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When it comes to those who consider the beer glass half empty or half full, Jeff Schaeffer is definitely among the latter. Why else would someone plan to open a new micro-brewery and restaurant with the coronavirus pandemic swirling in our midst?
Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing health crisis, Mr. Schaeffer, 38, who grew up in Southampton and comes from a family of restauranteurs, has decided to take the plunge. He is opening Peconic County Brewing in an 8,500-square-foot space overlooking the Peconic River at 221 East Main Street in Riverhead this month.
“I never really wanted to have my own restaurant,” said Mr. Schaeffer, whose father, Michael Papandreo, used to run Michael’s Pizzeria in East Quogue, “but I did start falling in love with craft beer. I found that I liked knowing about beer, knowing what made them different, what created the taste I liked.”
Still, he admitted “the idea of having a craft brewery seemed impossible ’til one day I started asking questions and here we are.”
Mr. Schaeffer, who does some brewing of his own, has enlisted the award-winning James Miller as his brewer. Mr. Miller most recently served in that role at Barrage Brewing Company in Farmingdale, one of dozens of microbreweries that have sprung up across Long Island over the past two decades.
“The slogan is simply beautiful beer,” Mr. Schaeffer said, adding that the offerings of some craft breweries cross the line from complex to intimidating.
Ten different brews, all made on the premises, will be on tap and include everything from a graham cracker brown ale for the winter, a variety of pale ales, a pilsener, and wheat beers. They will be priced at about $7 a pint.
“We want it to be easy drinking,” he said, “so if you try one, you’ll like it enough to have a second one.”
Peconic County Brewing will also offer a menu prepared by chef Luke Andrews, formerly of Little Red in Southampton and Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, of what Mr. Schaeffer described as “gourmet pub food” with everything from lobster rolls to burgers and fries, and chicken wings, with most entrées priced in “the teens.”
With a small stage for performances, a 2,000-square-foot patio with a fire pit, Peconic County Brewing is aiming to be a casual place, where people will like to come to hang out for the evening.
And it’s not lost on Mr. Schaeffer that Riverhead’s downtown, once largely deserted, is becoming a destination. Nor is it lost on him that the small community is already home to several other craft brewers, including the Long Ireland Beer Company, the North Fork Brewing Company, the Moustache Brewing Company and Tradewinds Brewing Company.
“Riverhead has really become the beer Mecca of Long Island,” he said, adding that people are now visiting those breweries as they visit the wineries that dot the North Fork. “I’m just trying to be part of that great beer scene that already exists.”
Besides selling his beers at his brew pub, Mr. Schaeffer said his long-term goal is to distribute his wares to other restaurants on Long Island.
For now, Mr. Schaeffer said he is unable to commit to an exact opening date, owing to a number of construction delays caused by the pandemic. “I was feeling good about September,” he said.
“I can’t be negative about it. It’s going to be what it’s going to be,” he said. “Even if we just have to do carryout, the more people support us when we open, the luckier we’ll be.”