Local restaurateurs eye plan warily
The Select Board, on a 3-2 vote during its first in-person meeting since March 2020, approved one-day liquor licenses for Vitamin Sea Brewing to operate a so-called “family friendly” craft beer garden on a portion of the Hull Redevelopment Authority property near the Nantasket Beach Resort.
Local licensing authorities – in this case, the Select Board – are allowed to approve up to 30 one-day liquor licenses to an applicant for special events.
Dino Funari, a 20-year Hull resident who started the company a couple of years ago but had to locate his operation in Weymouth because he could not find a suitable location in Hull at that time, said that operating the beer garden during this short time frame would be a “jumping off point” for what he hopes will be the establishment of a permanent Vitamin Sea Brewing business in town.
The licenses were granted for up to 150 people at a time, seven days a week. Non-alcoholic ginger ale and free juice boxes are available for children, who, Funari noted, enjoy visiting the Weymouth location with their families. “They bring their iPads, and the younger kids enjoy coloring,” he said. “We are trying to mimic our Weymouth tap room, only outdoors.”
Funari initially requested one-day liquor licenses for the period of Aug. 9-29. However, following a 2½ discussion that at times became animated, the majority of the board supported the shorter schedule.
It was reported during the meeting that the HRA unanimously supported this use and that the Hull Nantasket Chamber of Commerce board voted last Tuesday to unanimously support the beer garden proposal as well, in part because it believes such an offering will “help promote Hull as a wonderful place to visit and to do business in,” according to a letter to the Select Board that Chair Jennifer Constable read at the meeting.
Schooner’s owner Jacqui Chase, a member of the chamber, questioned how that vote was reached and by whom. “I was never notified of that meeting” or the vote to be taken, she said.
Chase noted that most of Schooner’s profits come from serving alcohol and that the beer garden could cut into those sales.
“A lot of restaurants have put [a great deal] of money into upgrading their [establishments] and have helped Hull become known as a restaurant [destination],” she said. “How can the HRA turn around and rent out this property for that purpose?”
At the same time, Chase is familiar with Vitamin Sea beer and called it “fantastic. We have it at our house.”
Board members Donna Pursel and John Reilly voted “no” to a substitute motion that reduced the amount of liquor licenses from Funari’s initial request for 21, but for different reasons.
Reilly said it was unfair to issue so many liquor licenses to the same applicant, even though allowed, because those seeking regular liquor licenses are required to go through a comprehensive formal licensing procedure and pay certain fees.
He also has serious concerns that the beer garden would take business away from local restaurants that are struggling to stay in business since the pandemic wreaked its havoc.
“Some restaurant owners are sinking a ton of money into their establishments,” Reilly said. “We’re still uncertain what the ripple effects of COVID-19 will be, and I won’t take a risk with other people’s livelihoods [by voting to support the beer garden]. I’m not trying to be hard on you, but this is not the right time.” Reilly added he hopes he proves to be wrong.
Pursel, while indicating she was understanding of those concerns, believes that it is time for Hull to “take a chance” and supported granting the 21 one-day licenses.
“I think our town is trying to get to a new place following [the pandemic],” she said. “This is a reputable company, and I think the town will benefit tremendously from this opportunity. We won’t get anywhere without taking a chance. We have to start doing things differently, or we are not going to get anywhere.”
Hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., in the expectation that customers will patronize local restaurants and other businesses before and after they stop by the beer garden.
In her remarks supporting the proposal, Chair Jennifer Constable said she and her family have visited the Vitamin Sea tap room in Weymouth and were “very impressed. It’s not a bar scene.”
Resident Jason McCann sees a beer garden as an “exciting” idea. “I can see the points of view on both sides, but better a beer garden than a parking lot that I don’t see being used much. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I think a beer garden [at this location] would help other businesses in town.”
Lillian Parker, owner of the newly opened Sandbar, has mixed feelings. While not opposed to the beer garden in theory, she said she wished she had more advance notice to allow her time to consider the proposal more thoroughly.
“I think it will impact my business, but I love the idea of a beer garden and earmarking this property for this use beyond [what it is currently] a dusty parking lot.”
The licenses were granted with the understanding that planters or small trees will be installed around the porta-potties for aesthetic reasons, that canopies or umbrellas will be placed over the tables for protection from the sun, and other conditions.
The different varieties of beer will be served from a special truck. Pre-packaged snacks such as nuts and chips will also be available as well as “Vitamin Sea” merchandise. “We’re not trying to be a restaurant,” Funari said.
He suggested that some Hull restaurants could set up pop-ups during the beer garden hours to serve food, but the consensus seemed to be that this would be difficult for them to do on such short notice and other considerations.
Funari is looking at this temporary beer garden as a prelude to possibly setting up a permanent Vitamin Sea location in Hull. “We are by no means a fly-by-night operation,” he said. “We believe in Hull and see [the positive direction in which] it’s going. We want to be a part of that.”
He expects that the beer garden will benefit Hull restaurants and shops. “We’re not looking for people to spend the day at the beer garden, but to stop by and try one or two different beers and hopefully go on to visit other businesses in town,” he said.
Funari also noted that he sells Vitamin Sea beer to some Hull restaurants and held an event at the Red Parrot before the pandemic “that attracted 75 people to town in January when they normally wouldn’t have been here.”
During the lengthy discussion, he reiterated his commitment to Hull. “We’re 100 percent committed to finding a space in Hull, and this beer garden is a way to get our name out in the town,” he said. “This will give us an opportunity to build our brand and to hopefully be able to put roots down here.”