A large chunk of the topography surrounding Fenway Park is peppered with a beery prideland of bars and restaurants, most of which house all manner of craft beer and small batch liquors. And in the last few years the options have swollen from tried-and-true dives and saloons with baseball on the mind and a sawdust saloon’s spirit to a range of polished oyster bars, kitschy burger joints, and killer BBQ. All of which, in some way or another, have responded to the ongoing and still upticking craft beer movement by ensuring the thirsts of the masses are well sated.
And as the residential (as well as commercial) construction explosion in that area continues, the planned early October arrival of the Craft Beer Cellar local franchise at the corner of Van Ness and Kilmarnock Streets, in the ground floor retail space of the new complex being erected in the shadow of Fenway, is well timed. Founded by Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow in 2010, the flagship Belmont shop has since become a budding empire of craft beer and liquor emporiums around Mass. And for Schalow, the first Boston proper location to come is not only a means to enter an evolving and rapidly changing neighborhood with the business model she and Baker have to date franchised out to well over a dozen states (this one will also be under separate ownership); it’s also a dream come true.
“We’re super excited,” she says. “It’s a sports city, and everyone that’s a small business owner wants to open a store near Fenway.”
It’s their attention to selection and omniscient knowledge of inventory that Schalow says they are imparting to every new CBC owner. But more than just putting prospective owners through the wringer (which they do), it’s about ensuring the owners jibe well with the philosophy of the store—and Schalow and Baker. “Our interview process is tight,” she says. The owners of the Fenway spot to come are a local husband and wife team who Baker and Schalow brought on a year ago when plans for this location started getting off the ground. “It’s given us a lot of time with the owners; they’ve been working in the Belmont store for months, going through distributors and delivery, learning the ropes, and going through a lot of our classes and soirees,” says Schalow.
And that, she says, is really what they want the focal point to always be: great beer education and a great selection of local, national, and international beer. But as for the Fenway spot to come, Schalow says that more isn’t always better; paring back can be a positive when the focus is on a well-curated selection, and the Fenway spot could rival the flagship in depth of knowledge the owners have about education and local product.
“Last year [in the Belmont store] we went from 1,200 beers to down to 750 or so,” she says. “We’re working hard to taste back through our inventory, know what’s on our shelf, know the story [of the product], believe in it, know the brewers and the people at the top, [so] I can look at a customer in the eye and say, ‘This is a great example of East Coast dry hopped pale ale,’ and really know what’s up with it.”