Fresh food, cold beer, a friendly staff and a great location are the main ingredients in the success of the Gardner Ale House & Moon Hill Brewing Company
Fresh food, cold beer, a friendly staff and a great location are the main ingredients in the success of the Gardner Ale House, according to owner Rick Walton.
When asked what separates the Gardner Ale House from the competition, he noted “Our food is prepared fresh, not frozen or processed and we make our own beer. Our staff is super friendly and our location in downtown Gardner feels like the center of action – a Main St. kind of feel.”
Founded in 2006, Walton’s popular establishment at 74 Parker St. in Gardner now employs 85 people and is a thriving part of downtown Gardner. He feels one of the most special aspects of doing business in North Central Massachusetts is that customers don’t have to deal with large crowds or noises of the city.
“Our modest size city is just right for our restaurant and the people in the area; some coming from a bit far away,” he said. “North Central MA is just more laid back. COVID didn’t hit us as hard as it hit the cities because of our lower population density and more spread out living situations.”
Walton noted the Ale House is very involved in many community activities.
“We pretty much involve ourselves in anything going on in the city (Gardner IS a city, by the way.),” he said. “And the city and it’s organizations come to us for beer, food, donations of gift cards, senior center activities. We pretty much do it all. And we put on the biggest party for the city called Oktoberfest & the Chair Luge. So much fun! The list goes on…”
While COVID may not have hit the Ale House as hard as other establishments, Walton still said it forced them to change how they operate the business.
“Customers are harder to come by so we have to become even more attractive than we already are,” he said. “That means more consistency with food and service. It means tightening our belts, reducing waste even more – getting the most out of every dollar. It means making it easier to get food for takeout. We need to be like the chains with takeout!”
Walton added they are improving lighting, music, furniture. “The whole vibe is nicer,” he said. “We were forced to take our already excellent restaurant and brewery and make it even better! And it is working, but it is a slow climb. The future looks bright because we are so much better than ever before.”
He also noted the Ale House’s staff is a very important part of why they are even better. “Everybody in the company is important and listened to. Condescending to another employee just doesn’t happen and is not allowed. We aren’t too serious: The culture is to respect each other, work hard and enjoy your job. We can’t be 100% in this, but we try. It might sound dreamy, but we believe you shouldn’t be in a job you don’t like. So, our culture puts employees first. In that way, customers get the best possible service and experience.”
When he is hiring staff, Walton looks for “honesty, a good work ethic and a willingness to learn.” “If you can be like that, he said, “we’ll teach you the rest!”
Word of mouth is a critical way for The Ale House” to promote itself.
“We promote ourselves through our community involvement, through Word of Mouth, heavy use of social media and through collaborations like the Brew Barn and Cidery at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston,” Walton added. “I think Word of Mouth builds our customer base reliably, but social media gets the word out to that base and that is critical. We also have a rewards program and a newsletter in which I am allowed to be a bit silly.”
Walton said he listens to everyone for ideas. “We casually take in the competition to see how they do things,” he noted. “We aren’t too proud to borrow! A very big influence is each other. So many people in this company have left their mark on us with ideas, methods and best practices.”
He concluded the biggest influence of The Ale House is the guests’ input. “Guest feedback is largely positive,” Walton noted, “which gives us the impetus to continue along our way and negative feedback is critical to improving our way forward.”