Newly opened brewery brings craft beer to Niantic

East Lyme — Niantic’s newest downtown night spot, the Niantic Public House and Brewery, has been an idea in the making for over a decade. Ledyard native Todd Sakowski has dreamed about opening it since he was a student, learning how to brew beer in his spare time at Eastern Connecticut State University.

“I knew I always wanted to open a brewery, but I was always holding back,” said Sakowski, who also works full-time as a quality engineer at PCC Structurals in Groton. “It’s been in my head forever, and finally (my wife) was finally like, ‘Stop talking about it and just do it.’ That was the push I needed.”

Now, five years after that decision, Sakowski and his wife, Jenn, a compliance analyst at Electric Boat, made that dream into a reality when their brewery and pub house opened on Nov. 24.

Built into the back warehouse of the former Mitchell’s Grocery Store behind Dunkin Donuts and the Spice Club in downtown Niantic, the brewery is wide and spacious, with high ceilings and a 50-foot bar that seats 25.

Besides brewing their own beers (an average of two to three different batches per week), the brewery features several Connecticut beers on tap (Beer’d, Stony Creek and Epicure, among others), as well as wine and cider on a constantly rotating menu. Beers range in price from $6 to $7, and patrons are invited to bring in their own food as well as board games to play either at the bar or at bench tables.

“The idea is that this will become the local hangout, the place you go to before or after dinner at the Black Sheep or Spice Club,” said Jenn. “Niantic is such a growing community and an awesome town, and we said, ‘Let’s bring people here and get them engaged in other businesses as well.’ Come in, hang out, order local food. We want to help generate business throughout downtown.”

The couple, who live less than a mile away with their 5-year-old son, said that three weeks in, the brewery has already had a great turnout.

“It’s been busy, really busy. Especially on Saturdays,” Todd said. “We find we are getting a lot of people right out of work. People coming in for happy hour. Workers from Millstone. We are getting both craft beer enthusiasts and people who just want to have a drink.”

Having discovered a passion for beer while in college, Sakowski said he first learned how to brew beer in Willimantic, learning at both Willimantic Brewing Co. and Zocs Homebrewing and Winemaking. Soon thereafter, he knew he wanted to open his own brewery.

“I had drawn up my business plan 10 or 15 years ago, and I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “The problem was that laws in Connecticut back then would only allow brewers to either be a distributing brewery or restaurant, both of which are extremely expensive. I would have needed a $600,000 budget to do that, which is insane for a college kid.”

In 2012, though, state laws changed, allowing brewers to sell beer direct to the public in a brew pub or bar establishment.

“After that, breweries in Connecticut just exploded. They started popping up everywhere, which has been great for the industry,” Sakowski said.

With the new laws, Sakowski started eyeing potential locations. When an empty warehouse next to Niantic’s Main Street popped up on the internet, Sakowski said he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“Niantic is a dream location. There are boardwalks, restaurants and beaches. And there is a lot of foot traffic, which is great for business,” he said. "We were looking at Mystic as well, but it was too expensive there."

Making those ambitions reality, however, has required some sacrifice. The couple put in an additional 50 hours a week running the brewery on top of the hours put in at their full-time jobs.

“I gave up sleeping. I don’t do that anymore. I get three or four hours a night,” Todd said, laughing.

“But when I get to share beer with people or talk beer with people, all the drowsiness, all the fatigue, that just goes away. And it’s worth every minute.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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