November 27, 2013

Soup to Nuts: At Leaven, it's all about brews and bread

Leaven Beer & Bread House just opened in Somersworth, N.H.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Emmett Soldati, left, and Aidan Watson are two of the three owners of Leaven Beer & Bread House in Somersworth, N.H. Patrick Jackman is the third of the trio that returned from far-flung points and career paths to open Leaven.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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A classic reuben served with a Narragansett beer.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below



Beer and Bread House

44 Market St.

Somersworth, N.H.

(603) 692-0157

Hours: Kitchen is open from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (later on weekends) Wednesday-Sunday

Bar open late

“There was no place we would have gone if we were living in a big city,” Soldati said.

They wanted a local pub, a place where the whole community could gather and 60-somethings could rub elbows with 22-year-olds.

The beer side of the business was a no-brainer; there was no place else in town (or in Berwick across the river) to sit back and enjoy a beer from one of the many craft breweries that are popping up around New England.

The bread part came from Soldati, a “sourdough enthusiast” who has baked professionally in Toronto and at a little bakery in Somersworth right across the road from Leaven. To prepare himself to open a sourdough bakery, he traveled to conferences and visited San Francisco.

Soldati, Watson and Jackman knew they would need $40,000 to get their business going, and they knew they would have to turn to crowd-sourcing to raise that money. They wanted to keep investment local – to create a “community-suppported bar” – so they started a voucher program similar to one they’d heard about from some Vermont bar owners. In a series of “dough-raising parties,” the three New Hampshire men sold vouchers in amounts of $100, $200 and $500.

In exchange for their support, people who bought vouchers will be given lots of gift cards to Leaven over the next year. Anyone who bought a $100 voucher will get a $20 gift card every other month, for a total of $120. Voucher holders who paid $200 will get $240 back in the form of $20 gift cards every month. And a $500 voucher entitles the buyer to $600 in gift cards, parceled out at a rate of $50 a month.

The system, Soldati said, “establishes confidence in us, helps to get us going, but also gives a little reward.”

At their first dough-raising event, they raised more than $2,000 in one night. Soldati estimates the voucher program raised at least $10,000 of the $40,000 they needed to start the bar.

“Up here, it’s like people are thirsty for it,” Soldati said. “Both the city and the community are. The moment we said the words ‘beer and bread’ a year and a half ago, there were people throwing money at us.”

Local developer Brian Caple stepped up and offered to buy the building on Market Street where Leaven would be launched, and he became another partner in the business. The building had lain dormant for a decade.

Then Somersworth, the smallest of 13 cities in New Hampshire, decided to pour about $6 million into a “downtown improvement and enhancement project” that would upgrade water, sewage and drainage systems, build new sidewalks and generally beautify the area with landscaping and other improvements. The city also launched a community revitalization tax-incentive program for the historic district, and Leaven became its first beneficiary.

It’s not hard to tell. Walking down Market Street, Leaven stands out like a shiny new penny against the tired mill-town backdrop of old buildings, peeling paint and muted colors. Located next to a martial arts gym and down the street from a hookah bar, the edifice of Leaven is freshly painted. Its wooden door has been polished until it gleams, and the hardware on the front door sparkles. A spiffy new sign hangs outside, just above a red, white and blue flag that proudly shouts “Open.”

Outside, the number of cars driving by boggles the mind. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 cars drive by the bar in a steady stream each day, all of them headed for or coming from the bridge to Maine.

“This is one of the only ways into Maine,” Soldati explained, “so we get a lot of Maine traffic going to stores, going to Route 16, that are coming up from the North Berwick and Berwick area, and vice versa. If anyone’s going to the beaches, if anyone’s headed to Portland, you cross here.”

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Leaven Beer & Bread House is located on Market Street in Somersworth, N.H.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Customers enjoy lunch at Leaven Beer & Bread House in Somersworth, N.H.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Fresh bread on display at Leaven Beer & Bread House in Somersworth, N.H.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Leaven’s bread pudding entree is served with the vegetable of the day and apple slices.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer


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