Goranson Farm sweet potato agnolotti from Bissell Brothers. Photo by Peter Bissell

Since Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. moved to Thompson’s Point in 2016, its tasting room customers have been able to get food with their beers by picking it up from a window to an adjacent space, operated by a separate company, and occupied initially by Big J’s Chicken Shack, then by Locally Sauced.

But after the latter moved out to open a larger burrito and barbecue restaurant in Yarmouth in the early months of the pandemic, the Bissell ownership team decided to take over the space and make food part of its business model.

“Our standards were getting higher and higher. We thought, it’s time for us to take over the food to our quality standards,” said co-founder Peter Bissell. “Time for a new challenge.”

Whether breweries are looking for more control over their offerings, pivoting to comply with licensing restrictions or wanting to bring a new dining experience to the community, more are turning their attention to making and serving their own food.

This brewpub business model was the dominant paradigm in the brewery industry only 10 years ago, when 56 percent of all breweries were brewpubs, according to figures from the Brewers Association, the national organization representing craft brewers. Today, brewpubs make up only 36 percent of all breweries in America, an all-time low. But that number is on the rise again.

“We may be seeing a shift back to the brewpub business model,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. While plenty of taprooms have partnered with food trucks and offered snacks or pizzas to satiate customers in recent years, Watson said breweries that open their own kitchens can differentiate themselves from competitors and broaden their revenue streams.


“It’s a more mature, competitive market than ever, so offering your own food may help you to stand out,” Watson said.

Maine Brewers’ Guild Executive Director Sean Sullivan agrees. “Just from the perspective of how to diversify your business to meet the needs of the customers, it makes sense. How about a little food with the beer? It’s a way to make a more sustainable business.”


In its quest for quality, Bissell Brothers hired chef Benjamin Martinkovic, an alum of such Michelin-starred restaurants as Chez Panisse and Atelier Creen in California and Alinea in Chicago, as well as Central Provisions in Portland. Martinkovic’s Bissell Kitchen menu has a gastropub feel, featuring sophisticated takes on standards like burgers, wings and fried chicken sandwiches, alongside dressier offerings like roasted carrots with mole and sweet potato agnolotti with poblano crema, cotija cheese and cara cara orange.

“We wanted food that was approachable, but that could also compete with the great restaurants in the area,” said Martinkovic, who started working with Bissell Brothers in June. “Our food keeps up with the trends. It’s not pretentious, but it’s world-class brewery food.”

And it’s already paying off.


“What we’ve seen now is people coming for the food” as much as for the beer, Bissell said. He added that having a chef on staff has also enabled the brewery to host events like beer dinners; a five-course “tropical getaway” feast with beer pairings is planned for March 7.

Bissell Kitchen chef Benjamin Martinkovic dresses salads for a private brewery dinner. Photo by Peter Bissell.

Launching a full kitchen operation was a bold strategic move, especially at a time when the pandemic forced many eateries to close or curtail business.

“I would say you’re going to see more and more of this as people want full control of their operations,” Bissell said.

Michael Rankin, founder and chief executive officer of Definitive Brewing, felt the same way in opening a location at Sunday River Resort in December with a full food menu prepared in-house.

“We felt it’s the way the industry is moving,” he said.



The number of licensed Maine breweries has more than doubled in the last seven years, from 73 in 2015 to 165 today, according to the Maine Brewers’ Guild. Sullivan said Maine’s breweries have matured along with their owners.

The state’s brewery boom was started by young beer-loving entrepreneurs fresh out of college. “They’re now in their 30s and 40s, and they have families of their own,” Sullivan said. The brewery customer base has similarly evolved.

“Craft beer is not just about drinking beer,” Sullivan said, pointing to the European drinking ethos that calls for food to be consumed along with alcohol. “When you look at the British model, a pub is a community gathering place where people can grab a drink and food, and enjoy an unhurried experience.”

Portland-based Definitive Brewing Co. opened a location at Sunday River with a full-kitchen in December. “We felt it’s the way the industry is moving,” said founder and CEO Michael Rankin.  Photo courtesy of Definitive Brewing Co.

Rankin said these very concerns were behind Definitive Brewery’s decision to open the Phoenix Kitchen in their new Sunday River brewery location last year. The menu there offers a variety of brew-friendly dishes, including burgers and sandwiches, flatbreads and shareable appetizers.

“Consumer behavior has changed,” Rankin said. “It’s gone from people just getting beer and standing around drinking, to wanting to sit at a table, relax and get food.”



When Kathryn Toppan and her husband, Sean Lent, moved from Portland to Down East to open Bad Little Brewing Co. in Machias last month, their mission was to cater to the needs and desires of the local community.

“We wanted to bring Portland-quality food and drink with us,” she said. “You can’t get much up here in terms of variety. People were ready for us. Enough of them come from away, and they were dying for something more.”

Like the Bissell Kitchen, Bad Little takes a farm-to-table approach with its food, and has partnered with local farms for ingredients, Toppan said. They source local cheese from Josh Pond Farm in Whiting, for instance, and quail eggs for their pickled quail eggs appetizer from Itty Bitty Farm in Columbia Falls, while Crossroads Farm in Jonesport provides potatoes, apple cider, parsnips and sunchokes.

Carrot-parsnip soup with crema at Bad Little Brewing in Machias. Photo by Sean Lent

The four women cooking in Bad Little’s full kitchen – who consult with head chef Bill Harden, working remotely from Virginia for now – make everything from scratch, including their corn tortillas and pappardelle pasta.

“We feel like people deserve the best when they go out,” Toppan said, noting that she expects their eclectic menu offerings to expand further this year with Indian dishes like lamb vindaloo and even sushi rolls.

“We’re trying to fill a void in our community, not only in scope, but in quality, too,” she said.



Still, some breweries got into the food game almost by default. Brickyard Hollow serves food at all its locations, including Freeport, its Yarmouth flagship and Portland, which opened in July. Owner Brad Moll said food wasn’t initially a part of business plan when Brickyard Hollow first opened in Yarmouth in 2018. But local zoning laws wouldn’t allow a brewery that didn’t serve food.

“It’s turned out to be a blessing,” Moll said. “We’ve come to embrace the food, and it’s been a really good thing from a business perspective. Our pizza has been tremendously popular.”

Brickyard offers a long list of “craft pizzas” featuring creative toppings, like the smoked pulled pork, gouda, mac and cheese, and jalapeno cornbread pie.

Watson said while he understands the reasoning behind brewery kitchens – autonomy and quality control chief among them – opening a restaurant kitchen is a serious investment.

“It’s a gamble, frankly, which is why we saw the shift away from the brewpub model in the first place,” Watson said. “The beer portion of a brewery’s business has a higher profit margin.”


Sullivan said adding food service isn’t for every brewery and some that have opened kitchens recently may find they don’t like the hassle of maintaining it.

“Food licenses are costly, then you have the expense of equipment and staffing, food spoilage costs,” he said.

“But people are spending a whole afternoon at breweries now. So I think we’ll see breweries continue to find ways to serve food,” Sullivan said. “Like with everyone else, breweries are just trying to find the new normal now.”



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