Molly Friedland, a bartender at Fogtown Brewing on Hancock Street in Ellsworth, chats with brewery co-owner Ian Heyse in between waiting on customers in this December 2018 file photo. The brewery, which hosts live music and other community events, is planning to open a satellite tasting room this summer in downtown Bar Harbor, despite the damage the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is doing to the economy. Credit: Bill Trotter

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ELLSWORTH, Maine — A craft brewery in Ellsworth is planning to expand this summer to downtown Bar Harbor, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and predictions that Maine’s 2020 summer tourist season could be severely affected.

Fogtown Brewing Co., which first opened in Ellsworth in 2017, has signed a lease to move into the former Trailhead Cafe space next to the Criterion Theater entrance at 33 Cottage St. in Bar Harbor.

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Jon Stein, co-owner of the brewery, said Monday that when they might open there depends on several unknown factors, and it may depend on how they define being “open.” Stein said he, his business partner Ian Heyse and their employees are taking a long view and are prepared for the possibility that they may not have customers seated cheek to jowl inside the space until 2021.

Still, they are moving ahead with getting a live music permit in case the pandemic subsides and public health officials give the OK for bars and similar businesses to resume at least somewhat normal operations later this year. Stein said the health of their customers and employees is a top priority, so if need be they will just sell cans to customers waiting outside the door this summer.

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Whether it takes a few months or a year for Fogtown to fully open the new venue, Stein said they are confident that it will be a good addition to the brewery’s operations.

“The pathology of any small-business owner is optimism,” Stein said. “It’s important to plan for the future and to be optimistic.”

The brewer said that by opening a tasting room adjacent to the theater entrance, his business and the theater will complement one another. He said the board of directors at the theater, which owns the former cafe space, offered lease terms that were affordable and relatively low-risk because they wanted a year-round, community-minded tenant next to the theater’s entrance.

“They’ve made it a little more accessible to us,” Stein said, without going into specifics about the agreement. “They could have rented it out to someone who would [pay more but] be open six months a year.”

Fogtown will not brew any beer in Bar Harbor — all production will remain at its Pine Street location in downtown Ellsworth. Fogtown wants to have an active role in community events, as it does in Ellsworth, by hosting groups and helping to promote local musicians and artists, much as the Lompoc Cafe on Rodick Street has done over the years.

It also hopes to complement Atlantic Brewing Co., a longtime brewery In Bar Harbor that has a small-batch brewery and tasting room a few doors away.

Stein said that the business plans to work cooperatively with the Criterion by perhaps partnering on certain events and by scheduling entertainment that fits thematically with, but does not compete against, events happening at the theater.

It should help that a good portion of the brewery’s existing customer base is on MDI, he said. Fogtown is hoping to build on that to both strengthen its bottom line and the year-round community on MDI, which has had to contend with high housing costs that have contributed to a declining year-round population.

“People do want to support local businesses, and we need access to more people,” Stein said, adding that selling kegs to local bars and having customers come in to enjoy a pint at its own tasting rooms is critical to the long-term success of the brewery.

“We have to bank on some return to normalcy,” he said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....