SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 26, 2014

British Beer Co. taps Danvers

Peabody native heads up group of English pubs

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — In England, the word pub is short for “public house” — and there is a difference between a pub and a restaurant, says Gary Simon, the CEO of Plymouth, Mass.-based British Beer Company.

It’s not a place where wait staff aim to turn tables and turn you out into the cold. It’s a place where people of all ages come for different reasons: families with their kids for a meal, beer lovers for a pint, others for a place to sit with their laptops.

“It’s the place that’s important,” said Simon, a Peabody native and 1978 graduate of Peabody High.

Now he wants to bring that British pub experience to the North Shore, in the former Grassfield’s restaurant space on Route 114. Danvers selectmen unanimously approved the liquor license transfer last week.

They also approved renovations for the interior and the exterior, which will resemble other British Beer Company locations, and an entertainment license for live music.

The financing for the project is $1.3 million, according to town records. Town Clerk Joseph Collins said the application indicates a $450,000 purchase price for the Grassfield’s location, which also has a restaurant in Andover. The application does not state a purchase price for the liquor license.

The pub will seat 170, and there are plans for an outdoor patio. About 40 people will be hired.

It could open as soon as early June, Collins said.

Many British Beer Company locations feature a large tower out front with facades of black and gold. The restaurants have several “snugs” or private booths, which are a feature of many British pubs.

The menu will feature British fare such as bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes). The head chef, James Gibney, interned at Buckingham Palace, Simon said.

Simon and one of his business partners, Harry Gnong, have opened 10 British Beer Company pubs in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire over the past 17 years. Despite having 12 restaurants, Simon doesn’t want to call it a chain, because each pub aims to create a sense of community by having a unique flavor, as neighborhood pubs in England do.

“It’s a place that you go on a regular basis, and you get to know the staff, and they get to know you,” Simon said.

Simon and Gnong opened their first pub in 1997 in Plymouth, with Gnong introducing Simon to the concept of a British pub.

Most of the furnishings are imported from England by Andy Thorton, a company that makes traditional pub decor. It’s not a theme restaurant, Simon said.

“This is not an Epcot pub,” Simon said. “This is the real stuff.”

Every pub comes with a British motorcycle on display. So that the staff understands what a British pub is like, six to 10 employees are flown to England for a week to work in a pub.

Simon said he made the mistake several years ago of vowing not to open on a highway, but since then, they have opened locations on Route 9 in Framingham and Route 1 in Walpole.

He said they should be able to recreate the pub atmosphere on Route 114. Most people drive to where they want to go. They have opened pubs in downtown Sandwich and in a “lifestyle mall” in Franklin, and they have all worked, he said.

“The reality is, it doesn’t matter” where the pub is located, Simon said.

The cliche about British beer is that it’s served warm, but that is a myth, Simon said. The beer will come from the United Kingdom and all over the world.

“We’ve got Budweiser and Bud Light,” he said. Guinness will be on tap, and there will be a range of products from Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, the only brewery left in the city of London.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.