LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — Dick McLaughlin knows The Lobster Pound restaurant inside and out.
He began working odd jobs there in 1957, when he was just 15 years old. It’s where he met his wife, Patricia, who began working at the restaurant in 1960. In 1972, he and his brother bought the restaurant from their parents.
It’s a classic seaside seafood joint, perched on the coast and hugging Lincolnville’s sandy beach. But after 42 years of running the restaurant, McLaughlin, 71, realized it was time for a change.
In May, the restaurant will reopen for the season as a brewpub.
“If you don’t change with the times, sometimes you start losing ground,” McLaughlin said Thursday. “I figured to attract a younger crowd, I’d move in with a brewpub. It seems a hot item right now.”
McLaughlin’s partners in the venture are Andy and Ben Hazen, the father-and-son team who own and operate Andrews Brewing Co., also in Lincolnville. McLaughlin said he could have approached any number of other breweries in the state, but reaching out to the Hazens was the clear choice.
McLaughlin has been serving Andrews’ beer for 15 years — “that’s everybody’s favorite here” — and has always welcomed the Hazens at his restaurant.
“We’re good customers and good friends,” he said.
He approached the Hazens in July. They had some meetings, discussed their vision for the restaurant and revitalization of Lincolnville Beach, and then sealed the deal when the Hazens and a handful of local investors purchased 49 percent of the business from McLaughlin. He and his wife retain 51 percent, split right down the middle.
The other investors include Jim Tyler of Searsmont, Sean Duffelmeyer of Northport and Dick Sproul of Swanville.
Andy Hazen, 69, founded Andrews Brewing Co. in 1992. It was the fifth craft brewery to open in the state. Today, there are more than 40. He was on the verge of retirement earlier this year, but the idea of opening a brewpub “piqued his interest” and plans for retirement have been shelved for now, according to his son.
The brewery, currently housed in a barn in the Lincolnville interior, produces about 600 barrels of beer a year. The opening of the brewpub won’t change anything at the original brewery. Ben Hazen, 38, plans to continue brewing there, while his father and some soon-to-be hired and trained brewers will produce beer at the brewpub, the initial production of which will be about 500 barrels a year.
Hazen, who grew up in Lincolnville, said one of the factors that influenced the decision to invest in the new business venture was a desire to help invigorate Lincolnville Beach.
“I think the beach used to thrive more when I was younger,” Hazen said. “Now it’s kind of everybody has gotten used to it. We don’t want to make a huge jump where we’re pulling in large crowds. We’re just looking for the beach to be a little busier in the summertime.”
Paul Lippman, who with his wife owns the Spouter Inn, a bed and breakfast across the street from the beach and a short walk from the Lobster Pound, agreed.
Lincolnville Beach has experienced more foot traffic and beach-goers in the last eight years or so since the Maine Department of Transportation rebuilt Route 1 through town, put in new sidewalks and new period lighting, Lippman said. But he noted there are still retail businesses that come and go every season because they can’t make the numbers work.
He thinks the new and improved Lobster Pound should draw more people to their stretch of coast.
“Any more life at the beach is always a good thing,” he said Thursday.
Lippman said his inn and The Lobster Pound have always had a symbiotic relationship.
“We get guests that stop in to The Lobster Pound and are looking for places to stay, and they send them over to us. If they have more business, I’m sure we’ll get more of that,” Lippman said. “And it’s great to have more dining options. … We’re already sending [guests] on foot to The Lobster Pound, and I’m sure a lot of our guests would like to go to the brewpub.”
McLaughlin stressed that the restaurant isn’t going through a complete makeover.
Half of The Lobster Pound will maintain the classic feel of a Maine seafood restaurant. There will be two menus: One that features pub fare more apropos of a brewpub, and the other with the staple shore dinners and baked haddock that locals and summer visitors have been ordering for decades.
“We want to keep our family orientation that we have,” he said.
That said, it won’t feel like two different restaurants inside. The idea is to integrate them seamlessly, McLaughlin said.
“It’s not like two businesses under one roof,” he said. “It’s two businesses coming together to form another business that caters to the people we already cater to and attracts other people that haven’t been coming.”
McLaughlin said Lincolnville is in a good position to pull in more visitors who enjoy brewery tours and drinking craft beer brewed in small quantities.
Another goal is to extend the restaurant’s season. Currently, the Lobster Pound is only open for six months of the year. The new restaurant will aim to remain open for nine months, and as many as 11 months out of the year if visitors keep coming, Ben Hazen said.
Hours will also change to accommodate the young brewpub crowd, and it will likely stay open to 10:30 or 11 p.m.
To motorists on Route 1, not much will change at The Lobster Pound. The building isn’t expanding. Hazen said the most noticeable change will be more windows that will give people a view into the brewery operations of the brewpub. There’ll also be a new sign for Andrews Brewpub, but the classic Lobster Pound sign will stay put.
“We don’t want anyone to think that it’s gone,” Hazen said. “It’s still there, it’s just a little different now.”