January 7, 2019
2019 Best of Business Awards

Best of Business: Where to unwind

BirchTree offers a monthly beer dinner series where Chef and Co-owner Robert Fecteau designs a menu around a local brewery's various beers.

Best Locally Owned Place to Meet for Coffee

BirchTree Bread Co.*

Worcester, www.birchtreebreadcompany.com

Top executives: Co-owners Robert Fecteau and Avra Hoffman

Founded: November 2014

Employees: 36 employees

Notable runners-up: Brew on The Grid, The Bean Counter, InHouse Coffee

BirchTree Bread Co. has only been in Worcester's Canal District for five years, but judging by the inability to find a seat in the 5,800-square-foot eatery, you'd think it was there forever.

The restaurant is a bustling hub of activity at its Green Street location in Crompton Place five years after it opened as just a bakery selling bread at local farmers markets.

After developing a following, Avra Hoffman and husband Rob Fecteau decided to lease abutting space and open a brick and mortar cafe, starting with coffee, toast and pastries.

It didn't take long for a full breakfast and lunch menu to take hold. After another two years, the couple added a craft beer and wine list.

"It pretty much evolved from just the idea of bread to now a full-blown restaurant," said Hoffman, the former high school English teacher turned restaurateur.

The location is one of several relatively new restaurants in the Canal District helping to boost the area's reputation as a foodie destination.

It helps the BirchTree space is flat out cool.

The dining room is wide open with tons of natural light welcoming a rotating list of local musicians and art exhibits.

After five years of growth (the company started with four employees and now employs 36) and filling up the space with hungry customers every day, the company is bursting at the seams in the current location.

BirchTree's core operation, the bakery, is running out of space, Hoffman said.

Now, she and Fecteau are scouting for locations – possibly out of Worcester – to open a small bakery.

The husband-and-wife team envision a small retail space with a coffee program along with bread and pastries for sale – a throwback to the Canal District location's earlier days.

"It's really kind of in the works," Hoffman said.

On the restaurant's reputation as a foodie destination helping boost the city's image as a culinary hotspot, Hoffman was quick to deflect credit, saying she and her husband are just following their vision.

With five years of success under her belt, Hoffman said she has two favorite sides to BirchTree: a busy Sunday afternoon with live music and happy customers and on a Monday night after closing.

"When nobody's there we can sit in the huge space we've created and appreciate what we've accomplished," she said.

Armsb'ys Bloody Mary flight.

Best Worcester After-Work Bar (tie)

Armsby Abbey*

Worcester, www.armsbyabbey.com

Top executive: Executive Chef Sean Dacey

Founded: 2008

Employees: 45

A Worcester pioneer of craft beer and farm-to-table cuisine, Armsby pushes out amazing cocktails and unique food options in a trendy atmosphere. The restaurant has expanded on its Bloody Mary Bar by introducing Bloody Mary flights to its brunch menu.

Brendan and Claire O'Connor

O'Connor's Restaurant & Bar

Worcester, www.oconnorsrestaurant.com

Top executive: Co-proprietors & hosts Brendan & Claire O'Connor

Founded: 1989

Employees: 78

Offering a mix of Irish hospitality, rotating beers on tap, and Old World food, O'Connor's has been going strong for nearly three decades. The restaurant has added acoustic music on Friday and Saturday nights and offers online food delivery.

Notable runners-up: deadhorse hill, VIA Italian Table, 110 Grill, The Dive Bar

Beer taps at Cedar Street Grille in Sturbridge

Best Central Mass. South After-Work Bar

Cedar Street Grille*

Sturbridge, www.cedarstreetgrille.com

Top executive: Michael Lyons, CEO of Table 3 Restaurant Group

Founded: 2011

Employees: 40

Cedar Street offers a neighborhood atmosphere, inventive food, and cocktails prepared and served by a staff passionate about what they do. This year, the restaurant introduced its Monthly Global Tapas Dinners, featuring a curated dinner with a cuisine from a specific world region.

Reunion's maple-brined pork chop is served with bacon-wrapped asparagus and a whisky glaze.

Best Blackstone Valley After-Work Bar

Reunion Tap & Table

North Grafton, reuniontap.com

Top executives: Owners Sargon Hanna, Shawn Briggs and Josh Briggs, and Director of Operations Gary Benacquista

Founded: 2018

Employees: 50

Reunion delights with scratch-cooked food and rare craft beers in its newly opened modern dining room and bar. The restaurant offers a private dining room and just added a daily lunch menu.

Rhy & Thyme offers outdoor seating in the warm-weather months.

Best North County After-Work Bar

Rye & Thyme American Tavern*

Leominster, www.ryeandthyme.com

Top executive: Michael Covino, president of Niche Hospitality Group

Founded: 2012

Employees: 35

Rye & Thyme has renovated and expanded its Draught Cellar to include more taps and space for weekly live music. Like all Niche restaurants, it focuses on strong hospitality and an evolving menu to best accommodate guests.

Tavern in the Square offers craft cocktails like New England Sangria, Rum Rebellion and Root Beer old Fashioned.

Best Metrowest After-Work Bar

Tavern In The Square Northborough*

Northborough, www.taverninthesquare.com

Top executive: CEO Stephen Desousa

Founded: 2004

Employees: 60

Tavern prides itself on a neighborhood vibe while still offering craft cocktails, 50 beers on tap and a seasonal scratch menu. It is rolling out new menu offerings for customers with food allergies and dietary concerns.

While Wormtown develops new beer flavors constantly, its staple creation remains the Be Hoppy IPA.

Best Local Brewery

Wormtown Brewery*

Worcester, www.wormtownbrewery.com

Top executives: Managing Partner David Fields and Brewmaster & Founder Ben Roesch

Founded: 2010

Employees: 30

In 2018, Wormtown launched the Mass Whole Lager, which uses all Massachusetts ingredients and added a seasonal enclosure for its patio. This year, Wormtown will become the official beer of Phantom Gourmet. In its nine years, the brewery has won more than 160 awards worldwide.

Notable runners-up: Tree House Brewing Co., Wachusett Brewing Co.

*Repeat winner

Read about the rest of the 2019 Best of Business Award winners:

Handling your money

Multimedia experts

People to know

Places to conduct business

Servicing your business

To add a touch of luxury

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