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Hooksett's Tap House Grille aims for community feel

Union Leader Correspondent

March 16. 2013 2:20AM
New England's Tap House opened its doors in Hooksett Jan. 15. (BRENDAN CLOGSTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

After months of planning, designing and redesigning, the opening of New England's Tap House Grille fulfilled a dream for Hooksett residents and owners Dan Lagueux and Valerie Vanasse. It's a dream reviewers and patrons seem to share.

New England's Tap House, which opened Jan. 15 in a plaza on 1292 Hooksett Road in Hooksett is meant to be more than simply a good bar and grille, however. When Lagueux, "the dreamer" and Vanasse, "the executor," speak of their collective vision, you'll frequently hear words and phrases like "non-corporate" and "welcoming to all," though no word is more key to the two than "community."

"We've lived in Hooksett for 10 years, and we always have to go out of the town," Vanasse said. "We wanted to create something where the community could stay in Hooksett."

"This is one of the ways that we thought we could help out," Lagueux said. "We're employing people; we're the food purveyor; we're the entertainer. It gives Hooksett a place to look at and say 'this is our place, this is our home. This is like a tavern; it becomes the gathering place for the local people."

Their community vision for New England's Tap House extends beyond bar counter and into the fridge and the kitchen. The two have a commitment to local brewers, farmers and suppliers, including LaValley Farms. Vanasse and Lagueux have been careful, however, to prioritize efficiency and quality. Pressed to choose between a good beer and a local beer, in other words, the good beer always wins.

With food, the realities of the New England climate force some compromise.

"It's a tough season to say we're going to be local. 'OK, we're going to go for asparagus.' OK, how local can you be?" Lagueux said. "There are several different companies in New England that we're using right now, but we want to be at a stage where we're using a lot more."

The vision moves beyond business practices, however, and into the aesthetic. The open kitchen, visible keg fridge, and bar design were key components of their vision, fostering openness.

The restaurant has received rave reviews and its Facebook page is notably active for a two-month-old business, with 1,394 likes.

"The biggest word that's coming out of the community right now is 'oh my God, Hooksett needed this,'" Lagueux said. "If I had a dime for everybody who said that, we would be literally in Jamaica or in Mexico, on the side of a beach with a piña colada not having to worry about anything."

All of that good will seems to be translating financially for the business. According to Lagueux, bankers suggested to him and Vanasse that they should expect to end up in the red for their first six months, as they suggested tends to be the case with new restaurants. According to Lagueux, however, Tap House Grille has been proving them wrong.

"You look at the average restaurant when they start, on their spreadsheet it usually takes them several months to get where they need to be," Lagueux said. "We're there already. . In terms of profitability for our first two months, we're looking at our projection and it makes sense."

Profitability, community, and localism aside, however, New England's Tap House manages to mean one more thing to its owners: They love what they're doing.

"The romance is there, and it's a beautiful, glamorous thing, but there's also a lot that goes with it," Lagueux said. "But it's fun. It's the best time we've ever had in our lives. I can't say it's easy, but it's the best time ever."

The restaurant features a bar with 48 beers on tap, an open kitchen, flat-screen TVs, a separate dining area, a massive keg refrigerator spanning the left flank of the building and in-house made bread. Live music is also featured every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with an emphasis on rock and blues songwriters and artists.

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