A downtown West Jefferson institution began a transformation earlier this month that may soon reverberate in your mind like the refrain of a favorite song.
Frasers Restaurant on S. Jefferson Avenue has started the process of transforming into Boondocks Brewing Tap Room & Restaurant, with new owner Gary Brown.
Brown, a resident of Rocky Mount and of Creston, recently purchased Frasers from Nigel and Barbara Wirgowski to fulfill a lifetime dream.
Brown took early retirement this year from RBC Centura where he was employed for over 20 years as the Lead Technology for the bank. This gave him the opportunity to pursue a dream of establishing a community focused business in West Jefferson where he could continue to expand his 30-year hobby as a craft beer brewer.
After retiring in March, Brown said he started spending more time in Ashe County. “I started thinking about doing what had been in the back of my mind for so long,” he said. “I've been brewing beer off and on since the 1980s, and friends were always asking for my beer. I also have a passion for community and helping others reach their goals.”
He started looking at vacant commercial property in West Jefferson in April with a vision of establishing a small brew pub. “I looked to Barb and Nigel for advice since I knew them and had been a customer at Frasers,” he said. “After about our third conversation, they said what you're talking about sounds exactly like something this town needs, so we began to explore me possibly taking over Frasers.”
His vision has energized the staff as well. Jared Yelton, the newly announced general manager, said the Wirgowski's have had other offers for their business, but said what Brown proposed sounded more like their vision for the restaurant.
“We're energized, re-energized and totally behind this,” said Yelton. “We'll take the passion and roll with it. Gary has the best vision for this place with the employees and town in mind.”
Brown said he wants Boondocks Brewing to evolve in to an employee-owned and employee-run business with a focus on the local community, using locally produced ingredients as much as possible. He has been taking spring water from Creston to use in brewing his craft beer in Rocky Mount, and said that, “The water makes all the difference between an okay beer and something really special and unique.” He will also look into obtaining other ingredients such as hops locally.
He is currently brewing three craft beers in small batches named for Ashe County; Three Top Three Hop IPA, Deep Gap Dark IPA and a New River Red Ale. He has also had requests for stouts and porters.
“We hope that by next summer we will be able to start small scale craft brewing on site that will be available fresh on tap in the tap room,” Brown said. “The bar now has five beers on tap and we are working on expanding by adding eight more taps in addition to bringing in a wider selection of craft bottled beers.”
Brown said he wants Boondocks Brewing to offer the largest selection of craft beers in the region. “We really want to focus on West Jefferson and Ashe County and making this a destination,” Brown said. “This is set up so well to be a destination and not just another place to come eat and have something to drink.”
Brown said when he, Nigel and Barbara started to discuss a change in ownership, he was a bit unsure at first, but soon realized the undertaking would allow him to transform the entire business into his vision while providing a unique opportunity for the great employees at Frasers.
“I will keep on honoring the past and respecting the hard work put into this place while looking to the future,” Brown said. “I've been a customer here for a while, and I have a passion for these employees. What Barb and Nigel have built at Frasers will always be at the heart of what we do going forward.”
Brown said he and the Wirgowski's started putting the deal together in June. “The more we talked, it just started making sense,” he said. “I have a background in leadership, leveraging technology, process improvement, strategy and developing people. I hadn't thought of a restaurant, I'm not a restaurant guy, but the more I felt the pulse of the place and the people the more sense it made.”
Changes will take place gradually toward a grand opening next spring. The first step is the legal name change, and Brown said the signs for Frasers will soon be replaced with the new name, a logo he designed. Other changes will include simplifying the menu into a single menu with plans to be open all day, expanding the pub area, and eventually an outdoor patio area.
“We are evolving, not changing for the sake of change,” Brown said. “We will have much of the same food, but scale down and compress the menu items and drop some of the price points where possible. We are here to serve the community, and we want people to feel comfortable here. Our atmosphere is not fancy, it is casual-upscale.
Chef Daniel Cannon, who has been the head cook at Frasers since 2004, was quick to note that “We want to look at partnering with local farmers to not only provide fresh local ingredients in our usual menu items but we also want to be able to promote local ingredients through specials and beer-themed food items.”
“Customer service will be our main priority,” said Yelton. “We'll take the things we do and do them better. Coming to Boondocks is going to be an experience. You'll be taken care of better than any place in town. Just give us a chance. We won't disappoint you.”
“It's going to be fun,” said Robin Pruitt, service manager and longtime employee and customer favorite.
“We have received a few questions about our use of the name Boondocks,” Brown said. “The use of Boondocks in our name is not intended to reflect a specific place or social status. The use of Boondocks in our name, combined with our simple, yet sophisticated logo, is intended to reflect our core principles of getting back to the basics, handcrafted quality, community involvement, supporting our neighbors and taking care of our natural resources.”
Boondocks Brewing, (no 'E' in Boon) is in no way related to any other restaurant or bar that may have used a similar name. Brown is the sole owner of Boondocks Brewing and with the support of his best friend and wife of 24 years, Debbie, he is sharing his dream, passion, leadership and capital to bring something new, fresh and engaging to West Jefferson.
For more information and to make comments, go to www.boondocks-brewing.com.