Does retirement mean the coffee and music at True Brew will go away?

  • Tyler King lives in downtown Concord and True Brew has been his go-to place for everything from lunch to a night out. “It’s one of the best music venues, small music venues,” he says.

  • True Brew co-owner Stephanie Zinser outside the Barista in downtown Concord on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. She is looking forward to having more time even though she has a full-time job besides running the shop with her husband Tom. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • True Brew co-owner Stephanie Zinser outside the shop on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Tyler King lives in downtown Concord and True Brew has been his go-to place so he is not happy the Barista is closing down. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • True Brew co-owner Stephanie Zinser sits outside True Brew Barista in downtown Concord’s Bicentennial Square on Wednesday. She is looking forward to having more time, even though she’ll continue with her other full-time job at Elliot Hospital. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/9/2020 4:55:29 PM

Unless the married owners of True Brew Barista find a buyer for their business, a big chunk of the city’s bar-hopping night owls – lovers of music and partying and people – will be forced to change course.

For years, the weekend journey, a short one, has remained the same: start at True Brew, the perfect introductory spot, with its relatively early closing time, plus its drinks, its food and its music. Then, the script said, walk to nearby Penuche’s to top off the evening.

“A tight-knit crew, about 10 of us who met here would do that,” said 30-year-old Tyler King, a Pembroke Academy graduate who lives across the street from True Brew’s longtime home in Bicentennial Square. “We would be regulars here, we’d always start our nights here. Maybe get a bite to eat, then move on.”

Don’t panic. Not yet. Stephanie Zinser, who owns the bar with her on-site, hands-on husband, Rob Zinser Jr., said she’s heard from potential buyers recently. Rob was optimistic Thursday, when reached by phone.

“Honestly, we have been looking to sell for a few years,” he said. “The timing is right for us to retire and let someone else take the reins.”

Sell or not, though, he and Stephanie are retiring young – Stephanie at 55, Rob at 48 – and will live in their new summer home, a 40-foot sailboat on Lake Winnipesaukee. This business story, finally, has nothing to do with COVID-19. It has to do with spending more time on the lake, without worrying about returning to Concord to take care of business.

They’re free. They’re young. And they are thrilled.

Stephanie a bit more than Rob. She admitted she went back and forth inside her head when the decision was made earlier this summer. She and I met on those bricks outside True Brew.

“All different emotions, like, ‘Oh my Goodness, what are we doing?’ ” Stephanie said. “Then it was, ‘Yay!’ and then it was back to, ‘Oh my goodness, what are we doing?’ But it’s more of a ‘Yay’ for me. It’s more sad for my husband, and I didn’t realize how hard he was going to take it, because he’s the one that’s done most of the work.”

Said Rob, “It’s hard to let my baby go. It’s hard to let my kid go.”

Hard, because Rob thought of an idea in 2008, when, using a novel plan that remains novel to this day, he opened a coffee delivery service from his home, near downtown. If you called and lived within a five-mile radius, one of the owners would drive it to you.

“It was Rob’s idea,” Stephanie said. “He does well. Within a couple of months, we developed a good clientele downtown.”

They had a booth on Main Street, during Market Days. They listened as their fan base wondered, aloud, where the couple’s shop was.

Inspired, Rob, a former mechanic, signed a lease, after just one year working from home, to operate out of the current building in 2009. He did a lot of the renovating. He expanded to next door, home of that nightlife that has evolved into a starting point for a big group of people, many of whom met at True Brew for the first time.

Now, the plan is to keep it going. The thought of this place - known for its coffee in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and music at night - disappearing gives off an odd, unsettled feeling for the serious, true blue fans.

And anyone else who appreciates the inviting brick square that has become a defining part of Concord’s personality, a place with outdoor seating everywhere, and sometimes music. A place where stress seems to melt away like cold visions of this past winter.

King loves that feeling inside the True Brew. He sat outside on a hot day this week, with his dog, Sophia, waiting for his coffee to be brought outside, which is the way True Brew does business during these strange, scary times.

He mentioned the delicious, inviting, underground vibe, saying, “It’s one of the best music venues, small music venues. It’s a very unique atmosphere. It’s very casual. It’s almost like it has a dive-bar feel, without being a dive bar. You don’t feel you have to use a Clorox Wipe to sit down. I hope they find someone.”

Stephanie will keep her job as a respiratory therapist at Elliot Hospital in Manchester. And when she’s not doing that, you’ll find her on Lake Winnipesaukee. She’ll sail our mightiest lake on warm days with her husband.

He’ll get busy again, when the time feels right. Rob can build anything. He can start a business. He can maintain a business.

And, his fans hope, he can sell a business, too.

“It will live on,” Rob declared. “It may be a different name, but will live on.”

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