West Coast Grocery under construction
The New School asked Charlie Hyde, founder of one of our most anticipated upcoming breweries, West Coast Grocery Company (formerly Bodega Beer), to share his experience starting a brewery in Portland. From securing the space (across the street from Beer and Revolution Hall) to naming and branding, to finding the right brewer, this is Part 1 of a 2 part series written by Hyde and leading up to the opening of West Coast Grocery.
The trials and tribulations of a startup brewery. West Coast Grocery Company Diarys.
by Charlie Hyde
Our venture started when myself (Charlie Hyde) and Steve Balzer (WCGCo. brewmaster) were connected through our mutual friend in brewmaster Ben Edmunds of Breakside. I had just graduated with my MBA in entrepreneurship and was eager to start my own business. I’m a home brewer and massive beer geek, but I told Ben I wanted to leave the brewing up to a professional. I wanted to partner with a commercial brewer who would knock beers out of the park right from the get-go. My ideal partner was an up and comer in the beer industry–someone who was hungry, incredibly talented, and wasn’t afraid to take risks with his beers. I wanted someone with grit. Steve was the perfect fit, as he had graduated from Seibel, the top brewing school in the country, was currently the head brewer of Laurelwood, and was itching to start his own brewery. When you work for a production brewery, sometimes you don’t have as much flexibility to be creative and brew whatever you want. Steve is excited to show off his skills and the recipes he’s been dreaming of curating for years. Ben has the reputation of being one of the best brewers in the state so his full endorsement of Steve carried a ton of weight with me.
Finding the right building
The first major hurdle/accomplishment of our venture was finding a building that was a good fit for us. We had a couple of options. Open our business in an area or town that didn’t currently have a brewery, or face the hardships of tough competition in a saturated Portland market. We decided on the later. To us, in such a crowded industry, we wanted to have a downtown exposure where people could come into our tasting room and really connect with our brand.
We started our building search at a tough time. It was a landlord’s market where rents were high and owners weren’t willing to contribute much at all to accommodate a new tenant. The first building we looked at was in North Portland. Having graduated from University of Portland, the idea of our brewery next door to UP was really exciting. However the start-up costs were just too daunting. The building needed over $150,000 worth of work just on the shell of the building. The landlord wasn’t willing to contribute any money towards improvements and we didn’t feel like forking up a fortune just to fix up someone elses asset.
When we stumbled upon our location on 14th & Stark across from Revolution Hall we knew we had hit the jackpot. Although the rent was slightly higher, the location was great and the landlord was in the midst of a total remodel of the building with seismic upgrades included. The start-up costs would be lower and the seismic upgrades meant we had much more flexibility with what we could accomplish with our taproom.
What we didn’t factor into our building selection was the possibility of delays due to the landlord’s overhaul of the building. Our space (or shell, as they call it in the industry) was originally promised to us in January of 2017. The landlord was finally finished with the work in October of 2017, almost 10 months late. Luckily for us, we weren’t having to pay any rent on the space, but our livelihoods took a toll and interest payments add up when you’re purchasing equipment as expensive as stainless steel brewery tanks. If we are lucky enough to expand our operation, I can tell you we won’t be moving into a space that is under construction. Turnkey, please!
Selecting our tank manufacturer
A lot went into the decision making process of selecting the right brewing system for us. As you will see when you come into our taproom, We’re huge advocates of buying local and supporting the local community. While many start-ups buy their equipment from China, it was important for us to keep our business in Portland, even if that meant paying a premium. We’re starting out with a 15 barrel brewhouse made by Pioneer Tank & Vessel located off Marine Drive. We’ll have 3 15 barrel fermenters 1 30 barrel fermenter and 2 30 barrel brite tanks. Our brewery also has ample space for barrel aging so sours and barrel aged beers will constantly be in our lineup. We’ve already started hoarding barrels from several local wineries.
For us the size of a 15 barrel system just felt right. We wanted a system that could properly service our taproom with constant variety, but at the same time not be too small that we would have to upgrade it in the near future. Not to mention our brewery is in a basement so upgrading tanks and equipment is no small feat. Our business model to this point will be to max out our Stark location and hopefully have the opportunity to expand the rest of our production to an offsite location, much like other local breweries such as Breakside or now Migration have done.
If you’ve been following our progress up to this point you know that branding has been an interesting topic for us. In the not so distant past our name was Bodega Beer. We chose the name because we thought it did a good job of linking my family’s 100 year history in the grocery business to the craft beer scene. The bodega is a corner grocery store that historically also sells alcohol. I thought it was a clever name and would play well. However, once we dove into our branding we realized that the name Bodega was the one thing that didn’t feel 100% real to us and the story we were trying to tell. We wanted the name to be a direct extension of our family business, and WCGCo just felt closer to home than bodega.
West Coast Grocery company is 100% real and you will feel that when you come into our taproom. My great-great grandfather started the company in 1891 and it only recently closed its doors in 1985, a year before I was born.. In my grandpa’s hay day we had warehouses ranging from Seattle to Salem, supplying the entire northwest with everything from beer, to apples and furs. At one point WCGCo. was actually the largest employer in Washington State, crazy right? I take incredible pride in the Northwest and the companies that helped us get to where we are today, so I’m humbled to be able to revive the brand and our craft beer division. Yea, our name is a little weird. But so is Portland right? I’m hoping that our neighborhood can adopt WCGCo. as their corner brewery and we can be a business that all of Buckman can be proud of. And for those of you who miss the Bodega, we still have something in store for you..stay tuned.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!
Follow West Coast Grocery on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WestCoastGroceryCompany/
or instagram at https://www.instagram.com/westcoastgrocerycompany/