It all started with a sixer of Prima Pils. On a cool, cloudy Wednesday in November of 2010, nervous excitement filled the air of Craft Beer Cellar, a small shop on Leonard Street in a sleepy suburb of Boston. Arriving a few minutes before its grand opening, I knocked on the door as my friends Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow scurried about putting the finishing touches on the place. They turned over the lock, gave me one of their signature bear hugs, and invited me into what would quickly become one of the best bottle shops in the area.
After chatting for a few minutes, I picked up my preferred pilsner and a 12 pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration and watched Schalow try to navigate the brand new POS system. A couple of attempts later, the system spit out the very first receipt for a sale at Craft Beer Cellar. From the beginning, Craft Beer Cellar was infused with the spirit and passion of its co-founders. Baker and Schalow had both worked in various hospitality jobs in and out of Massachusetts. Baker worked as the kitchen manager at Boston Beer Works, a local brewpub chain, for seven years. Schalow was the general manager at Cambridge Common, a low key neighborhood beer bar just steps from the Harvard campus. Schalow and Baker teamed up to make Cambridge Common into a beer destination, expanding the tap selection and beer program and running more than 120 beer dinners.
They developed close relationships with their customers, getting to know their friends and families. They care for their customers as they do with neighbors and family members, dedicated to the art of hospitality. So when they decided to leave their longtime home at Cambridge Common, a place they got married, their fans were shocked. But it didn’t take long for them to plot their next foray into the beer world.
Having worked for others for decades, Baker and Schalow decided to go out on their own. They toyed with the idea of opening a brewpub and several other ideas before deciding to open a craft beer focused bottle shop. They lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, a small well-to-do suburb just outside Boston, so they focused their search there. Belmont was both a funny and smart choice for a liquor store as it was one of the last dry towns in the commonwealth. It voted to allow beer and wine sales in 1998 and didn’t approve a full liquor license until 2008. So it was an undeveloped market. And that is where they would open the first Craft Beer Cellar location.
From the beginning, Baker and Schalow distinguished themselves from chain and family run package stores in Massachusetts through a dedication to beer education, access, and experimentation. They ran beer and other tastings several times a week, hand sold nearly every bottle, and cultivated deep relationships with customers. Baker and Schalow always had the hard to find bottles that slaked the thirsts of beer geeks but also carried more familiar beers for their regulars. They were heavily invested in beer education, creating several programs and events dedicated to spreading the good word of better beer,
As the business grew, so did their ambition to evangelize about craft beer. They decided to franchise the business and helped open Craft Beer Cellar locations in dozens of states around the country. And then in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many other businesses were hunkered down just trying to survive, Baker and Schalow announced plans to move their small shop just down the street to a much larger new location. They also had plans to open a beer themed restaurant, Trinktisch, which opened in 2021.
Working in hospitality is a grueling business and running a bottle shop, a restaurant, and a franchise business takes its toll. When I would visit Trinktisch for dinner, Baker and Schalow would always be moving about the space, tending to guests in the restaurant, popping into the bottle shop to ring someone up, giving hugs and smiles to those along the way. Ask how they were doing and they’d inevitably reply, “living the dream!” But in quieter moments, both would confess to being exhausted, which was no surprise to anyone who knew them. Working seven days a week for decades, with very few breaks and almost no vacations, is the definition of exhausting. Running a small operation such as theirs, even with the help of well-trained and dedicated employees, is often an all-consuming endeavor. And after a while, it takes its toll.
So it was with surprise but not shock that I greeted the news that Baker and Schalow had decided to announce plans to sell their Craft Beer Cellar shop in Belmont, known affectionately as “The Mothership,” and Trinktisch. They plan to retain ownership of the Craft Beer Cellar franchise. The pair announced their plans today.
“We have had the time of our lives being your local beer and wine store, and now your beer hall and gathering place,” they said in a press release announcing the sale. “But, we feel that the time has come for us to get back to ourselves, each other, and to look towards building on our experiences to further explore excellence in hospitality, in the retail and restaurant segment (Craft Beer Cellar Co), and beer industry education, in a new light.”
Baker and Schalow plan to stay connected to the beer industry, through their franchise business, and through beer judging, writing books, and other projects. “We have given our heart and soul to our businesses and now it’s time to take a step back, stay grateful for our experiences, and forge a new trail ahead,” they said in the release. “We are simply tired and ready to change gears, and feel certain that now is the time to make this change in our lives. After 13 years of selling and supporting amazing beer, making treasured friends, and proudly watching some of our employees go on to become change-makers in this industry, it feels like the right time.”
In making the announcement, Baker and Schalow are seeking someone, whether an individual or group, to take over the operation, either in whole or part. They are looking for someone with a passion for great beer and for providing top notch hospitality.
It’s hard to imagine the Boston beer scene without Kate and Suzanne helming this pair of outstanding venues. But they certainly have earned a well-deserved break and the opportunity to recharge and eventually re-engage with craft beer. As Schalow told me years ago, “Those of us that love craft beer are really all in this together, just a bunch of geeks on an incredible journey.”