Jones Distilling leads revitalization of former Revelstoke schoolhouse

Kootenay Business Magazine

Jonah Jones doesn’t much like to be called an entrepreneur—he thinks the word is overused—but in fact he makes a living starting new businesses. He owns a medical clinic in Salmon Arm, B.C., and recently purchased the historic Mountain View School, located at 616 Third Street West in Revelstoke, as a home for several of his other enterprises.

Mountain View Medical Centre occupies the lower floor of the former school. On the top level, Jones has opened Third Street Offices, a co-working space that can accommodate a couple of dozen users. The rest of that floor has an area intended for a makerspace, and office space rented by Parks Canada.

The main floor of the building houses Jones Distilling, owned by Jones himself, and a soon-to-open restaurant called the Old School Eatery, owned by Chris Van Der Linden.

“I wanted the building to continue to be part of the community rather than a space that only a few people use,” Jones said. “With just one physician in the medical centre, we already have 130 to 150 people coming through the doors every week, and as we grow, that number will increase significantly.”

The restaurant will bring in a lot more traffic, as do the distillery, the co-working space and the tenant spaces. The former school will be a flourishing, busy hub, just as Jones intended.

The Jones legacy

“Mr. Jones Vodka is named after my father,” said Jones. “He passed away when I was 19, and I always wanted to do something in his memory.” Jones Distilling, which opened in May 2018, is that tribute.

Jones—who has a pronounced English accent—describes his father as “a bit of a rogue” who acquired a still illegally in the early 1970s, from the evidence locker of a police station. He began distilling at home, and his son learned the craft at an early age.

“Then,” Jones said, “my mum put her foot down, and the still vanished. I don’t know where it went, but I can only assume he sold it to someone down (at) the pub. My mum still has some of his recipes, and we’ll be using them here over the next few years.”

In 2015 Jones began his long quest to build a tribute to his father. His first step was to request bylaw changes to allow distilleries to operate in Revelstoke. His purchase of Mountain View School in June 2016 was followed by a period of required heritage revitalization of the historic building: first there was an eight-month wait for a building permit, then a couple of months of construction, then a six-month wait for an occupancy permit.

During that time, Jones and his head distiller, Megan Moore, were busy developing a product to launch the distillery. They seem to have nailed it with Mr. Jones Vodka.

“We won a SIP (Spirit International Prestige) Award with our second batch off the still,” Jones said. “It’s a national award with about 800 international distilleries competing. That was exciting, and we’re quite proud of it. We are ready to launch two more products by the end of the year—a gin and a brand new secret product.

“I feel a huge weight of responsibility beyond just the business aspect—to make sure it’s a legacy and something that my dad would be proud of.”

Tradition meets creativity

Moore, who is now in her mid-twenties, started working in the brewery industry at the age of 18. She has extensive experience and a burning passion for the business.

“While I am slightly burdened by tradition,” Jones said, “what she brings is a completely fresh pair of eyes, and we work very well together. She takes the lead and I lay out the strategy, and it’s really exciting. We arrive at the same destination, but our journeys tend to be slightly different.

“Megan deserves full credit for what the products taste like because she’s the one that’s making it happen. It was her vodka recipe that won the SIP award.”

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