Heartland Takes Manhattan
Food and Beer Marry Well at Heartland Brewery
By Michael Harrelson
Manhattan’s Heartland Brewing is more than a scattered survi- vor of the micro-brewing trend
of the 1990s, when brewpubs opened by
the hundreds, if not thousands, before
Heartland’s heart and soul indeed belongs to that earlier era, when the coming
of microbrews and craft beers unleashed
a demand for better beer that consumers
had pent up since Prohibition times.
And the well-worn, classic look of the
six Heartland locations themselves, with
their ceiling fans, beer posters and old
wood and brick facades, does little to
suggest otherwise. Yet for both the brand
and its founder and CEO Jon Bloostein,
whose brewpub concept is currently one
of the few remaining in a city that once
boasted 11, a more apt description might
be that Heartland is victorious in a friendly
game of Last Man Standing.
While there may be an element of luck
The Union Square location offers two full bars
and capacity of 300.
3 2 Nightclub & Bar Magazine | JULY 2009
involved in the competitive shakeout,
Heartland and Bloostein’s sweet success in cornering nearly an entire market
segment is as here and now as it gets
in the tough terrain of the Big Apple’s
hospitality trade. It is readily apparent in a
bottom line that has increased more than
fourfold, from $3 million to $33 million in
sales, in the past 11 years.
Annual production volumes of Heartland’s popular and proprietary light, lager,
amber, pale ale, wheat and stout beers
–– some 17,000 barrels or 1. 8 million
pints –– put the 14-year-old operation
in a class with of some of the country’s
most respected regional craft breweries.
The brews also give its choice restaurant
locations, including Union Square, Times
Square and South Street Seaport, a marketing angle that no other casual dining
venue in the city can claim.
The operation boasts six brewpubs in
its on-premise portfolio, including its HB
Burger location, which opened earlier this
year on 43rd Street in Times Square, and
five other storefronts with names such as
Heartland Brewery & Rotisserie, Heartland Brewery Chophouse and Heartland
Brewery & Barbecue.
The different expressions add variety
to the casual dining concept, although
Heartland beers remain the foundation
of each. Heartland may well represent
a hospitality industry standard of how
to reap the benefits of micro-brewing, a
segment that continues to outpace the
commercial brewing industry as a whole.
All About the Beer
Bloostein considers all six of his carefully
vetted locations to be restaurants that
happen to make their own beer, and not
brewpubs that also serve food. However, it’s the emergence of craft beer
and microbrews onto the retail scene
some two decades ago, and their recent
comeback, that the former acquisitions
consultant and Fordham University MBA
credits with putting him and 400 other
Heartland employee/owners at the top of
the brewpub heap.
“Without the resurgence of crafts,
there would be no sales,” Bloostein says.
“Our beer is what defines us. We sell a
ton of food, but beer is a strong identifying character. It gives us an opportunity
to relate to our guests and to talk about
products only available in our restaurants.
They ask, ‘Is this really apricot?’ We tell
them ‘Yes’ and offer them a taste.”
In a time when flat is the new up
and down is the new flat, Bloostein
says crafts grow stronger by the day;
the segment’s double-digit increases
are expected to continue, according to
industry observers. Yet on the down
side, he adds, they no longer revel in the
novelty status they enjoyed when he
cobbled together $1 million from savings