While studying abroad in Florence, Italy, R.J. Tursi spent his weekends traveling to different European countries, and while in the Czech Republic, “the light shone down” on him.

“This is beer,” he thought. “This is what it really can be.”

In Europe, Tursi said he fell in love with the artistry of Central European lagers. But when he came back to the United States, he said it was hard for him to find microbreweries with the same feel for beer that he got in Europe - especially in Iowa.

Following in the footsteps of his parents, Bob and Amy Tursi, who own Tursi’s Latin King, R.J. Tursi will open his first restaurant venture later this summer, Exile Brewing Co.

Tursi, who has a degree in finance from University of Notre Dame, has been working to remodel the old F.W. Fitch & Co. soap factory at 1514 Walnut St. near Western Gateway Park. Although the Tursi family has had to put in significant work to bring the building up to code for a restaurant and brewery, R.J. Tursi said he wants Exile to remain a historic building. To achieve that, the original doorway will be the entryway to Exile, and a historic stairway near the entrance of the building will stay as well.

Since F.W. Fitch & Co. left the building, Tursi said a drop ceiling was installed on the main floor, which he has taken out to show the structural beams and original brick of the building and open up the room where the dining area will be.

Locating in a building with such history - originally constructed in 1917 - Tursi said he wanted to get people in to every part of the building. The main floor will hold the actual brewery as well as a European-style beer hall on one side that connects to an outdoor beer garden.

“We have community tables,” he said. “It’s about people coming together, having fun and being a community over a tankard of beer.”

The kitchen and dining hall will reside on the other side of the main floor, in an annex to the building. The second floor will be used for brewery offices and storage of brewing ingredients. Kegs will be stored in the basement of the building, which acts like a natural cellar.

Tursi has hired Tim Garton as his head chef for Exile, and said the menu won’t be the Latin King menu, but the food will be Latin King quality.

“It kind of evolved from something basic like burgers and build-your-own macaroni and cheese to being more of a gastro pub, so a lot of gourmet bar food,” Tursi said. “[Garton] is able to take old-school dishes and put a new spin on them. It’s not just innovative, but also good and approachable.”

Although he hasn’t set an official opening date yet, Tursi said he hopes to open sometime in August and he will host several soft openings during July.

Distribution of Exile’s beer has been in Tursi’s plan since inception. He hopes that one day people can get Exile beer in bars throughout Central Iowa.

“We want this to be Des Moines’ beer,” he said.