USA, NY: Couple bringing unique combination of brewing and bowling to Honeoye Falls
Most people are into sightseeing when they travel. But Megan Phillips and Seth Wile have a different definition of fun. The engaged couple consider themselves to be dive bar and bowling connoisseurs.
And it's even better when the two interests combine, the Democrat & Chronicle reported on August 3.
Phillips and Wile lived in San Francisco for the past nine years and met while working at pioneering craft brewery Magnolia Brewing, in the city's Haight-Asbury neighborhood. Every weekend, they found themselves at bowling alleys. When traveling, they sought out new bowling centers.
They are bringing that unique combination to the village of Honeoye Falls.
The couple is feverishly working to restore and renovate the historic former home of Brongo Lanes, later known as Miller Lanes, into Okay Beer Company at West Main Lanes, 126 W. Main St.
The project will feature 16 bowling lanes, a 5-barrel brewhouse brewery, a full menu of spirits and wines, outdoor dining (with an ample beer garden), nine horseshoe pits and a full-service kitchen featuring elevated bowling alley classics.
In a village that lost its only craft brewery with the sudden closure of CB Craft Brewers in 2019, Okay Beer will fill a void. Plus, the bowling alley, which originally opened in the 1950s, is a community institution.
"It's been a staple," said Phillips, 33, a Honeoye Falls-Lima High School and Rochester Institute of Technology graduate." Tom Brongo used to run the show here. You'd always find him behind the bar, giving people trouble or other people giving him trouble. It's been around for 70 years. The whole community, at one point, was kind of centered around it. It's the form of entertainment here."
Phillips said she never expected to run the bowling alley where she had her fifth birthday party. But the pandemic forced many, including her, to reset and reassess.
"Everyone was really sad to see it close down and people were nervous that it wasn't going to remain a bowling alley," she said.
"It almost turned into a Byrne Dairy at one point. So we've been getting a lot of questions, 'Are you keeping it a bowling alley? Keeping the lanes? We are," Wile, 35, added before he and Phillips broke out into laughter. "And then when they hear we're adding craft beer, they're through the roof."
The goal is to open the facility for bowling in September and then have the brewery and kitchen operational by November or December. Expect food trucks in the interim.
Until then, Phillips and Wile said they are at the mercy of banks and state authorities as they await their licenses.
They worked together at Magnolia, which grew to two locations and was in the process of opening a third when the couple moved back to Monroe County.
Wile was head brewer for both locations. He learned under the legendary Dave McLean, the Magnolia founder, and then under Elysian Brewing founder Dick Cantwell, who teamed with other investors to purchase Magnolia in 2017.
Wile led production at Magnolia for nearly six years and has one of the strongest brewing resumes in the Rochester region.
Phillips, who graduated from HF-L in 2006, has a background in advertising, photography, and hospitality. She tended bar at a few Rochester spots and then did the same in both Seattle (at Elysian Brewing) and San Francisco.
Wile, a Massachusetts native, graduated from the University of New Hampshire and worked in wildlife ecology (heavy metal toxicity research) before discovering homebrewing in his backyard.
"It was a wild ride," Wile said. "A lot of good experiences. I got to work with some really famous, smart brewers. Dave was so much more different than Dick, in more than just brewing style. It was really cool to go from classic, understated English styles, kind of the bones of brewery, to Dick, who gets a little more experimental and out there. I think I got a great education in terms of personalities and brewing styles.
"My philosophy is probably somewhere right in the middle of that."
Along with two of their best friends, they started bowling every weekend. They frequented Sea Bowl Entertainment Center in Pacifica, California, which came with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
"We started bopping around to other more divey places," Phillips said. "When we would go on vacation, we would find a bowling alley somewhere. So it kind of became a treasure hunt and a form of entertainment."
They were already considering moving back to the East Coast when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
"San Francisco treated us well," Phillips said. "We created a beautiful group of friends. We were able to maintain the lifestyle we wanted to, but we weren't able to create a savings, start something of our own."
Phillips was furloughed from her restaurant gig and then suffered a serious wrist injury from a bicycle crash.
The time was right to come home, she said.
"Once CB's closed, her mom started texting her and saying, 'You should take over CB's and start brewing,'" Wile said. "But then the bowling alley closed and she texted again."
Phillips and Wile said the shuttered bowling alley was the perfect opportunity at the right time. The 15,000-square-foot building sits on 3 acres, including nine horseshoe pits that are hosting leagues on Wednesday and Thursday.
While keeping much of the kitschy charm of the original, they're rebranding as West Main Lanes. It'll feature a 1970s-era feel with bright colors and many of the same accoutrements residents have come to expect from a community gathering place.
"It'll have a fresh look and a facelift, but we know now because of the pandemic, we need to take advantage of the outdoor space," Phillips said.
There will be patio space along the western part of the property and a beer garden in the front with outdoor activities.
During renovations, Phillips and Wile said they've become experts at many unexpected activities, including carpet removal and drywall repair. They plan to add two murals along each wall in the bowling alley, too.
"This place has been neglected for decades, in terms of upkeep and aesthetics, but we're going for a throwback feel," Wile said. "Trying to hit the '70s and almost bring back a bright West Coast feel. It's a laid-back '70s vibe in our branding and our color scheme. It won't stay so dark and divey. It'll be as approachable as a dive bar, in theory, but it'll be a little brighter and more welcoming."
The official name is Okay Beer Company at West Main Lanes, which is designed to keep the two entities separate and potentially allow for brewery expansion through new taprooms in the future as they dream of opening one in the city of Rochester.
"We want the brewery to have legs outside of being attached to a bowling alley," Wile said.
The inspiration for the okay moniker came while the couple was hanging out at Lux Lounge in the South Wedge. They were struggling for a bit to find the right identity, but while workshopping possibilities at Lux, Wile was describing the types of beers they wanted to make.
"I just want to make some regular, straightforward beers," Wile said, when a friend commented, "'Let's just call it okay beer or something.'"
"Clean, approachable, easy-drinking beers," Wile said. "I don't want to have the situation with eight taps where seven of them are imperial hazy IPAs."
Expect a mix of classics, crispy lagers, cream ales, West Coast-style IPAs, and beers that should fit perfectly with bowling.
"The name shows we don't want to take ourselves too seriously," Phillips said. "It's self-deprecating. Like, 'It's beer, it's okay, come have one.' We have plays on that. 'It's okay, have a beer' or 'Have an okay day.'"
"I want the beers to be balanced and approachable, which is kind of where the okay name comes in," Wile added. "It's not trying to be any one beer program. I like balance. I like to walk into a place and there's something for everyone to drink."
"So people could be like, 'Yeah, it was okay. It was good actually. It's actually more than okay, cool,'" Phillips joked.
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