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Dekaj, an Albanian who came to South Florida in 1996, speaks in a thick, staccato accent. "They explained the farmers' market, the brewery, the culinary institute and I thought it was a good idea," he says. "I want to be a part of that change."
Dekaj is spending about $500,000, mostly on commercial baking equipment, for the new space. He'll have a small café similar to the Wilton Manors outpost, but his focus will be a commercial bakery to support a growing wholesale and catering service.
"I haven't gone to Las Olas for a long time; it's the same stuck-up restaurants," says Dekaj. "Here I see people thinking outside of the box, and that could change the way we eat."
Still, there are chances for the plan to go off-track. A small café called By Jamie opened in the district in late 2012 and closed just months later. The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale could decline the option to start a culinary program. It could take longer for the city to rev up and find vendors for the open-air market. All the while, it will require city investment.
Perhaps the biggest gambler at the table is Ryan Sentz, who owns the Funky Buddha with his brother K.C. They are spending nearly $1.5 million on their flagship brewery, which is ten times larger than the Boca Raton brewpub. The only incentive they got from Oakland Park was a few thousand dollars toward signage.
Like Dekaj, Sentz says he bought into Oakland Park and RMA's vision.
Speaking in a deep, calm voice 48 hours before the brewery opened, Sentz said, "As a brewery, we try to emphasize the culinary aspect of our brewing. [City officials] want to use us as an anchor to attract other people."
Inside the Buddha's almost 20,000 square feet is a 30-barrel brewing system that will produce anywhere from 900 to 1,800 gallons at a time. The vast majority of it will be distributed across the state and perhaps one day throughout the Southeast.
"One of the biggest challenges in any redevelopment strategy is finding that first person," says McCormick, of RMA. "Nobody wants to be that first person, who I call the 'It Guy,' because that's the one that has the most vision and in a sense is taking the most risk."
Sentz, who went to school to become a psychologist, seems indifferent to the great weight on his shoulders. He doesn't talk about a five-year plan, future upgrades to the brewing system, or how many bars he hopes will one day sell Funky Buddha beer.
"My goal is to do what we do well and everything else will fall into place," he says. "I think as soon as you put up expectations is when you get into trouble."