Fredericton ale house shuts its doors after a decade of business
Downtown King Street Ale House has served its last beer
After more than a decade of serving food and beer to Fredericton customers, the King Street Ale House announced Thursday that it is closing its doors for good.
The locally owned restaurant and bar that employed about 30 cooks, wait staff, bartenders and hosts served its last customer on New Year's Eve.
"It was a tough decision," owner Doug Williams said Thursday inside the closed business. He was there offering final beers to staff as they came in to collect their last pay cheques.
"It's something that's been a while in the works. It's been a really, really difficult decision."
Operating costs and increased competition, which has fractured the customer base, are among the reasons Williams decided to close the business he co-founded with former owner Shane Fraser.
"It's a really big space with a lot of overhead, and it's too much overhead to be in the craft beer business right now if you're not a brewery," Williams said.
Some tearful staff compared working at the Ale House to working with family. Several had been working for Williams for several years.
Williams said the most difficult part of the decision was letting staff go, many without other jobs lined up. Some staff did tell CBC News that other bar and restaurant businesses were calling to offer assistance with work.
Reaction from the community has been a mix of surprise and sadness.
"On my phone it's just a constant stream of messages from your friends and customers," Williams said. "All these people, literally thousands and thousands of people that have come through here."
"It's not a happy day," said Andrew Dawson, the owner of the building housing the King Street Ale House. "It's an unfortunate day."
Dawson, a friend of Williams, owns and operates the restaurant Brewbakers next door. The two businesses share a roof.
Dawson said he has agreed Brewbakers will honour gift cards that were purchased from the King Street Ale House.
"It takes some of the sting from the owners here," he said. "Because you're in business right up to the last minute, you're trying to make it work, so you can't stop selling beer, and you can't stop selling gift cards.
"It's the right thing to do."
Neither Williams nor Dawson has any immediate plans for the empty downtown space.
Years of beers
The restaurant first opened on Queen Street as the Garrison District Ale House, one of the first New Brunswick locations to focus on serving and selling craft beer.
"We had Picaroons and Pump House on tap when we opened," Williams said. "That would have been the extent of it."
Offering those Fredericton and Moncton craft beers on tap set the Garrison District Ale House apart from the competition in those early days. The Ale House thrived in a rented space where several other restaurants tried and failed to find success.
As craft beer took off, so did the on-tap offerings, going from two craft beers to hundreds in the restaurant's lifetime.
"We've had something like 400 craft beers on tap," Williams said. "It's craziness. And almost every one of them is from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. A few from P.E.I., a few from Quebec and Ontario.
"We've had the occasional one where you'd see something from Maine. But we've had more than 300 beer just from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia."
The demand for the beer was surprising, he said.
"When we opened, we didn't really know, would people really buy this beer? We had a great run watching the industry expand and expand."
But things changed as craft beer's popularity grew, and local businesses started brewing it.
"Now we're at a point where carrying craft beer is not a differentiator anymore. It's become a much more crowded space."
On Jan. 4, 2013, disaster struck the Garrison District Ale House. A fire forced 50 customers and employees to flee the ale house. Flames travelled inside the walls of the building, making it difficult to find and put out the fire. By the time it had been extinguished hours later the damage was extensive. Fire officials were never able to confirm the cause.
Because of the fire, the business relocated to a site between Regent and Carleton streets recently vacated by a pair of other restaurants. The barriers between Mexicali Rosa's and the Back Nine bar and restaurant were taken down and a renamed King Street Ale House took over.
The business was later bolstered by an exterior renovation and patio expansion.
While the tables in the King Street Ale House are still set, the lights are off and the front doors are locked.
"It's not where I wanted to be today," said an emotional Williams. "I don't know what's next. I'm going to take a few days. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll figure out something, I guess."