West Lebanon — After 23 years in the craft brewing business at a high-profile spot off Route 12A, Seven Barrel Brewery will soon close its doors to make room for a new Salt hill Pub.
The brewery’s owners broke news of the sale on Tuesday in a Facebook post, and announced Dec. 7 as the scheduled closing day.
“We have enjoyed the goodwill and company of thousands of friends, family and visitors over the years and have appreciated your loyalty and business throughout,” the Seven Barrel Brewery owners wrote.
James Mulligan, one of the owners, said he purchased Seven Barrel in 2011 with a group of seven other investors. About four of the group took part in the day-to-day operations, he said, but time took its toll.
“Years go by and people get older, people have families, have kids and we just thought it was time to turn it over to some folks who have proved to run a really good pub,” he said on Friday.
Owned by Joe and Josh Tuohy, Salt hill Pub opened its first restaurant at the Lebanon mall in 2003. On a shoestring budget, they started out selling salads, soups and sandwiches on a 10-by-14 inch panini grill, according to their website.
The Salt hill branch in Newport opened four years later, followed by one in Hanover in 2010. The most recent addition, The Shanty, opened near Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, N.H., last December.
Seven Barrel Brewery also has a prized location, just south of Exit 20 along Interstate 89.
“My brothers and I have always liked the location but had no indication it would become available until earlier this year,” Josh Tuohy said of Seven Barrel in an email.
The Tuohys were approached in September about purchasing the property, he said, and recently reached a deal.
“We really like the idea of brewing and we hope to operate this property as both a restaurant and a brewery. We’re currently researching New Hampshire liquor laws to ensure we are legally allowed to make beer at this location,” Tuohy said via email. “At any rate, our first priority is to get the pub/restaurant open as quickly as possible.”
The brainchild of legendary brewer Greg Noonan, Seven Barrel Brewery was one of the first waves in the craft beer revolution to hit New Hampshire when it opened in 1994. In the Upper Valley, only Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse in the Norwich Inn is older, having opened its doors a year earlier.
Noonan is considered by many to be the godfather of craft brewing in Vermont too, opening The Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington in 1988, after successfully lobbying the Legislature for new rules allowing brewpubs.
He also authored several books on brewing and mentored some of the area’s most accomplished brewers before his death in 2009, at 58.
After a family split, Noonan’s wife, Nancy, ran the business until 2011, when she turned things over to the new owners, which included some regulars.
“We all had many, many good times there and we wanted to make sure we could preserve a good local tavern,” said Mulligan, who frequented the bar before purchasing it.
Business today is difficult for the brewery, though. The restaurant is facing the same challenges as others along Route 12A, according to general manager Jon Robinson. Everyone in the area is searching for servers, line cooks and dishwashers, he said.
“If you don’t have consistent staff, it’s very difficult to maintain a consistent product delivered in a timely fashion, very difficult,” Robinson said. “That’s definitely the uphill battle that I’ve found.”
However, many of the employees at Seven Barrel have been there for years, he said, and they’re committed to preserving an atmosphere that’s been around since the early days.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a more dedicated group of people,” Robinson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever come to know a group of customers for any business that have been as supportive and (become) new friends.”
For the regulars and employees at Seven Barrel, the atmosphere was similar to the Cheers bar, where everyone knows each other, server Fred Morey said.
“It’s sad to see this place go because it’s not corporate restaurant America and there’s so many people that are emotionally tied to this place,” he said.
Chantelle Brackett began working at the brewery in the fall of 1999, just after her 20th birthday, and stayed for 12 years. She was at the bar with her mother late Friday afternoon.
“There were live bands twice a week. There weren’t all the chain restaurants there are now and so this was the happening place to be,” she said. “There were four or five people deep at the bar.”
It’s during that time when she met many of her current friends, including the regulars.
Another customer, Bob Miller, said he also feels like the staff and regulars are like family. In fact, he began frequenting Seven Barrel about 20 years ago when he was dating a woman who is now his wife.
Miller, who lived in Boston, would get out of work for the weekend, make the drive to Lebanon and the two would rush to the brewery before the kitchen closed.
“Some of the customers have been coming here as long as I have,” he said shortly after the restaurant opened for lunch on Friday. “The current owners of the place back when I used to come here were just regular customers.”
Lisa Fiori, another regular, said she continues to come back for the people. She’s a wine drinker, but still likes to take in the atmosphere with friends.
“Usually I come later afternoon and there’s a whole group of regulars who all meet here,” she said. “I’m hoping that (Salt hill) retains the same friendly atmosphere that they have now.”Tim Camerato can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.