Latino-owned brewery coming to Back of the Yards

Somos Monos Cervecería began in Back of the Yards as a home-brewing project around 10 years ago. Now it’s getting its own space, and its owners hope it will become a family hangout.

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From left to right: Rocio Santoyo, Victor Santoyo and Rene Lemus of Somos Monos Cervecería at the Santoyo home in Back of the Yards.

Rocio Santoyo (from left), Victor Santoyo and Rene Lemus of Somos Monos Cervecería at the Santoyo home in Back of the Yards. Victor Santoyo has been homebrewing under the Somos Monos name for about a decade, but through funding from Invest South/West, the group will get the chance to turn their homebrewing project into a commercial brewery for the neighborhood.

Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times

The goal of the Invest South/West program is to spur more development in neglected parts of Chicago, and since launching in 2019, it has helped launch a variety of projects, from housing next to transit to food business incubators.

But until now, none of them has come with lagers made on site.

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Somos Monos Cervecería, a longtime Back of the Yards home-brewing operation, is joining a Southwest Side project at 47th Street and Ashland Avenue known as United Yards that’s getting Invest South/West money.

It will be one of the first Latino-owned breweries in the city and one of the few on the South Side.

Construction is set to begin soon on the two-story taproom and brewery at 1641 W. 47th St. It’s expected to be complete in a year.

From left to right: Rocio Santoyo, Victor Santoyo and Rene Lemus of Somos Monos Cervecería at the Santoyo home in Back of the Yards.

Rocio Santoyo (from left), her husband Victor Santoyo and Rene Lemus of Somos Monos Cervecería at the Santoyo home in Back of the Yards. Victor Santoyo has been home brewing under the Somos Monos name for about a decade, but through funding from Invest South/West, the group will get the chance to create a commercial brewery for the neighborhood. Lemus joined the project a few years ago as a business partner.

Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times

The owner-brewers — and husband and wife — Victor and Rocio Santoyo hope to create a neighborhood hangout that showcases local music and art.

“We’re trying to get away from being your typical corner bar or cantina,” said Victor Santoyo, 38. “Our main focus is to have a family-oriented place where you can go there with your uncle, your grandfather, your kids.”

Santoyo, a Back of the Yards native, began brewing at home about 10 years ago, after stumbling across a YouTube tutorial and thinking: “I like beer — why can’t I try and do my own?”

In 2019, he showcased the brew at a festival in Pilsen alongside established local breweries.

It went well, so the couple began tying to find a location.

They looked in Berwyn and Cicero but jumped at the chance to join United Yards, a multimillion-dollar development with a special emphasis on small businesses.

“People see Back of the Yards as something bad, and all we want is to be part of something better for the community, and for them to come and enjoy themselves,” Victor Santoyo said.

Monos will join about 160 other craft breweries in and around Chicago, according to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, but it would be one of the first Latino-owned breweries and one of the few on the South Side. Only about 2% of brewers nationwide are Latino, according to the Brewers Association.

The only other breweries south of 35th Street, according to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild map, are Marz Community Brewing Co. in McKinley Park; Whiner Beer Co., also in Back of the Yards; and then there are none until Horse Thief Hollow on 104th and Western Avenue in Morgan Park.

A rendering of the Somos Monos Cerveceria that will open as part of the Back of the Yards Invest South/West project.

A rendering of the Somos Monos Cerveceria that will open in the Back of the Yards neighborhood as part of the city of Chicago’s Invest South/West program.

Provided/United Yards

Barriers to opening range from zoning issues to the vast sums of capital it takes to acquire space and equipment, said Ray Stout, executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.

But the benefits they bring to a neighborhood are clear.

“They are often the anchor or cornerstone business of a community,” Stout said. “They move into areas where there’s a surplus of room, areas that aren’t the best or the most built up, but what we see is they move in, and then all of the sudden a coffee shop moves in and then other businesses.”

For example, Haymarket Brewery was among the first businesses to move into the Fulton Market area, he said.

The communities that form around them give them their staying power.

“Craft beer, more than anything, is about connection, connecting with customers and their communities,” Stout said.

“It’s that connection of, ‘It’s made in my community, I’m talking to the person that made it, and I can walk back to my house two blocks away.’ It makes you feel like you’re part of something,” Stout said

A rendering of the Somos Monos Cerveceria that will open as part of the Back of the Yards Invest South/West project.

A rendering of Somos Monos Cerveceria, the Latino-owned brewery that started as a home brewing project. Its owners are hoping it will become a family-oriented community hub in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Provided/United Yards

That potential to transform neighborhoods is why Jaime Garza, events director for the 18th Street Development Corp., invited Monos to the inaugural Pilsen Arts and Craft Beer Tasting in 2019.

“Having these successful businesses helps the overall look of the neighborhood,” Garza said. Their uniqueness puts a neighborhood on the map, he said.

“Art, music, food, craft beer, those are the kind of things that attract tourists, local tourists from other neighborhoods,” Garza said.

Tourists, sure, but connecting breweries to their neighbors remains key.

“Our beer is going to be very simple and traditional, not as experimental, as I feel like the people that live in the neighborhood will enjoy traditional beers,” said Rocio Santoyo, 37. “This is the beer for the community, from the hood, for the hood.”

The beer isn’t yet available in stores, but it will be among those featured at the Beer in the Woods festival in September. The festival is held in LaBagh Woods at Foster and Cicero avenues on the Northwest Side.

Rocio Santoyo also grew up in Little Village, where she met Victor when he was playing in a band in neighborhood clubs.

Back then, she said, the only two clubs for the band to play in on the Near Southwest Side were in Little Village.

“They never got the opportunity to showcase their work,” she said. “If they did, it was on the North Side.”

They hope the brewery can fill that void.

“I want to take advantage of that event space and give that availability to Back of the Yards artists.”

The lot at 1641 W. 47th St. in Back of the Yards where construction on the Somos Monos Cervecería is set to begin soon.

Construction on the Somos Monos Cervecería is set to begin soon on this lot at 1641 W. 47th St. in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Once completed, the brewery will be one of the few on the South Side and one of the first Latino-owned breweries in the city.

Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times

Jesse Iñiguez, owner of Back of the Yards Coffeehouse and another area native, invited the Santoyos to join the development at 47th and Ashland. He’s been spearheading the local business component, bringing in a local bakery, apparel shop and barber shop.

“The opportunity to be able to support a startup with the resources we wish we were offered when we started is something I couldn’t pass up,” said Iñiguez, who opened his coffee shop in 2017.

“Bottom line is, they’re good brewers and make delicious beer. And they have a sound plan for creating something unique that the community wants and supports,” he said. “The economic impact this business will have on the local community will be massive.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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