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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Tox Brewing raises the bar in New London’s downtown

    Employees with Walker Crane & Rigging roll a tank into the Tox Brewing Co. on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at its new location in downtown New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    An artist’s rendering of The Riverbank project by High Tide Capital of Bangor, Maine. On the ground floor to to the left is The Telegraph record store, center is the planned Water Street Waffle Co. and to the right is Tox Brewing Co. Above the businesses are 32 apartments and a rooftop gathering area. (Image provided by High Tide Capital)
    A brewing tank waits outside the Tox Brewing Co. while employees move equipment into the company’s new downtown New London location on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    An employee of Walker Crane & Rigging, left, guides a tank into the building while his co-workers, not shown, push from behind at the Tox Brewing Co. on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in downtown New London. Tox co-owner Mike Zaccaro, right, looks on. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― It’s the “Tox” of the town.

    When will the craft beer maker be moving into its cool new 14,000-square-foot space on Bank Street, where the New London Antiques Center used to be?

    City residents got the answer Wednesday when trucks carrying large beer brewing tanks and a brew deck descended on one of the city’s main thoroughfares as the Tox Brewing Co. operation officially started to set up shop downtown from its previous spot at the former Jacques Fruit building on Broad Street.

    It wasn’t a smooth day, as a rigging system intended to lift the new equipment trucked from California proved inadequate for the widest of the tanks. But all the equipment had been moved inside the Tox building by mid-afternoon, and the brewery’s owners were confident everything would be moved into place as early as the end of the week.

    “I think it’s a significant milestone,” Mayor Mike Passero said in a phone interview. “Seeing those trucks spread out on Bank Street ... it’s going to be quite the addition to our downtown.”

    It’s also the first big step in what Tox’s owners expect to be a major brewpub destination in southeastern Connecticut. But the craft beer pub will not open for another few months as construction at 123 Bank St. won’t be complete until the late spring or early summer.

    “We really want to make it like a community gathering space,” Tox co-owner Mike Zaccaro said Wednesday, just before the tanks were to be hauled to a downstairs production area.

    It’s part of a project called The Riverbank being developed by High Tide Capital of Bangor, Maine, and next door will be the 3,000-square-foot Texas-based Water Street Waffle Co., which should open by the summer, a little after Tox.

    “Just in time for the summer season in New London -- can’t wait,” said Dash Davidson, one of the principals of High Tide Capital, which also developed the Manwaring Building where Connecticut College dorms are now located downtown.

    The other business in The Riverbank, which includes 32 rental apartments upstairs, is The Telegraph record store at 137 Bank St., a longtime staple downtown that opened at its new location last year. Above the Telegraph is a rooftop social area with great views for use by renters.

    The apartments above Tox were just completed in December, Davidson said, and are partially rented. The units above the waffle house are fully rented.

    “The new investment is just tremendous,” Passero said. “High Tide Capital is not wavering in their commitment to this city. They take advantage of every opportunity.”

    Waffles, beer, coffee and soda

    The addition of Tox and the waffle house as anchor businesses in downtown is expected to raise the bar for other downtown businesses.

    “We really want to have a cool space for people to gather in a very human space,” Tox co-owner Zaccaro said.

    A large bar serving Tox-branded beer offerings is at the center of the space, with a small food service section and a pizza oven along one wall as well as a soda fountain attached to the bar. Up front, a small stage will allow musical performances, and space toward the back will also include a coffee shop.

    Also out back, the brewing operation will be surrounded by glass, allowing customers to view the six-tank fermentation process and two-tank finishing process in real time. Tox offers a range of products, including ales, lagers and IPAs, but has never sold more than 500 barrels of beer products. The new operation’s tanks, though, are about three times the size of its current equipment, significantly increasing the size of the operation.

    Zaccaro’s partner in the business, Dayne Laskey is especially excited about the soda fountain, where Tox is expecting to create its own specialty concoctions.

    “I really always wanted an old-fashioned soda fountain like you find in an antique pharmacy,” Laskey, a toxicologist by profession, said. “So, here in this corner, we're going to to pay homage to that history, and we're going to have a working soda fountain, where we can make custom draft sodas on site.”

    The idea, said Zaccaro and Laskey, is to make Tox a destination not just for thirty-something engineers from nearby Electric Boat, but for the whole family. Hence, the partners developed the idea to add a coffee shop to the mix.

    “You know there’s some great coffee shops in town, but I think there's room for one more,” Zaccaro said. “We'll actually have an entrance from the side alley. This alley is actually part of the property. The developers, we're working with them to kind of make it a very clear space for, not only our seating, but also egress from the municipal lot to Bank Street.”

    The new Tox operation, currently considered a nanobrewery rather than a microbrewery because of its smaller size, will also likely include a full liquor license, allowing for the sale of cocktails, with some ingredients made in-house and the possibility of other craft distilleries in the region being featured as well.

    Project architect is Peter Webster of Austin Design in Brattleboro, Vt., who ran a nightclub two decades ago in New London called Station 58, according to a LinkedIn profile.

    “We are planning for multiple different seating sections and up to 150 seats including bar seating,” Zaccaro said in an email. “We are not sure about table service and anticipate leaning heavily on our current fast casual counter service model.”

    Zaccaro added that Tox will include a variety of seating areas, including high tops, low tops, booths, lounge seating with couches and arm chairs, and even areas that can be sectioned off and rented out.

    The basement under the 6,000-square-foot taproom (their previous taproom was 500 square feet) will be used for storage as well as their canning operation. Plans call for a special events room to be located there in the future.

    It’s a big move for Tox, as the brewing company prepares to vacate its 1,400-square-foot building at 635 Broad St., but the partners say they can’t wait to move the rest of their operation downtown. They said their current 15 employees will be coming with them, with perhaps another dozen needed for the new operation. It’s unclear, the partners said, whether they will maintain their Broad Street presence once Tox downtown opens.

    “The atmosphere is much more fun down here,” Zaccaro said. “You can see the water (Thames River) from the taproom.”

    Zaccaro said the taproom manager for the new operation will be Erin Johnston, a current member of Tox’s team who will be “the face of the brand” for people walking in the door.

    He added that Tox branding will be front and center, but the sign on its Bank Street property may also include the coffee and restaurant aspect of their business to emphasize the family-friendly vibe. Tox is not expected to stay open late, perhaps only until 10 or 11 p.m., so the seedy side of the bar business should be minimal, Zaccaro said.

    Targeting a wide audience

    The target audience of the taproom is expected to be from 21 to 40 with some disposable income, such as Electric Boat engineers. But the restaurant and coffee shop, which will have a separate entrance, likely will attract a different clientele.

    Zaccaro said the intent for the new taproom is to be able to focus on events such a trivia nights and birthday parties, as right now Tox has to regularly turn down requests because the Broad Street capacity is only 49.

    Zaccaro noted that Tox’s move is one of several big developments recently in downtown, including the move of the Chamber of Commerce and its Regional Innovation Center to the city as well as High Tide’s plans to convert the former Citizens Bank and The Day building next door into a restaurant, hotel and apartments. Passero added that the city also has been kicking in by funding new lighting and sidewalks downtown.

    “We're glad to be a part of it, especially if we can be kind of an anchor business on Bank Street,” Zaccaro said. ”In our experience, the city has been very pleasant to operate in and work with, and we invite all other small businesses to be our neighbors and work together.“

    And, of course, they are hoping to capture the EB crowd, whether they are living at the nearby Docks or The Beam or are heading home to surrounding towns.

    “We want to keep them in the city after work,” Zaccaro said.

    l.howard@theday.com

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