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City Steam Brewery Cafe Expanding, May Take Brews Wholesale


By DAVID HOLAHAN | Special To The Courant

November 07, 2008

In 1992, veteran Hartford restaurateur Jay DuMond wasn't sure the city was ready for the brew pub craze that was sweeping east from California. So he hesitated for five years before opening City Steam Brewery Cafe in the historic Richardson Building on Main Street with co-owner Wallace Ronald. Eleven years and dozens of designer brands later, having survived the inevitable shakeout that thinned the frothy micro industry, he is expanding his operations. In addition to comedy three nights a week, City Steam now features a banquet room with a capacity to serve 160. DuMond is also planning to go wholesale with his catchy concoctions, like Naughty Nurse Amber Ale.

Q. Do people drink more during economic Armageddon?

A. I don't think they drink less, which probably means they drink more, if you know what I'm saying. People who may feel it's affecting their pocketbooks say "I still need a drink," so we haven't seen a dip in our alcohol sales.

Q. Some people always want to taste something new, and some people just want the usual. How do you strike a balance?

A. We put out there what we think is coming into vogue, whether it was when panini sandwiches were big or pan-seared rare tuna. For a lot of people who come in here, that doesn't interest them because they want the hamburger or pot roast or something familiar. But we think it's our job to have on our menu a certain percentage of items that may not sell big-time, but if we get a true foodie in here they might appreciate the selection.

Q. I hear that you will soon be selling your brews wholesale. How will that work, and which beers will be available elsewhere?

A. We are negotiating with a couple of distributors. What we are planning to do is take our overage capacity in this case it would be in kegs because we are not set up for bottling and we would give them, say, 500 kegs a year. We currently brew about 2,000 kegs worth of beer a year, but we have the capacity here to double that. The distributor would offer their customers our brands, Naughty Nurse, or whatever it might be. If it takes off, if we find there is more demand, then we could go to what is called co-packers, or contract microbrewers. Our brewmaster would go and work with them to develop the recipes. The co-packers would make our brands and supply the kegs or bottles to a distributor.

Q. Is it hard competing with national breweries who try to mimic the success of microbreweries such as yours?

A. I think that the consumer is intelligent. If a beer comes from Budweiser, it comes from Budweiser, even if they give it a fancy name. You build up a loyalty to your brand. Serious beer drinkers are going to be seeking out true microbrewed beer.

Q. Do you see a lot of Joe Six Packs in here?

A. Not so many. That's the guy who may come in and say, "I want a Bud Light." That does not happen too often. That was a difficult decision for us not to offer those brands.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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