Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” hardly brings the image of an ice cold beer to mind.
But the poem’s famous line, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,” proved to be inspirational for Brad Hittle, president and CEO of Two Roads Brewing Co. L.L.C. in Stratford.
Over the past nine months, Hittle and Two Roads Brewing Co. have transformed a 101-year old factory at 1700 Stratford Ave. into a modern brewing operation.
Since Two Roads Brewing Co. purchased the 103,600-square-foot property for about $2.85 million in March, the former industrial property has undergone an $18 million renovation with plans to open to the public later this month.
Two Roads Brewing Co. plans to hire 15 full-time employees in its first year, with Hittle saying he expects roughly 70 employees to be hired over the next decade.
The Two Roads Brewing Co. chief executive spent 18 years in the beer business working for labels such as Pabst Brewing Co. and Labatt USA.
Then, he said, he chose a different path. Hittle created a company that he claims is like no other brewing company in the country: Two Roads is set up to operate on both the contract brewing side and the proprietary side.
Hittle said he and his partners designed a unique business model with the dual purpose of enabling the company to absorb overhead on contract brewing deals and create and market their own proprietary Two Roads brand. In the end, that approach coupled with a well-thought-out long-range plan proved irresistible to Stratford officials.
Mayor John Harkin called Two Roads “an enormous investment in our community,” with his administration helping to secure funds to launch the project.
Marc Dillon, Harkin’s chief of staff, said that the town assisted Two Roads in securing two grants, one from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) for $500,000 and another grant from the Small Business Express program, also under the DECD, for $100,000.
Additionally, they received a $1 million loan from the Connecticut Development Authority, which has since been merged into Connecticut Innovations.
Dillon said the town was encouraged not only by Two Roads’ business strategy but also by the fact that they took over an old industrial building and turned it into a “productive reuse” of the facility. Its presence, in essence, is helping to revitalize an area of the town that has languished.
Hittle and his partners Peter Doering, Phil Markowski and Clement Pellani, settled on Stratford after a long search for the perfect home for Two Roads. He said he’d long been dedicated to the idea of opening a brewing company in Connecticut and searched all of Fairfield and New Haven counties for the proper location.
The 101-year-old factory was purchased in March for $2.85 million. Hittle and his partners oversaw the conversion, which produced the state-of-the-art microbrewery. He said the price tag was around $18 million.
In addition to the government grants and loans, Two Roads brewing company had $10 million in equity and the rest was debt, according to Hittle. But the investment already seems worthwhile, he said.
They’ve exceeded their own conservative expectations of the company. “We grossly underestimated the demand,” Hittle said. He added they have potential clients on the West Coast, in the Southeast and in the Northeast. “So the demand is there and we’ve accelerated our plan for ordering more fermenting and packaging equipment.”
The company will also be open to the public soon. Two Roads’ brewmaster, Markowski, has already heightened the interest of beer consumers, Hittle said. Part of Two Roads’ identity is to make their product accessible to average consumers.
The brewing company has a tasting room where beer lovers will be able to sample the product. The purpose is partially to create a buzz, said Hittle, a former chief marketing officer for Pabst brewing company. “Our distributors recognize that this tasting room is an exceptional marketing tool to help generate sales in their territories.”
Hittle and town officials in Stratford are optimistic the initial buzz surrounding Two Roads will ultimately grow the brand and also translate into new job opportunities within the region. The town announced they are projecting the company will bring 15 new jobs to Stratford during its first year of operation and a total of 70 jobs within the decade. Hittle added, “I’ve been in the business a long time and the enthusiasm we’ve seen is palpable.”