Coming off most successful summer, Barrington Brewery & Restaurant owners named Business Persons of the Year
GREAT BARRINGTON — It appears that even brewpubs are touched by destiny.
Or, it was fortuitous timing that brought Andrew Mankin and Gary Happ together to start the Barrington Brewery & Restaurant, what would become one of the town's most successful, long-standing businesses. It was the first brewpub in the Berkshires, and one of only a few in the region. And for the past two-and-a-half years, it has been 85 percent solar-powered.
Mankin was a brewmaster who had apprenticed at a large brewery in England. He just had sold his share of a water company, and Happ just had sold his share of 20 Railroad Street, the popular downtown restaurant he had co-owned since 1977.
"I don't like to use the word 'fate,'" Mankin said. "I went into 20 [Railroad] to have a beer and the bartender said, 'Gary is looking for you.'"
Mankin, who was homebrewing at the time, would talk to Happ about the new concept of brewpubs popping up on the West Coast.
"Everything lined up," Happ said. "We were both coming off businesses that we had just sold and we had some money that we could invest at the same time."
Breweries aren't cheap to outfit. While a restaurant might take around $20,000 to $30,000 to get going, the brewery took around $250,000, Happ said. That was a small brewery. And that was in 1995.
It has been expanding steadily ever since, with their acquisition of the 19th-century former farm buildings, and the addition of the Crissey Farm event space and solar array. The $500,000 investment for the solar outfit has paid off, Mankin said, as has a solar-powered hot water heater.
Happ and Mankin were crowned Business Persons of the Year last month by the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce for this 90-seat brewpub off Stockbridge Road (Route 7) that both men say has built its reputation for being a friendly place where anyone can be comfortable, have a great meal and a selection from a full bar and beer only brewed on-site.
The two will be celebrated at a reception Wednesday at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
The brewery just had its most successful summer in its history, Mankin said, in part because there appeared to be more people in town, but also because of new traffic from the town's first recreational marijuana shop down the street. But there are other reasons for the steady local and seasonal patronage.
"We wanted to make it a comfortable place, inclusive of everybody across the board," Mankin said.
He also said that he and Happ made what was considered a risky play when they opened — they outlawed smoking.
"People thought we were nuts. But it actually really helped, because it created a much better eating and dining space."
Happ said good pay has kept staff here for decades, in some cases, and that this also keeps patrons coming back.
He started working in the food business when he was 13, and knew how to do hospitality from being a pioneer on Railroad Street during a time when the town was "a ghostland" of bars, a few fancy restaurants in the area and "nothing in the middle."
He became a pioneer again, with Mankin, and it required educating people who didn't know from mainstream beer.
"We had to bring people along to the craft beer movement," Happ said. "People were going to be drinking less but drinking better."
"In the last 10 years, the microbrewery industry has really exploded," Mankin said, noting that young people now tend to drink craft brews. "That's good for the industry, because they're not going back to drinking Budweiser."
Barrington Brewery beer is sold in stores only as far north as Pittsfield, and south to Litchfield County, Conn. And Mankin says shipping beer is not where they make their money — the competition doesn't allow for a high-enough markup.
"We make our money when we sell it by the pint here," he said.
It was starting a unique business in South County that gave it lasting power, Happ said.
"No one else had done it, and I thought no one else would do it," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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