Salt hill Opens Newest Pub

  • Dave Albert, of Enfield, N.H, left, greets six-month-old Benjamin McGary, held by his father Josh McGary, regional manager of Salt hill Pub, at the pre-opening party for the newest pub location on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, April 09, 2017

West Lebanon — Advice Josh Tuohy was given: Keep Karaoke Night on Thursdays.

The owner of Salt hill Pub recalled former Seven Barrel Brewery owner James Mulligan passing along that crucial bit of information when Tuohy and his brother, Joe, bought the venerable West Lebanon brewpub from Mulligan and his partners in December.

Karaoke Night was reliably the busiest of the week, and loyal customers would be sorry to see it discontinued under new owners.

“I’m not much for karaoke,” Josh Tuohy confided during a break while working at the new Salt hill Pub last week, a white apron wrapped tightly around his waist, a constant stream of well-wishers greeting him and employees asking questions. “We have it at only one of our other places. But it’s a formula that worked here. So we’re continuing it.”

Otherwise, much has changed at the former Seven Barrel in West Lebanon, now renamed Salt hill Pub, the latest restaurant to open under the Salt hill name in what has become an Upper Valley restaurant empire. Last week, after a five-month renovation, the Tuohys opened the doors and welcomed both new customers and old-timers to the pub that was at the forefront of the craft brew movement in New Hampshire.

Perhaps most significantly, the West Lebanon landmark, at the busy crossroads of Interstate 89 and Route 12A, is no longer a brewpub. The fermenting tanks have been removed and brewing equipment sold off because New Hampshire regulations do not allow beer that is brewed on premises to be sold in other pubs, Tuohy said. That prompted Salt hill to focus on its successful model of offering beer on tap, inventive pub food and live acoustic music.

“We were interested in brewing, but because of the ‘tied house’ law (which prohibits a brewer from having an ownership interest or exerting undue influence on a retailer), that made self-distributing to our other places not possible. That was in our original plan. … It’s been a big learning process,” Tuohy said.

Changes Inside

The first difference that former Seven Barrel patrons will see when they walk in is that the horseshoe-shaped bar has been removed and replaced with straight-line bar. Walls in the dining area have been painted a soft red and yellow.

On the ceiling is painted a Celtic knot signifying “good luck and faith,” Tuohy said, and an homage to the Tuohy family’s Irish roots. (The seaside resort town of Salthill is a suburb of Galway, Ireland.)

“We wanted to open the room up and make it lighter,” Tuohy said, adding quickly, “that’s not meant to be critical of the way it was before.”

The West Lebanon pub is the Tuohys’ fifth in the Upper Valley. Brothers Josh and Joe, whose parents operated The Shanty tavern in Newbury, N.H., opened their first restaurant on the Lebanon mall in 2003. They opened their second Salt hill Pub in Newport, N.H., in 2007; their third in Hanover in 2010.

Then, in 2014, they took over the restaurant on the site of their parents’ eatery in Newbury, near the foot of the Mount Sunapee ski run.

Along the way, other Tuohy siblings — all of whom attended Sunapee Middle High School — joined their brothers in various roles, including Matt, who oversees the finances and human resources at the 150-employee company, and sister Lynne, a prize-winning retired journalist who now manages the Newbury Salt hill.

“When Joe and I started out in 2003, we didn’t assume or plan growth at this pace,” Tuohy said.

He declined to reveal the restaurant group’s annual sales or say how much it cost to purchase and renovate the former Seven Barrel, but he did describe it as “extensive and it took more time and money” than they estimated. “But it’s humbling that we’ve been able to grow consistently over the past 14 years and hopefully we’ll continue to do so,” he said.

The space where eight fermentation tanks sat is now a walk-in cooler where Salt hill stores the 18 varieties of tap beer it serves. Five flat-screen TVs hang on the wall, all tuned to different sporting events. At 2 p.m. on Thursday, nearly all the tables are occupied and five of the nine seats at the bar have customers sitting on them drinking beer.

“This week has been a learning week for us,” Tuohy said. “It takes time to spot all the things that aren’t working. But it’s been good. People have been really receptive to the changes we’ve made.”

A New Approach

Although the Tuohys would seem to have the drill down pat when it comes to opening a new restaurant, Josh Tuohy said they don’t take their experience for granted.

Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon required a slightly different approach than the other Salt hill pubs because of its location on a busy shopping strip and commuting corridor.

For example, the cooking line had to be rearranged several times to accommodate the pace of orders expected from an extra-heavy lunchtime crush, and the menu would reflect more family-oriented fare in anticipation of shoppers stopping by after visiting the nearby retail outlets.

Tuohy canvassed local businesses in the malls and offices along Airport Road to get their input into what they would like to see in the new restaurant serving the area.

Knowing that this would be Salt hill Pub’s highest-profile opening yet, the Tuohys recruited veterans from their staff who could take the pressure and get as much as possible right directly out of the gate.

Toward that end, they transferred two experienced servers from Salt hill in Lebanon and the bartender-assistant manager from Hanover.

Critically, the Tuohys also brought in Aric Eaglestone, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has been the head chef in Newport for the past 10 years, to run the kitchen in West Lebanon.

Eaglestone created several new items that appear only on the West Lebanon menu, such as a Buffalo cauliflower appetizer (fried cauliflower florets tossed in a Buffalo wing sauce) and a pork shank entrée (Jamaican jerk seasoned pork shank and served over mashed potatoes and topped with homemade mango chutney and sautéed seasoned vegetables).

“The pork just calls off your fork. It’s incredible,” said Tuohy.

Before the restaurant officially opened on April 3, the crew spent a week in dry runs. Tuohy organized two, three-hour seatings comprised of “friends and families” to test the menu and provide critical feedback. The catch for a free meal: Guests had to fill out a survey with comments about the quality of the food and service.

“The most critical comments were that some of the menu items people felt were not explained clearly,” Tuohy said. “We’re not afraid to make adjustments. We don’t ever want to let people down.”

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or jlippman@vnews.com.