With 27 Years of Business, Willimantic’s Wollner Shares Insights for New Owners

This is a continuing series highlighting the oldest craft brewery in each state with members of the organization that helped build the brand. Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights each Monday to help learn how these veterans of the industry have grown.

David Wollner, owner/brewer, Willimantic Brewing Company — Willimantic, Connecticut

Date the brewery opened: February 8, 1997
What beers were tapped on opening day? Certified Gold Ale, Postmaster IPA, Autobahn Mail Alt, Postage Porter, Main Street Mild, Dog Bite Bitter

BREWER: Why did the brewery open in the first place? What was your biggest “Year 1” struggle?
WOLLNER: I was a homebrewer since 1980 and spent years trying to learn about brewing and hospitality. I opened a deli/coffee/ ice cream shop in an old movie theater with my ex-wife in 1991, in 1994 we moved across the street to an existing restaurant that closed and we became a craft beer bar featuring American craft beers. In 1996 a local business couple purchased the old Post Office and we struck a deal to renovate and install a brewery and restaurant. Our struggle was the company we originally signed on to build our system was a scammer and ripped us off for over $30,000 and delayed our installation because we had to find another fabricator.

BREWER: Go ahead, pat yourself on the back; what was one of the key “good ideas” that were had early on which help drive growth or sustainability to the brewery?
WOLLNER: Serving guest brewery beers and ciders on tap alongside our own beers. Especially now that guests like to have more variety when they go out.

BREWER: OK, now admit a defeat; what was a decision or a circumstance that hurt the brewery? How did you solve that issue or find your way through it?
WOLLNER: We are in a historic former U.S. Post Office and there is no loading dock. Our business plan relied on 99% of our beers were to be sold in house. Now that people want cans we don’t have an easy way to bring pallets into the building or the space for even small production.

BREWER: What excites you in your brand (be it liquid, equipment, strategies or something else) this year and how did you decide to pursue this avenue?
WOLLNER: We are trying to navigate the younger generations’ tastes and habits. We will be bringing back some pre-COVID events such as beer/wine/whiskey dinners, craft events, music, and keep innovating our recipes.

BREWER: Being a veteran company in the craft beer industry, what “words of wisdom” do you like to share when a new brewery owner approaches? 
WOLLNER: Be prepared for a roller coaster in business. The days of record growth every year may not be the case anymore where there are breweries or taprooms within 20 miles of your location. ‘Eat and Drink Local’ has become hyper local, so keep your regulars happy.

Photos courtesy Willimantic Brewing

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