New ownership group Mark and Jenny Ardito, from left, Gaye Mullen, Bob O’Shea, Tracy Wright and Bob Leavitt stand on the deck with Maranacook Lake behind them March 22 at van der Brew in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — Since 2018, van der Brew has brewed and served craft beer to residents while hosting a plethora of local events and vendors at the lakeside spot. So when founding members Kim Vandermeulen and his wife Linda Young started talking about retirement, two bartenders — Dan O’Shea and Tracy Wright — and four patrons stepped up and offered to keep the business going.

“We enjoy the clientele, and we’ve made a lot of good friends here,” said O’Shea. “We didn’t want to see it end, so we started percolating the idea of keeping it going.”

From there, van der Brew patrons Bob Leavitt, Gaye Mullen, and husband and wife Jenny and Mike Ardito joined in as part of the new team.

“We’re all good friends when we’re here,” said O’Shea. “We’re good friends when we’re not here, and we decided to think about putting something together to save the concept, and it’s coming together.”

“Our patrons are awesome,” Wright added. “It’s a friendly atmosphere. We have some local musicians that come in and play, and we wanted to keep that going. Kim and Linda did a wonderful job brewing, and they were awesome to work for.”

Starting Saturday, the six new owners will take over while Vandermeulen serves as a consultant. The craft brewery and tasting room near Norcross Point on Maranacook Lake will officially be transferred over to the new owners this summer, at which point they will announce a new name and new offerings.




View this post on Instagram


A post shared by van der Brew (@vanderbrew)

In a post on the social media site Instagram, the company said “big thank you as well to Sarah Fuller & Kelsey Vandermeulen for keeping our operations running (mostly) seamlessly in the background.”

Sarah Fuller, who is chairperson of the Winthrop Town Council and held the title of vice president of van der Brew, said she no longer has any role or interest in the brewery as part of the sale. Fuller came under fire during town council meetings about a controversial boat mooring ordinance, with some citizens saying she had a conflict of interest in the matter because the lakeside brewery stood to benefit from the rules. The critics said Fuller should have recused herself from voting on the rules, which primarily targeted a popular cove near Norcross Point and prohibited moorings near the shore unless a person owned nearby property.

Tracy Wright pulls a pint March 22 at van der Brew in Winthrop. Wright is a business bartender who is among the group that has stepped up to keep the business going following the retirement of the brewery founders. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Fuller said in an interview this week that most of the brewery’s key decisions were made by the founding family. Fuller said she was not a part of the decision to sell it and the change in ownership didn’t have anything to do with the debate over the town’s mooring ordinance, which the council has pledged to revisit. Councilors have yet to review a draft revision of the rules, which comes following the sudden resignation of the town manager who cited “deeply disturbing” bullying and harassment by detractors.

Fuller said the founding owners “put a lot of time and effort” into the business and it has become an important place for Winthrop.

“Like so many craft breweries in Maine communities, it’s been a driver to help economic development,” Fuller said. “It’s a good gathering spot, like a community center where people can drink beer. It’s also been a location to host events and fundraisers. It’s been fun, and I hope it continues to be.”


Kim Vandermeulen said he has a long history of homebrewing for about 30 years and loves the atmosphere of craft beer tasting rooms, which inspired him to open the establishment in November of 2018.

Kim Vandermeulen Kennebec Journal file

He said all tasting rooms have a different atmosphere, and that van der Brew has a “huge open space” allowing for large community events.

“We tend to be a place where people can gather, have a good time and enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “You can bring the whole family in.”

The establishment is not licensed to serve food, however food trucks will often move to the parking lot when they host events.

“We’ve enjoyed doing it,” said Vandermeulen. “My wife and I are in our 70s, and we decided that van der Brew needed to take it up into food and other things, and we just weren’t prepared to do that. So it turned out to be a win-win situation that our long-time bartenders wanted to see it continue.”

Mike Ardito said that they “won’t have food initially,” but that on Saturday the Winthrop House of Pizza will be on site as a vendor and offering some “exclusive van der Brew specials.”


New ownership group Dan O’Shea, left, Gaye Mullen, Mark Ardito, Jenny Ardito, Tracy Wright, and Bob Leavitt raise a glass March 22 at van der Brew in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Other vendors, such as Cruzin Slice, Rollin’ in the Dough and White Fox Taverna, are also slated to make appearances.

“Tracy (Wright) and I have been best friends for many years now, so when she started working here it was a natural fit for Mike (Ardito) and I to come check out where she’s working on the weekend,” said Jenny Ardito. “We’re excited to have a place where people can come in and enjoy the good beer, music and company of others.”

Leavitt said he likens van der Brew to the classic television show “Cheers” about a Boston bar.

“For me, if I’m going out and I’m comfortable, I’ll come back,” he said. “So that’s a big deal. We’d like to see this become a destination for people to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to van der Brew.’ It’s a nice open space, it’s family-friendly and we want to continue the tradition the Kim started.”

Mullen said it’s a little early to reveal any specific plans, but the establishment will change its name and make an announcement this summer.

Wright concluded by thanking the Vandermeulens for their help and support.

“They’ve been fabulous to work for, and they’ve also been very helpful in this transition,” she said. “I can’t speak any more highly of them.”

Managing Editor Scott Monroe contributed reporting. 

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story