A businessman with a grand vision has announced brewery plans for space he has leased on the riverfront in downtown Riverhead.
Peconic County Brewing is planned for the ground level of the upcoming Riverview Lofts building and the owner of the burgeoning brewery said his proposal includes a commercial kitchen and outdoor seating.
Jeff Schaeffer, 37, of Patchogue said he’s sees a potential for Riverhead’s breweries — which includes Long Ireland, Moustache and North Fork Brewing Co. and several more in the planning stages — as making Riverhead a true destination for beer the way the entire North Fork has grown into a wine region.
“I always liked when people say they’re going to the wineries,” the Southampton native said. “They don’t usually specifically say what wineries they are going to. They just say ‘I’m going to the wineries; and I kind of envisioned that for Riverhead with the breweries.”
Before he ever had dreamed of opening a brewery, Schaeffer, who works in sales for a wholesale food distribution company and said he is financing the project with the help of a silent partner, fell in love with the beer community he encountered through his blog and podcast: Long Island Beer Authority.
“I always fantasized about the idea of creating a beer community and a beer brand,” he said. “I really wanted to learn about Long Island beer, because it’s such an impressive beer community.”
And as many self-proclaimed craft beer lovers have, Schaeffer eventually asked himself a question – should I open a brewery?
“We just took one question and problem at a time until I was so deep in the process that I was like ‘Wow, I guess I guess this is really happening now,’” he said. “Somewhere, it turned from this crazy, long shot, impossible idea to a process. And once you get deep in that process, you just have to finish.”
He found the space in Riverhead — the rear of the first floor of the Riverview Lofts building that is being built overlooking the Peconic River. His plan is to turn the 2,000-square-foot deck outside into a giant lounge space with firepits, couches and a place for cornhole, while the remaining 6,500 square feet inside will be scattered tables, a kitchen, a bar and a stage for live music.
“I always thought if I could build a beautiful space that’s fun to hang out in that people can enjoy with their families and their friends and not be intimidated by some of the beer stuff, it could be really successful,” he said. “As long as it was supplied with really great beer.”
Speaking of beer, Schaeffer plans on having a year-round menu of 30 beers with 10 on tap at all times. He said he has hired a brewer from the former Barrage Brewing Company in Farmingdale and is currently working on a liquor license and any additional approvals that might be needed from the town and county.
And though he has no specifics yet, his slogan, he feels, explains it all – simply, beautiful beer. The food will be elevated bar food with a small menu full of classic dishes, he said. Think of a burger, but with the best blue cheese around, or a grilled cheese with prosciutto and brie.
Since announcing the plans for his brewery, which he ambitiously hopes to open in September, on his Instagram page more than a week ago, Schaeffer has officially changed it to be Peconic County Brewing’s page. Frequently, he will ask members of the community through Instagram for their input along the way. He is holding a ‘help me name a beer contest’ and has shared renderings of artwork for beer cans asking for people’s thoughts.
“The best part of the whole process is the community, the beer community, the local community,” he said. “I want the people to be a part of this process along the way. I want people to have that feeling of ‘Hey, five years ago when Peconic County opened, I helped name this beer.’ Like how cool of a memory would that be?”
The name Peconic County Brewing came from Schaeffer’s love of the East End and its history. The idea of a Peconic County has been around for over 50 years, as many East Enders, particularly in the 1990s, wanted to separate from the more populated part of Suffolk County to make a county out of the five East End towns. Although the proposition has never come to fruition, Schaeffer hopes his brewery will be a representation of it, even incorporating the flag as his logo.
“I was looking for things to kind of represent that whole area at the brewery,” he said. “Since that county didn’t come together, maybe this brewery can tie it all together after all.”