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Focus on food and drink

B.Y.O.F.: Local breweries and restaurants have created a symbiotic relationship

October 1, 2018
Photo | Grant Welker
Photo | Grant Welker
Altruist Brewing Co. in Sturbridge. The owners, Nancy and Bob Bixby, didn't want to juggle a brewery and a kitchen. Instead, they have menus on hand for nearby restaurants.

When Brian Distefano was opening Purgatory Beer in Northbridge around this time last year, one of the first things he did was go around to nearby restaurants.

He wanted to introduce himself and take their take-out menus, he said.

Distefano knew his small brewery, which doesn't have a kitchen, would have to rely on close-by restaurants in order to keep his customers well fed.They often just want to focus on beer, leaving nearby restaurants to benefit and lending a community feel to breweries where patrons are encouraged to bring their own take-out pizza, barbecue, Chinese food or even brought-from-home cheese plates.

"We told them, 'We hope we can help your business, too,'" Distefano said.

As more breweries open in Central Massachusetts – just in Worcester, two are likely to open this year, while Marlborough anticipates three – certain owners either don't want to or can't afford to have full-service kitchens. They often just want to focus on beer, leaving nearby restaurants to benefit and lending a community feel to breweries where patrons are encouraged to bring their own take-out pizza, barbecue, Chinese food or even brought-from-home cheese plates.

"We never thought for a second that we would have a kitchen," said Distefano, who opened Purgatory with business partner Kevin Mulvehill. "It's a different skill and different in terms of Board of Health certification. It would have been way more expensive to start up, and it wasn't what we wanted to get in the business for."

BYOB, too

That same singular focus is what brought Marc Felicio to open Dacosta's Pizza Bakery in Worcester in 2016. The restaurant is BYOB, and happens to be just across the street from where Greater Good Imperial Brew Co. opened this spring.

Felicio said he sees Greater Good cans all the time in Dacosta's and will inevitably see someone walking toward the restaurant from Greater Good any time he walks outside. The relationship between the two places has benefited Dacosta's.

"I just wanted to focus on making really good pizza," Felicio said of opening the pizzeria without a liquor license. "I didn't want any other distractions. That's how I envisioned this place to be."

One unsung benefit of having small breweries pop up is the way businesses that would once compete with one another now see the benefit of sticking to what they do best. Purgatory and Fitchburg's River Styx Brewing have space for food trucks outside, for example.

"We've talked about it a lot," said Steve Clark, the vice president for government affairs at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. "In a statewide perspective, you're giving people more options for where to go."

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Michael Kasseris and Jason Kleinerman, business partners at Rail Trail Flatbread Co. in downtown Hudson. The restaurant has a close relationship with Medusa Brewing Co., only one-tenth of a mile down the street.
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Spiritually aligned

The arrangement benefits the restaurant industry when people take food to a brewery or tack on a visit to drink a pint before or after dinner, Clark said. One example Clark gave was in downtown Hudson, where Medusa Brewing Co. and Rail Trail Flatbread Co. are just one-tenth of a mile from each other on Main Street.

Rail Trail's beer menu is heavy on local offerings, and with Medusa and other new businesses in downtown Hudson, it has helped revitalize the neighborhood. Rail Trail pizza boxes can be seen scattered across table tops at Medusa, and customers waiting for a table at Rail Trail will often go grab a beer in the meantime.

Clark called the pairing between the two establishments a symbiotic relationship. Jason Kleinerman, an operational partner at Rail Trail, described it as creating a communal atmosphere.

"Even though we're not technically aligned," Kleinerman said of Rail Trail and Medusa, "spiritually we're very much in the same alignment with that business model."

So, too, are places like B.T.'s Smokehouse in Sturbridge and Tree House Brewing Co., which is about a 10-minute drive down Route 20 in Charlton. B.T.'s is BYOB, a perfect invitation for diners to bring a can of TreeHouse. Boxes of BT's barbeque are common sights at Tree House, as well as at Altruist Brewing Co., just a five-minute drive down Route 20.

"It's a comfortable environment for people to come in and just make themselves at home," said Nancy Bixby, who opened Altruist with her husband, Bob, last December.

Altruist has a stack of menus on hand for nearby restaurants in town that deliver. The brewery opened in a mill building with a full kitchen, but the Bixbys wanted to focus on beer.

"We just wanted to start with something we knew would be manageable," Bixby said.

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Tree House Brewing Co.'s beers appear often at places like BT's Smokehouse in Sturbridge.

In Fitchburg, River Styx Brewing has food trucks parked outside for most of its Thursday-through-Sunday schedule. Scott Cullen, who opened River Styx with his wife, Jackie, last year, said he even sees people bring picnic lunches from home, though he usually spots pizza and Chinese food.

"We have menus for places that we work well with," Cullen said, "but the options are endless for what people can do."