The bar at the East Troy Brewery features custom-made wrought iron railings, reminiscent of the railing used in the bank in the early 1900s. (Tracy Ouellette photo)

New venture builds vibrancy on East Troy Village Square

By Tracy Ouellette

SLN Staff

The idea of establishing a brewpub in the old bank building on the East Troy Village Square was something that came to Ann Zess more than five years ago and came to fruition at the end of December.

Ann and Ted Zess, of East Troy, bought the former FirstMerit Bank building at 2905 Main St. and began renovating the space in the summer of 2017. The East Troy Brewery opened just after Christmas in 2018.

Ann said they chose the Village Square for a number of reasons, including repurposing the vacant bank building, which had sat empty for a couple of years.

“It’s such a great building and we always knew it could become an attraction if it was used properly,” she said.

One of the other reasons was the Zesses love for East Troy and the Village Square specifically as the area’s hub of activity and commerce.

Village Square Park plays host to many of the East Troy Area Chamber of Commerce’s big events like the Memorial Day weekend Corn and Brat Roast and village-wide rummage sale, the Cycling Classic in June and the Bluegrass Festival in September. Ann said the events bring people in to the community and give local businesses the chance to attract new customers.

“East Troy is getting noticed by the surrounding communities as a destination and we always felt turning the old bank into a brewery would add to the wonderful things in village like the railroad and the coffee shop and other restaurants and the bookstore. We couldn’t be happier with the way East Troy is turning out. All the businesses are busier and it’s so cool to see the activity on the square on the weekends – it’s so busy now,” Ann said.

“The feeling was always, once we build it, they will come,” she added. “Things were crazy for a while, but to see it now, it’s just so worth it.”

Much of the craziness Ann refers to came in the form of unexpected construction problems and delays with the rehab of the more than 100-year-old building. The Zesses had planned on opening the brewpub in July of 2018, but ending up needing more time to address the structural issues that popped up in the remodel.

“It’s definitely been a challenge but our managers have been great, working 100 hours a week to get this off the ground,” Ann said. “They are truly amazing and know what works and doesn’t, so we listen to them – like the decision to start with a smaller menu and build on it so the kitchen staff wasn’t overwhelmed at first.”

The East Troy Brewery is at 2905 Main St. on the historical East Troy Village Square. The old bank building was completely renovated to house the brewpub and apartments on the second level. (Tracy Ouellette photo)

Building a reputation

The brewery’s menu, created by Executive Chef Brent Fiedor, includes appetizers such as their signature beer-battered, deep-fried cheese curds, Hometown Sausage Kitchen bacon wrapped dates, crispy duck wings and Charcuterie boards with house-made meats and local cheeses. For an entrée, guests have their choice of pizza, burger, macaroni and cheese, New York strip steak, Cobb salad or salmon.

“We’ll be adding onto the menu over the next several months and we’re starting a Friday-night fish fry in January,” Ann said.

The restaurant also has a kids’ menu with pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, pasta and macaroni and cheese.

“We’re a family friendly place,” Ann said. “We have something for everyone and a great, relaxed atmosphere.”

The drink menu for the brewpub features seven house-brewed beers on tap along with a wine list and cocktail options. House-made soft drinks are also available.

The head brewer is Ryan Hammerel.

“Ryan’s been great and our beers are wonderful,” Ann said. “Right now we’re collaborating with D14 brewery and we’re making an English nut-brown ale in there today. I can’t wait for it to be released in February.”

At a total cost of more than $2.5 million to create the brewery, the Zesses were aided with a $250,000 loan from the Village of East Troy revolving loan fund to help with construction and a $250,000 Community Development Investment Grant from the state. The project also had private investors along with the Zesses.

“The project had a life of its own,” Ann said. “We used as many local people as we could and it shows in the high-quality work. I can’t say enough about James R. Taylor and Sons, our construction contractor and one of our investors and all the other local businesses we worked with.”

Forming local partnerships is one of the brewery’s calling cards, with locally sourced cheeses from Hill Valley Dairy in Lake Geneva, meats from Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy, and room at the bar for mead from The Hive Taproom in East Troy.

“We want to showcase what the area has to offer,” Ann said. “And we want to share. We got a beer out to Alpine Valley Resort this week, too.”

Future plans

While the inside of the brewery is up and running, the Zesses are still working on the landscaping and outdoor beer garden for summer.

“All of that will be done over the next few months and it will expand our space when the weather warms,” Ann said. “We’re going to have sidewalk dining, we’ll be applying for the permit from the village soon, and that will be so cool for the events on the square like the bike race.”

The Zesses are hopeful the community continues to embrace the brewery and it becomes a destination spot.

“People seem to really like what we have here and that’s reason we did this,” Ann said. “We’re a part of this community and we wanted to help promote East Troy and find a way to introduce people to the area. We also get to show people the brewing process, share some good food and have a lot of fun.”

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