Volunteer Brewing Co. opens new Middletown taproom
MIDDLETOWN — Friday nights at Volunteer Brewing Company used to look like a backyard party, with people spilling out of the doors of the small renovated garage right behind Middletown’s Main Street.
“You’d have people walk through the alley off Main Street and they would worry they’re in someone’s yard. They are, and it’s OK to crash the party,” joked Kevin Schatz, owner of Volunteer Brewing Company. “It was an icebreaker to ask how they’d find out about us.”
Now that Volunteer Brewing Company opened its long-awaited new taproom, weekends will look more like a house party. Delaware’s smallest microbrewery renovated a 200-year-old home on Middletown’s Main Street and opened for business on July 16.
Although the new building is roughly 2,000 square feet of indoor space, it quadrupled Volunteer Brewing Company’s original size out of a 500-square-foot former garage. The new taproom includes a second floor to be used for overflow or private events, a two-story deck, front porch and a backyard.
Volunteer’s former space — the garage out back — will still be used to brew the beer. Right now, Volunteer is able to brew 50 gallons but Kevin Schatz said the plan is to expand capacity to 160 gallons for the taproom and to stock the to-go crowler fridge. Volunteer Brewing Company was awarded a $49,330 EDGE Grant from the state’s Division of Small Business to expand production in early 2020.
The brewery will also hire 13 employees, including an assistant brewer to work with Schatz.
Volunteer Brewing Company has grown slowly, but organically, and has stayed true to its mission of serving the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend community through volunteerism. The idea of holding days of service started as a way to show the couple’s three children they can give back and help others.
“When you start a business, there’s a way you can still live that,” Dawn Schatz said. “It’s been amazing the relationships that form with the relationships that form there and a sense of community, and our kids see that.”
Volunteer officially launched at the 2017 Middletown Peach Festival — its peach cream ale sold out within two hours — but had to close down for about a month after depleting beer storage. The brewery opened its small taproom afterward, and when the room was packed, customers mingled outside. Business inadvertently became weather dependent, with rain-outs causing Volunteer to cancel the one day a week the doors were open.
“Back then, we’d be stressing about the weather and keeping an eye on the reports all week,” Dawn Schatz said. “People used to joke that we needed to make a Rainmaker IPA because we were rained out so much.”
When the Schatzes were thinking of expanding, a member of the Pickett family walked over and offered to sell the family home on Main Street. The sale closed in October 2018 for $280,000, according to New Castle County land records.
But renovation costs were unexpectedly higher than predicted, with structural support work needed and COVID-19 costs bumping up material costs. To offset the unexpected expenses, Kevin Schatz said he will be applying for a Middletown Downtown Development District grant, which would cover 20% of capital construction costs.
As Middletown continues to grow on the western side close to the U.S Route 301 corridor — and three breweries in industrial parks nearby — the Schatzes hope to be part of what makes the town special: its Main Street.
“I think we have been a draw even in the tiny garage and yard. But that didn’t help other businesses,” Dawn Schatz said. “We want to be a fixture for the Christmas parades, the Peach Festivals and part of First Fridays. When people come to see us, they can see the rest of downtown and fall in love.”
“One of the reasons why people come is the local history in these buildings,” Kevin Schatz added. “We’re fortunate that we can look in our own backyard and just have that history of how we started. We’ve definitely found our forever home.”