Berea brewery in the works

Contributed photo 

The former Poke Boat Building on North Broadway was purchased in August by Katie and Michael Startzman, the owners of the Native Bagel Company. They hope to convert the building into a brewery/burger place by 2023.

When Katie and Michael Startzman opened the Native Bagel Company in the Powell Building in 2017, Startzman said she had a simple concept in mind. She wanted to create the kind of business that she might patronize in Lexington.

The Native Bagel Company has since moved across the intersection to Chestnut Street, and the Startzmans are embarking on two new ventures. The first is called Nightjar, a causal cocktail/burger establishment that will be in the current Native Bagel location, and Berea's first-ever brewery, to be located in Old Town.

"The whole reason I started the Native Bagel Company was about trying to bring a business to Berea that I would want to go to," Startzman said. "I think there are still gaps in the food and beverage scene in Berea. So, I think Berea could use more fun options."

Startzman actually started testing concepts for Nightjar back in December of 2019. Then, the pandemic hit. Now she is nearly ready to launch the new restaurant, which will feature burgers, sausages, soft pretzels, all with a Pennsylvania Dutch-German flavor Startzman recalls from her years growing up in the Keystone State. Most of those recipes will feature locally produced ingredients.

"The sourcing has been very important to me for the Native Bagel Company and it's going to be the same for Nightjar," said Startzman. "We're getting all of our meat from Berea College." In addition, Startzman said she hopes to set a new standard for cocktails in Berea, and she is consulting with a friend/entrepreneur to develop a modern drink menu.

According to Startzman, soft openings for Nightjar could happen as early as this month. In the meantime, she's already taken the first steps toward her next venture, which is in Old Town. In August, the Startzman's purchased the old Poke Boat building on North Broadway Street, where they are eyeing plans for opening a brewery that would also feature burgers.

"I'm hoping for it to be a brewery someday," Startzman said of the 9,000 square-foot Poke building, which she has since had painted in order to be a good neighbor to the other Old Town businesses. "I really want to offer another option where people can meet friends after work or a date night spot, or a place to get dinner with the family. I think it's just good to have another option here in town."

In the best-case scenario, the brewery/restaurant on North Broadway would open as soon as 2023, but there's much to be done in the meantime. When it does open, however, Startzman hopes to make it a place where customers feel a sense of community, much like the Native Bagel Company.

"I think breweries done well are such important places for communities to gather, and, when I visit Dreaming Creek in Richmond, you get that sense of community that I think is really missing in Berea."

A 2000 graduate of Berea College, Startzman said she never envisioned becoming an entrepreneur, but she has appreciated the positive energy that has been generated in creating a place where people feel welcome. She hopes to do it again when it comes to Nightjar and the brewery project.

"That building has been vacant for so long and it's really exciting how people are happy that something is happening there and that it is really going to be a contributing piece of Old Town," Startzman said.

Director of Business and Tourism Development Donna Angel said a brewery might just be the right business for that location, potentially bringing new visitors and more tourism dollars to Old Town.

"I think a brewery in Old Town would be a hit for a gathering place," Angel said, noting that the demographics of the people moving into Berea are trending toward younger newcomers - workers and professionals in their 30s. Getting workers to spend their money in town will depend on creating the kinds of places they want to go, Angel said. "I find more and more that people don't have enough places to go on a weeknight or weekend just to meet with friends. I think it [brewery] will fit a new niche that we're seeing more and more of."

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