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CASTLE MALTING NEWS in partnership with
10 May, 2022

Brewing news USA, ME: Husband and wife team launching Sundrop Café and Brewery in York

York Street has a new brewer moving in, but Jonathan Cook and Suzanne LePage say their new Sundrop Café and Brewery is about more than the beer, the Seacost Online reported on May 9.

“I’m not really playing in the world of breweries,” said Cook, who once made beer for Portsmouth Brewery. “That business model isn’t anything I’m interested in.”

Cook and LePage, who got married in York but live in central Massachusetts, have been searching for the perfect place to replant their creative café/brewery/music venue concept. They were thriving in Sturbridge for six years with that model at the Homefield Kitchen and Brewery when the coronavirus pandemic hit and led to their closure.

Sundrop is the second incarnation, offering craft beer by Cook, who has brewed since 1996. There will be about 16 taps at Sundrop, featuring many guest beers as well. The menu will feature locally sourced burgers, soups and charcuterie boards, and wines both local and imported. They say frequent live music nights will tie it all together to make Sundrop a full communal experience.

The Sundrop Café and Brewery is taking over the former site of Rick’s Restaurant. Rick’s has moved to a new location on Route 1.

Cook and LePage, who once lived in York, were visiting the area for a getaway while scoping out potential locations for their brewery when they tried to go to Rick’s for breakfast. They saw the sign advertising space and looked into it.

“We were like, let’s just see if this is going to work,” LePage said. The terms of the lease were perfect, the timing just right as their own lease was about to be up at Homefield.

The drive is more than an hour for Cook and LePage, who live in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“We said, ‘What the hell, our kids are getting to be independent,’” Cook said. “It just felt right.”

Cook and LePage got married in York in 1999. They had moved to the area hoping to live in Portsmouth, then landed in Kittery. They rented a farmhouse in York for a couple years, then bought a house in Sanford before returning to central Massachusetts when LePage got a new job.

Cook started working at the Portsmouth Brewery in 1999. He left the brewery to briefly go into journalism writing for The Sanford News. He then wrote a book in 2013, “Beer Terrain: From Field to Glass,” about the rise of farm-to-glass craft brewing.

Cook decided to brew again after releasing his book and along with LePage opened Homefield Kitchen and Brewery in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Homefield had a similar model to Sundrop in that it was first and foremost a place to eat and hear music. Cook just happened to make a lot of the beer on tap.

“It’s just not interesting to me to do manufacturing, essentially,” Cook said. “It keeps it cozy and craft.”

LePage said Homefield caught some guests off-guard at first as they walked in expecting the typical brewery, where the food is sometimes limited.

“No, we’re a little jazz club that’s got some high-end really nice food,” LePage said.

Cook and LePage found their niche with Homefield, packing about 60 people into their restaurant on busy nights and serving something different almost every night. Homefield thrived on spontaneity, they said.

“If I drove to Boston fish pier, come home with a whole bunch of fresh monkfish,” Cook said. “I’d be like, 'what are we doing with these guys, tonight?'”

Homefield took a tough blow from the coronavirus pandemic. Cook said they tried to come back from closing when restrictions were lifted, but it was never the same numbers.

“Magic is hard to capture and keep,” Cook said. They decided it was time to try another similar restaurant at a different location, but they struggled to find the right space. They searched through Worcester, the surrounding area and beyond but could not find a space in Massachusetts with the right lease agreement. One space they looked at came with a lease that said no Asian food was allowed.

“That doesn’t make any sense, I can’t have rice? Like, what?” Cook said. When they found the former Rick’s location, they were amazed by the amount of potential parking at the nearby library, and the full kitchen.

The space is a significant upgrade in kitchen amenities from Homefield. They started out there with just a George Foreman Grill, though they eventually built up to more commercial gear. Now Cook is excited to see what can happen with the full kitchen and walk-in cooler.

Sundrop will be for more than beer drinkers, as Cook said they will have imported wines and prosecco, as well as a slushy machine for espresso mudslides. He said they may offer cocktails if they find the right bartender but also plan to offer batch cocktails like with whiskey and fresh raspberry and lime.

The name of the brewery comes from a song that Cook and LePage wrote together. The song goes “Sun drops to the forest floor,” and when they were singing it together one day, it dawned on them they found a name.

“I said, 'What about Sundrop?'” LePage said. “It just sort of came.”

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