Amid a hot liquor license market in Centre County driven mostly by chains and downtown State College, some restaurants are trying out partnerships with local breweries in lieu of a traditional restaurant liquor license.
After Tim Glunt, owner of the Hofbrau in Bellefonte, sold his liquor license to the newly rebuilt Sheetz at 765 Benner Pike in July, the business began a partnership with Otto’s Pub and Brewery and Barrel 21 Distillery to sell beer, wine and spirits.
“The partnership’s been wonderful, working with the folks from Otto’s, they’re very professional,” Glunt said. “I couldn’t be happier ... I’m really excited about this whole thing. I think it was a fantastic move, one that needed to be made.”
Glunt, who has owned Hofbrau for almost 26 years, said he got the idea to partner with a brewery on a trip to Gettysburg, where many restaurants merge with local breweries to serve beer and spirits.
“It just planted a seed in my head. And out of the blue I was approached by a broker to sell the (liquor) license, and I told him no, I wasn’t interested,” he said.
But the broker returned a couple of months later, and Glunt decided it made sense to sell his liquor license, which has been with the Hofbrau since it first opened in 1934.
“I didn’t sell it lightly,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, this’ll be cool.’ A lot of thought went into it.”
Glunt and his manager, who had connections at Otto’s, met with the brewery’s management and started the challenging process of becoming a “satellite” location of Otto’s and Barrel 21, meaning it can sell craft beverages made in Pennsylvania.
“It’s not as simple as it sounds,” he said. “There are a lot of things that have to be put in place, and controls.”
Hofbrau has been serving Otto’s and Barrel 21 products, including products from Seven Mountains Winery and Otto’s Keewaydin brand ciders and apple wine, for about a month now.
Otto’s created a custom light beer called the OttoBrau to pair with the restaurant’s popular pizza, since light beer had been a top seller. In addition, Hofbrau is creating signature drinks with Barrel 21 spirits, Glunt said.
In the past few months, he said, Hofbrau has updated its interior with new floors, spruced up restrooms, a less cluttered bar and a new tap system for the beer. But the most important part — Hofbrau’s food — is staying the same.
“I’m expecting a lot of excitement and a lot more activity in the Hofbrau. The food’s always been fantastic,” Glunt said.
Some have lamented that the sale of liquor licenses from small businesses to large chains is pricing out local restaurants and shifting bars and restaurants out of smaller, more rural areas. A CDT analysis found that almost 75% of restaurant liquor licenses in Centre County are concentrated in the Centre Region. State College alone has 48 retail locations that serve alcohol.
Over the years, several small businesses have closed and sold off their liquor licenses to large chains like Sheetz and Snappy’s.
But Glunt thinks the dearth of restaurant liquor licenses in Bellefonte might have more to do with the collapse of manufacturing in the area due to globalization. In the early ‘90s, when he first took over the Hofbrau, the restaurant and its bar used to stay open until 11 p.m., catching people coming off their shift at Cerro Metals plant in Spring Township. Nightlife was much bigger in town, and people used to stay out later, he said.
But when Cerro sold out to Bolton Metal Products in 2007, the new owners shut down the plant, taking over 280 jobs from the area.
“The late nights aren’t that big anymore,” Glunt said. “It’s very competitive out there (with liquor licenses). The pie’s getting cut a lot of different ways.”
Besides, becoming a satellite brewery suits the Hofbrau, he said.
“We’re back now to where we were (before) selling the liquor license. And that’s after a month,” he said. “I can only see it getting better. A lot of excitement and people coming.”