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Sam Calagione gives a tour of their new, $4 million Dogfish head brewpub on Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach. Jason Minto/The News Journal

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Sam Calagione paused in the middle of a story to tell a different one. Annie Plowman was walking toward him with her father, Terry.

Terry Plowman was Calagione’s first and only boss in Rehoboth Beach, when Calagione worked at Plowman’s restaurant, The Front Page, when he first came to town. Years later, Calagione had a place of his own.

“I used to feed her ice cream when she was 5 years old and came into the restaurant,” Calagione said of Annie, now 25.

That was long before the James Beard Award and world recognition that Calagione and Dogfish Head Brewery have earned through the years. And long before the founder and president of Dogfish Head could have ever imagined he’d be saying that sentence, telling that story, while sitting in a brand-new, 6,300-square-foot restaurant that’s going to replace the one he served Annie ice cream in years ago.

Wednesday night, Calagione and Dogfish Head hosted friends, family, industry colleagues, media and more as it continued its string of soft-opening events leading up to Friday’s grand opening of Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats’ new home in Rehoboth, right next door to the old one. And the night felt like a celebration of Dogfish’s past as much as its future.

That future begins Friday, of course, when doors to the new and improved space open to the public.

“Tonight is a cathartic moment for us because it’s the last location,” Calagione said. “That physical space finally matches the capabilities of the people that work within it.”

The price tag — $4 million, according to The News Journal — matches the capabilities of the company, too.

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For all the old pub’s lore and classic intrigue for beer and food lovers alike, the space, frankly, needed the change. It’s what companies the size of Dogfish do when they have the capabilities of doing so. Big, multi-million dollar spaces are a trend in the food and drink industry that isn’t going anywhere. But the pub had long become a local staple, and people get used to that sort of thing.

So forgive Annie Plowman — who probably wasn’t alone — if she wasn’t happy about the news of the new construction at first.

“I had an aversion to change,” she said. “They can’t. I grew up there.”

But standing next to the upgraded horseshoe-style, walnut-top bar with a beer in hand, she seemed satisfied.

And how could she not? The space around her features soaring walls adorned with artwork featuring Calagione’s three favorite things: punk rock, hip-hop and craft brewing. Wooden, barrel-shaped booths — an homage to the Milton brewery — and two floors of seating give way to maybe the star of the space: a brand-new, raised stage that will feature some of the same classic acts the Dogfish faithful know well.

“It’s amazing to see something change and still maintain the integrity of what it started from,” Plowman said.

Integrity is a big thing to Calagione, who finally cashed in after seven nominations with the 2017 James Beard Award for outstanding wine, spirits or beer professional. Now recognized with one of the most prestigious awards the world has to offer the industry, he’s got the restaurant spaces to match it, with the Chesapeake & Maine seafood eatery next door. Chesapeake & Maine was also recognized by the James Beard Foundation for having one of the best bar programs in the country.

“The stakes are high,” Calagione said.

He said he wouldn’t miss the old spot, which will remain open all summer for visitors to purchase merchandise and fill crowlers and growlers to-go.

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“The irony is, you can see out the window, the old space, and see how much this dwarfs it,” Calagione said. “And yet this space fits no more customers than that space. The intention was, now that we’re 22 years into our journey, we have the financial wherewithal to create a world-class environment, not just for beer lovers and food lovers and spirits lovers, our customers, but for our coworkers.

“What would that look like, if we spared no expense to do a space that fit no more people but was exponentially a more awesome experience for people, whether they came in the front door for customers or whether they came in the back door as co-workers? That was the litmus test for this project.”

By first impressions, they’ve passed the test.

Wednesday night, executive chef Zach Dick showed off some of Dogfish’s upgraded dishes. There was pizza from the state-of-the-art wood oven. The “rotisserie chicken” pizza isn’t your father’s rotisserie chicken, complete with 90 minute IPA cheddar cheese, housemade mozzarella, crispy pancetta and greens. The 90 minute cheddar is also featured on the “McLaine mac & cheese,” which features hot sauce pasta dough — you read that right, the hot sauce is in the dough — and crumbled blue cheese.

Dick spoke glowingly about the new pasta extruder, imported from Italy.

Calagione, a big fan of music, was asked if that big stage for live acts was what he was most excited for. He gave a quick “no” in response. For a man whose come so far since feeding Annie Plowman ice cream next door, giving his employees this new space and the tools that come with it are the most gratifying.

“When I come in here and go into the kitchen and walk around, seeing the excitement of our co-workers, that’s been the best part,” Calagione said. “Because they worked their (butts) off in a kitchen that, frankly, wasn’t world-class. Watching them and their excitement to finally be in a space that is as special as the creativity they bring to their work every day.”

jneiburg@delmarvanow.com

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