Building Community with Beer: Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
Not too long ago, the local tavern wasn’t just a place to eat or drink but often served as the inn, post office, general store and unofficial (and sometimes official) town hall. In short, taverns were the center of their communities.
Times change, and while good beer and tasty food remain popular, many taverns became less of a communal resource. But some establishments continue to carry the torch and offer more than just a bite and a brew—they still provide a true place for locals to gather and visit.
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is one of those places, but perhaps a 21st-century version.
Located on the harbor in Half Moon Bay, the Brewing Company is a family-friendly restaurant, beer garden and brewery that serves a full menu of comfort food and a rotating selection of house-brewed seasonal beers. Founded by owners Lenny and Christine Mendonca of Half Moon Bay, their goal was to provide a “place to hang out with friends and be family friendly, not a bar,” Lenny recalls. And somewhere along the way, the Brewing Company became a little more than simply a successful restaurant or brewery, it became a “fixture on the coast,” says Christine. Now “it’s more than a business, it’s family.”
The seeds of the Brewing Company’s success came from a mix of hard work and good fortune. Lenny put together an experienced, professional team and the cozy harbor-side location is a destination in any weather, but good luck also shined on the brewing side of the business. At first, the Brewing Company brewed offsite, but Lenny met a brewer at a San Francisco Zoo event and told him about his efforts to build a brewery.
“Three months later I got a call about a great deal on a complete set of brewery equipment and suddenly we were off and running” with their own brewery. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” says Lenny.
And sometimes your good fortune holds through tough times. “We opened in 2000, the week of Nasdaq peak, then the bubble burst, and devil slide shut down” says Lenny. “But even in rough times people don’t stop drinking beer. People still came … we got great local business during the depth of great recession, people doing ‘staycations.’ You need local business; you can’t survive on just tourists.”
These days, the Brewing Company provides plenty of beer options for locals and tourists alike. Led by Brewmaster James Costa and Assistant Brewer Brian Hicks, the brewery brews a range of “Mavericks” ales from a sweet and nutty Bootlegger’s Brown Ale to a big, hoppy Princeton-by-the Sea IPA. Along with their standard slate of beers and ales, the Brewing Company produces seasonal beers like Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale and the occasional “themed” beer. In 2012 the Brewing Company even held an “Alection” between blue Obama bottles and red Romney bottles of their Pillar Point Ale. (Obama won this contest as well.)
To complement the beer, the 250-seat restaurant led by Chef Gaston Alfaro and his 25-member team, serves great meals and comfort foods. Chef Alfaro notes, “I like cooking with our beer. We use it in our breads, to finish sautés, we even make a ‘beeramisu’ with the lady-fingers soaked in stout. It’s really good.”
But beyond working with beer, Chef Alfaro works on a menu of classics and innovative dishes that celebrate local produce and seafood. “We use local, sustainable ingredients wherever possible,” says Alfaro. And the commitment to local produce shows: The Brewing Company has an “As fresh as it gets” award from the San Mateo County Farm Bureau and San Mateo County Convention and Visitors bureau.
While both the brewery and the restaurant have been successful, it is the Brewing Company’s support of the local community that means the most to the Mendoncas. Over the last 13 years, Lenny and Christine helped transform the Brewing Company into a true pillar of the community, donating over $500,000 in scholarships and services to local schools, students and charities. Christine serves on the local Cabrillo Education Foundation and the Brewing Company donates 10% of its profits to the foundation. As Lenny says, “We want the Brewing Company to reflect the values Christine and I care about.”
The Brewing Company also provides $1,000 scholarships to selected high school seniors who have worked there for at least six months. Says Sean McKenna, a scholarship recipient, “The scholarship I received from the Brewing Company has been so helpful … I’ve mainly used my scholarship towards textbooks, which add up quickly and are expensive.” Just as important, McKenna says, he values the work experience at the Brewing Company “I loved working there not only because of how great the food was, or all the interesting guests you met, but mainly because of how friendly and supportive all the employees and managerial staff were.”
The Brewing Company doesn’t just support youth education but also supports extended community education and enrichment through its Brews & Views political series. Hosted at the Brewing Company the first Thursday of every month, Brews & Views presents speakers and plays movies addressing political issues and current events. “I was a fan of the Commonwealth Club since high school,” says Lenny. “I wondered, ‘Why can’t they come here?’”
It’s Lenny’s “day job” as a director of McKinsey and Company and co-founder of their Public Sector Practice that helps him recruit a noteworthy group of speakers to Brews & Views. Lenny’s access and the opportunity “to have a serious conversation in an informal setting” attracts speakers from across the country, addressing diverse issues from human trafficking to ocean conservation. And so far, of everyone he has invited, “No one has said no.”
What’s next for the Brewing Company? Recently, working with Pete Slogberg, creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale, the Brewing Company launched a line of Mavericks “session” beers. A staple in Britain for over a century, session beers combine big flavor with lower alcohol levels. As Lenny explains, “We wanted a beer where you drink one with lunch and still go for a bike ride along the coast.” Available at the Brewing Company, Mavericks session beers are also available at local stores and larger outlets like Beverages and More. So while the friendly staff, quality beer, tasty food and beautiful setting all suggest a trip to the coast, you can now taste Half Moon Bay Brewing Company’s beers a little closer to home, too.
Wine vs. Beer
The Brews & Views series at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company exposes guests to many sides of complex political issues. But what about one of the most pressing, and heated, debates in food:
Is beer or wine the best pairing with food?
Happily, the Brewing Company along with Hatcher Winery is giving 30 guests a chance to decide for themselves. On January 22 at 7pm, the brewery is hosting a “Beer vs. Wine” dinner with a local, seasonal four-course meal from Chef Gaston Alfaro. Each course will have beer pairings from the Brewing Company’s Brewmaster James Costa and wine pairings from Hatcher Winery’s owner and Winemaker Matthew Hatcher.
In the spirit of Brews & Views, guests will be given a ballot and encouraged to vote after each course. At the end of the night votes will be counted and a winner announced.
The dinner costs $75 per person (plus a small processing fee) including tax and gratuity. To learn more or purchase tickets, visit HMBBrewingCo.inticketing.com.