Getting Crafty and Creative as Entrepreneurs in the Downtowns of Durham

Will McGuirk

"Foundry exclusively serves craft beer—it’s their philosophy to support local products and businesses, as well as sustainable sources and ingredients."

Over the past few years, businesses have had to be open to change, and open to trying new things in order to find new avenues for success. COVID-19 measures—and the May 2022 tornado that hit Uxbridge—have all played a role.

Leveraging new opportunities especially for businesses in the hospitality space—required a spirited approach to entrepreneurship. In this story, we met and chatted with Chris Aucoin, owner of the Brewers Pantry in downtown Bowmanville, and Steve Lovisa, owner of Foundry Kitchen & Bar in downtown Port Perry. Both shared their views on the challenges and opportunities faced over the last year.

“Part of the pandemic-related rule changes allowed for restaurants to sell alcohol on takeout orders,” says Aucoin. “This opened Ontario up to the idea of bottle shops. This was always a vision I had, to have one location that could sell beers from breweries all over the region and province. It was time to make the move.”

Patio at Brewer's Pantry in Bowmanville.
Source: Brewer’s Pantry

Aucoin was part of the brewing community when the opportunity to run his own business presented itself. He had been in hospital management for 25 years and was an avid home brewer. Brewer’s Pantry was a brew supply store but when the previous owner left, Aucoin saw the chance to fulfil a dream.

“I started to get the ball rolling by finding the perfect location on the main street of Bowmanville, and ended my career at the hospital. We had to make renovations to add the bar, kitchen, accessible washrooms, etc. So many pieces to juggle, and I was learning as I went,” he says. Brewer’s Pantry has had up to 300 different beers, along with craft wines, spirits, coolers and moonshines and has hosted Tap Takeovers—an event where a guest brewery temporarily takes over every draft tap in the bar, typically offering exclusive brews. Past Tap Takeovers have included Third Moon as well as Blood Brothers.

“We will continue this with out of town and interesting breweries. Always adding to our selections and any time someone comes in we will have new selections,” says Aucoin.

Row of craft beer cans from Chronicle Brewing Co.
Craft beers from Chronicle Brewing Co. in Bowmanville. Source: Brewer’s Pantry

The ability to thrive through change and challenge seems to be par-for-the-course in hospitality ownership. Steve Lovisa made his big move opening Foundry Kitchen & Bar in downtown Port Perry in 2017, and quickly found an enthusiastic audience for his fresh-made offerings.

“We used to run seasonal menus, but once the pandemic hit, we had to offer “one-time-use” menus that we printed daily. So, we began to change our menu much more frequently. We focused on what ingredients and style of dishes are available and appropriate for the season,” he says.

Foundry exclusively serves craft beer—it’s their philosophy to support local products and businesses, as well as sustainable sources and ingredients.

“We’re fortunate to have the Old Flame Brewery in Port Perry and The Second Wedge Brewery in Uxbridge, and we’ve always had them on tap. We’re big on supporting local and we have always felt that if we support our community then our community will support us,” says Lovisa.

This collaborative spirit led to the Foundry team opening Foundry Pi—a wood-fired pizza served in the beer garden at The Second Wedge. Opening day was scheduled for May 20, 2022, but the weather had other plans. On May 21, a tornado came through Uxbridge, causing significant damage to The Second Wedge and resulting in the brewery’s closure. Foundry Pi also closed as they awaited repairs. (Editor’s note: While the repairs at The Second Wedge are currently underway, we are pleased to report that Foundry Pi and The Second Wedge beer garden are open as of May 2023.)

Overhead shot of a table with pizzas from Foundry Pi and craft beers from Second Wedge.
Source: Foundry Pi

Lovisa says they also offer beers at Foundry from outside the region, but Durham is their main focus for supply. Town Brewery in Whitby and The Second Wedge in Uxbridge are some of the Foundry’s favourites, adding they do a stellar job at producing interesting varieties. “There are a few other breweries that we’ve had on tap from across Ontario too, but we tend to stay in Durham as much as we can.”

Lovisa says one of the reasons they opted for craft was the previous tenant at their location served domestics from the big breweries. Foundry saw the evolution in Port Perry towards craft and its possibilities.

Bowmanville too is evolving. The town is growing, and with that growth comes diverse tastes, interests, expectations, and business opportunities.

“Shops and restaurants have adapted to offer unique experiences,” says Aucoin. “The community events are second to none in the province. I have met so many great people that I consider more of a friend than a customer. We love to have live events to bring out the crowd. We have trivia nights, food events, and love to support local musicians.”

“What we do here is a win-win-win-win,” says Aucoin. “We win because we’re able to have a successful business doing what we love while meeting awesome people. The breweries win because [they have a] way to reach our local market. And, the local market wins because they can buy individual products from breweries across the province that they don’t have access to.”

Entrepreneurs prove they are resilient, creative, and tenacious. When making weekend plans this spring and summer, spread some local love and have a tasty craft beer in Durham Region’s downtowns.