Like any good business owner, Matt Haskell knows the importance of staying current in the ultra competitive food and beverage industry. When Haskell purchased the Bear Brew Pub in Orono two and a half years ago, he said plans for the place instantly began to form in his head. Plans that were far too big for the confining walls of the small bar and eatery.
“Right from the start I had the vision of using it for more than it’s currently used for,” Haskell said.
It was this vision that prompted Haskell to buy his partner’s 50 percent share of the business in January of this year. Tim Gallon, Haskell’s former partner still remains at the Bear Brew as master brewer, but not as business partner and visionary.
“We didn’t agree on everything … we just didn’t have the same vision,” Haskell said.
Haskell ran with his vision and went ahead with the first round of renovations this summer. Improvements to the second floor pool billiard room and deck were first on the list, along with minor renovations to the downstairs dining room.
With the downstairs and deck seating areas completed to Haskell’s satisfaction, planning and work could begin on phase two of the project.
What Haskell had in store for the Bear Brew was an expansion project that would nearly double the square footage inside and increase capacity to almost 650 people, at a cost of about a quarter of a million dollars to Haskell.
The first part of the expansion, a bar and pool room on the third floor, is scheduled to open to the public tonight and will feature ten cent drinks with a three dollar cover charge. But the majority of the renovation and expansion is currently taking place on the second floor and will feature a nightclub setting for patrons seeking something “more upscale but still with a casual feeling,” according to Haskell.
In order for this expansion to become a reality, Haskell needed the square footage to turn his vision into a reality. Haskell bought Alpenglow Adventure Sports, the retail store adjacent to the Bear Brew, in order to make room for his club: SOMA 36.
But don’t go passing SOMA 36 off as “just a nightclub” to Haskell. SOMA 36, slated for its’ grand opening in December, is billed as more of a “Euro-style lounge,” according to Haskell.
“We’re trying to offer something with a little bit of class around here…somewhere you want to wear nice clothes to on the weekends,” Haskell said.
Dining room manager Chris Thurlow said Haskell’s been keeping all his employees up to date on the progress of the expansion and “everyone is pretty excited.”
“It will be good for college kids and the town,” Thurlow said. “Right now there’s not a lot of things to do and the Bear Brew will offer four different options in one place.”
Current patrons of the Bear Brew shouldn’t worry about loosing their quaint and intimate hang-out. Haskell’s plan involves keeping much of the Bear Brew intact ‘as-is’, but expanding to cater to a more diverse crowd.
“Our main goal is to preserve the Bear Brew atmosphere for townies and college kids so they have a mild setting for eating and drinking,” Haskell said. “They’ll still be able to relax downstairs and on the deck but we wanted to add something [upstairs] that’s more contemporary and more of an entertainment venue as well.”
“The Bear Brew has this stigma that only certain types of people want to go there,” Haskell said. “I think we’ve succeeded in changing that.”