In 2012, Greenbar Distillery began operating in a 14,000sqft warehouse in the Arts District, just over the tracks from the LA River and within sight of the 10 freeway. With the larger space and guidance from the city, they were finally able to begin distilling their own base spirits. But despite the city’s guidance, they still ran into obstacles, including challenges from the county.
"Being first had a lot of advantages, along with a huge number of disadvantages,” Melkon admits. “The biggest one for us technically was the L.A. County Health Department. They're very professional, but because we were the first distillery that they had to deal with, they didn't know what to make of us. They said, well, you make things that people drink, other things that people drink that we deal with we treat as food, therefore you are a food company -- and we will regulate you like a cheese plant or a milk plant.”
The health department demands meant that Greenbar had to operate as a commercial kitchen would -- something that breweries and wineries are exempt from -- which meant they had to spend roughly $300,000 more than a brewery or winery just to meet the strict regulations. They also almost didn’t open because the county was using standards to inspect their distillery equipment as food compatible equipment. Greenbar was subjected to this intense scrutiny for every year they’ve been in operation -- until 2016. Melkon explains, “After a decade of them coming by and inspecting us, this year, they finally said, 'okay fine, you can join the ranks of breweries and wineries where we don't expect your entire facility for production, you can operate just like those guys. Thank god.”