchild of twin sisters Jessica Miller and Susan Gruppi, who together run the commercial real estate development firm M2G Ventures.
Built in the 1860s as a stagecoach hotel, it was turned into a pasta factory in the early 1900s and expanded over the years.
In 2015, Miller first toured the O.B. Mac building, which stands for Our Best Macaroni. It was still in operation, still owned by the same family.
“We had the actual booties on walking around,” Miller says. “It was all chopped up, lots of equipment in here, but you could still tell that it’s a gorgeous building.”
Miller and Gruppi bought the building last year. The 33 year olds and their siblings were raised by parents who worked in real estate development, so they were pretty much training for this their whole lives.
“Our favorite thing when we were little was drive around and look at buildings,” Miller says. “And once we got old enough to use the phone and be somewhat professional, we’d be like 'Hey, we like that house' or 'We like that building,' and he’d say, ‘Hey, call and get the information on it.’”
Miller says she and Gruppi still drive around, looking at buildings and dreaming.
That’s how they came up with their vision for O.B. Mac.
'Why not ... do something cool'
Miller and her sister like working on old buildings, she says, finding a way to find new uses that still pay homage to their pasts.
Up on the third floor, Miller points to the perfect example.
Right in the middle of two big empty rooms is a pair of industrial pasta dryers that stretch from floor to ceiling, sprawling old things. Miller points out the 100-year-old cedar and glass on one of them.
“A lot of developers would come in and say: 'This is really blocking sight lines; let’s get rid of it,'” Miller says. “We look at it and say: 'Why not salvage the wood on the inside and do something cool with that but then create this really cool conference room or bar or executive's office?'”
'The joy factory'
Miller says not everyone gets the appeal. They look at O.B. Mac, and see more work than it’s worth.
But Kari Seher totally gets it. She’s the co-owner of Melt Ice Cream, a 3-year-old company that’ll start making their ice cream at O.B. Mac.
She says they’ve been referring to it as the "joy factory."
Seher says it’s exciting “to be in a building that has a legacy of a family business that was over 100 years old, just getting to weave ourselves into this rich history that goes back for so many years.”
Right now, Melt makes all of its ice cream in the back of a tiny storefront on Magnolia. Seher says moving into O.B. Mac is part of an expansion plan. They need to make a lot more ice cream because they’ve got plans for a TCU stadium concession stand, a retrofitted ice cream truck and maybe a new storefront.
Buzz and excitement
Such is the nature of O.B. Mac’s other tenants: They’re all growing fast, and need dedicated production space to expand. Also, they’re all millennials.
Seher says they’re big on collaboration and help each other figure things out by sharing tips, tricks and skills that new business owners need to know. She says she’s also gotten help from more established business leaders as well. That’s what Seher likes about being part of Fort Worth’s new generation of entrepreneurs.
“There’s this buzz and this excitement,” she says. “And I think our entrepreneur scene is really connected, and it’s been a great launching pad for businesses.”
Back in his coffee roasting shop, Riley Kiltz says he’s experienced the same esprit de corps.
He actually looked at setting up shop in Austin and elsewhere, but decided Fort Worth was the right place to launch his coffee and co-working business. Craftwork now has two shops, with a third on the way, in addition to the roasting operation at O.B. Mac.
Kiltz says Fort Worth is affordable, which means people can take more risks.
“I think there is a new Fort Worth emerging," he said. "It’s really exciting to be a part of that."
Kiltz says some of the coolest entrepreneurs in this new Fort Worth are going to be his neighbors in the old pasta factory.