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Chris Martinson at Chelsea Alehouse Brewery, Chelsea, MI 2013

Hometown Brew and Ribs

Chelsea Alehouse, Smokehouse 52 BBQ

by Shelley Daily

posted 5/23/2013

It's a weekday morning at Chelsea Alehouse Brewery, and the smell of hot malted wheat wafts through the expansive warehouse-size pub. Across the bar and through some windows, associate brewer Eric Schroeder can be seen raking out the mash tun in the brewery. "Today we're making White Ale--it's definitely been a favorite," says owner and head brewer Chris Martinson, who opened the business in January. A friendly, energetic thirty-something sporting a newsboy cap, Martinson talks rapidly and enthusiastically about the subject he knows well: beer. It'll be about two and a half weeks until customers can sample this batch, he says, as he explains the brewing process. Meanwhile, he's got about a half-dozen types of beer listed on the giant chalkboard by the bar, and they've been going fast.

Since the opening, "it's been steady," he says. "We already have some regulars." Martinson, an experienced home brewer who formerly worked at an Ann Arbor biotech firm, generated a fan base of nearly 2,000 people on Facebook after sharing his idea of opening a pub and brewery in Chelsea. It helped that many locals knew his wife, Aubrey, the former executive director of Chelsea Center for the Arts, who now handles bookkeeping for the business. With five silent partners, a Small Business Administration loan, the backing of hundreds of founding members (their beer mugs, handmade by Albion potter Ken Shenstone, line the shelves by the bar), and after four years of planning, the dream of having their own business is a reality.

When the Clocktower location--next door to the Chelsea Teddy Bear Factory--became available, Martinson knew it had all the right components. "We want it to be a warm, inviting place, and at the same time we're a manufacturer, so we need the space for that," he says. "Here, we have the room to expand." He hopes to move into canning and bottling in the future. With a 150-person capacity, he says, "a group of twenty can just show

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up and grab a few tables." Once the warm weather hits, he'll offer outdoor seating with picnic tables and may move some of the live music outside.

Food is served pub style: you order it at the bar. The food choices match the casual atmosphere and include Dexter Bakery soft pretzels with dipping cheese, chips and salsa, and a hummus plate, as well as sandwiches and salads. Martinson says people have been bringing in cards and games to play, but for those who arrive empty-handed, there's a cart of games to borrow and crayons for the kids. (For the kids, Martinson also offers juice boxes and Sprecher root beer on tap.) In the next month or two, he hopes to open earlier on weekends for lunch and to offer "growlers" to non-members (half-gallon jugs of beer to go). And he wants to collaborate with more community groups, including hosting the library's book club.

Chelsea Alehouse, 420 N. Main, 433-5500. Wed.& Thurs 3-10 p.m., Fri. 3-11 p.m., Sat. 2-11 p.m., Sun. 2-8 p.m. Closed Mon. & Tues.

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Farther up Main St., Phil and Jennifer Tolliver opened their Smokehouse 52 BBQ the week after Valentine's Day. "We want everything to tell a story in this place," says Phil, who stayed overnight in the space "quite a few times" to ensure that renovation of the former Chelsea Market space stayed on track.

A livestock gate greets customers near the front entrance, and barn walls and beams from the mid-1800s have been added throughout--all from local farms. A hand-hammered copper bar and a spectacular chandelier in the ladies' room are just a couple of the unexpected surprises in the 4,600-square-foot space. The couple preserved the ornate tin ceiling and installed a rustic dark wood floor, doing everything themselves except for the plumbing and electrical work. "We're going for a welcome and warm feeling, like a family barbecue," Phil says.

"Nowadays you have to have the whole package to succeed," says Jennifer--"the food, the service, and the restaurant itself." The Tollivers say they've worked hard to put those elements in place, and although their focus is barbecue, they'll also offer steaks, salmon, and vegetarian options.

Smokehouse 52 BBQ, 125 S. Main, 562-2565. Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30-10 p.m.

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Chelsea Village Hardware closed in early January after eleven years in business, and seventy-three years after a Gambles store first started selling hardware in the same Main Street storefront. Owners Tom and Pattie Clemons taped a sign to the door thanking customers for their "support through the years." Products were stocked on the shelves and riding mowers were still on display in the front windows in mid-February, but the business's phone just rang and rang. "The loss is obvious to our community," says Bob Pierce, executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce. "I hope this is a wake-up call about how important it is to support our local businesses."

The Martins opened the Gambles franchise in 1940. Seven years later, George and Carl Elkins and Ruby and Wes Howes bought the business, continuing the affiliation with Gambles. Sam and Joyce Johnson eventually purchased the business after serving as part owners. In the 1970s the store was affiliated with Our Own Hardware; in the 1980s it was Johnson's How To; and since 2001 it's been Chelsea Village Hardware.

Pierce notes that "on the positive side, it's one of the few vacancies we have downtown right now." He says there's already interest in the property.

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The Blockbuster store in south side Village Plaza is set to close March 24 and is liquidating its merchandise. Calls to Blockbuster's corporate office weren't returned, but the company announced it would close 300 of its 800 locations nationwide in 2013. Media experts cite the rise of online video streaming and DVD by mail for the demise of the video stores.

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"Burgers are back!" says Judy Radant, co-owner, with Judy Bottum, of Ellie's Chocolate Cafe. The owners temporarily closed the restaurant side of the business in February but set a grand reopening for March 5. The duo will revise the restaurant menu slightly and continue to sell chocolates and hand-dipped ice cream in the adjoining space.

Ellie's Chocolate Cafe, 312 N. Main, 475-1457, Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Sun.    (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2013.]

 

 
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