WILTON — Ambition Brewery co-owner Jeff Chaisson recently found himself before the Wilton selectboard requesting an extension to his liquor license to cover the premise of a building that he originally acquired for demolition. 

Ambition Brewery co-owner Jeff Chaisson stands in the doorway of the building that will offer additional seating once connected to the taproom. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

The former Collins Cakes and Bakes building which neighbors Ambition’s current location on Main Street was purchased solely for the property site to expand the brewery’s operation.  The building will now serve as a temporary means to expand the taproom’s seating area for the brewery’s reopening on July 1 during phase three of Gov. Janet Mills’ Restarting Maine’s Economy plan. 

“This is hopefully going to save us and pull us out of this rut,” Chaisson said while standing in the 900-square-foot construction zone that, when finished, will double the brewery’s seating capacity and offer outdoor seating overlooking Wilson Stream.

Chaisson and his business partner Josh Michaud are keeping renovations simple by connecting their two buildings with a hallway. They are more focused on the six-foot-space requirement between tables rather than investing money into a building that they still plan to tear down in the future.

The urgency for extra seating and for customers to be in those seats reflects the financial burden imposed by the pandemic on the young brewery which opened in Feb. 2019.

“We were really heavy on the taproom sales. That was 90% of our sales,” Chaisson said.

Chaisson and Michaud were building capital through on-site business rather than marketing their beer to restaurants or canning all of their product for distribution. Customers could come in and choose from ten taps to fill a 32 ounce-can growler to take home. The brewery has maintained this practice through curbside pick-up, but their growler stock is dwindling now that the cans are on back order as breweries across the country ramp up their beer-to-go offerings. 

Ambition Brewery fills 32 ounce growler cans right from their taps for customers to take home. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“We haven’t been pushing the sales. It’s kinda a catch 22; we run out of the cans and then we can’t sell anything,” Chaisson said. “We just assume to stay open and keep our customer base as best as we can and open as soon as we can.”

With less than 400 growlers left, tap sales will become Ambition’s primary source of income since restaurants are no longer ordering kegs regularly. 

With the opportunity to reopen in a month and with funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Michaud and Chaisson were able to bring back an employee and purchase ingredients to start brewing again. 

“We’re brewing at about two thirds capacity at this point just to kind of maintain. Once you get going, once you start brewing, then you get into a cycle where you’re harvesting yeast and reusing it, and everything just flows really well on a weekly basis,” Chaisson said. “But if you do a one-week on, one-week-off, it doesn’t work very well. It just doesn’t flow.”

Aside from experimenting with new sours for the summer and keeping up with Ambition staples such as the Moxie Porter, Michaud and Chaisson will have to constantly regulate the sanitation and safety of their service areas. 

“Definitely cleaning is going to be top priority, but we’re pretty much used to that culture anyway,” Chaisson said. “I mean, the whole brewing process, everything back there is like a lab, very clean, very neat. You have to be. So we’re just going to carry that right over into here and do the best we can.”

Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Aside from constant wipe downs between seatings, Ambition will also receive a deep cleaning once a week by Wilton-based cleaning service Everyday Cleaning. Chaisson may even contract Everyday Cleaning more frequently if business ramps up the way it did last summer. 

“We were pretty well packed every weekend. Blueberry Fest, of course, was just slammed. That was a good weekend. But we’ll see, who knows,” Chaisson said. “We’re still planning on doing something for the blueberry fest, at least that weekend, we’ll do our normal blueberry beer.”

Despite the desire to reopen as soon as possible and start planning quaint summer events at the brewery, Chaisson reiterated his awareness of people’s sensitivities towards the pandemic.

“It’s going to be strange for a bit. We’re going to have to play it by ear and try to make everybody comfortable,” Chaisson said. “Everybody has varying comfort levels right now even. We’ll just try to accommodate for as many as we can.”

Chaisson predicted that most of their summer business will come from customers who are attracted to the outdoor seating area that’s part of the renovation process. The seating in the former bakery building is Ambition’s winter plan for survival as the owners do not expect restrictions to ease any time soon.

“Just because we open up, doesn’t mean we’re going to bounce right back here, Chaisson said. “And the summer months are our busiest months, so that’s going to be a big hit not to have any income here. It already has been.” 

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