By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Surrounded by fans of The Bier Stein taking in the game or beering up for their own football festivities, Troy Potter can hardly believe that a few months ago he wasn't the new owner of Eugene's The Bier Stein. Working in sales at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Potter was happy where he was.
“I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner,” says Potter, “unless the perfect situation came up.”
Then it did.
At the 2016 Oregon Country Fair, Potter was having a beer with his longtime friends Kristina and Chip Hardy, founders of The Bier Stein. “Around one in the morning, I happened to mention, ‘If you ever want to sell, please talk to me first,’” says Potter. “They stopped, they giggled and said they’d been considering selling the place.”
The Hardys felt ready to pursue non-business interests, but didn’t want to be absentee owners. For the next year, when Potter wasn’t working as part of Ninkasi’s national sales team and managing accounts on the East Coast, he quietly evaluated buying the business.
“I was happy, making good money at a good job,” says Potter, “but when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it and realized it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, Potter and silent partner Jon Farah officially became owners of The Bier Stein.
A Long Way From Cleveland
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Potter was 21 when in 1991 he grabbed his backpack and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Portland.
“I fell in love with craft beer, day one,” says Potter. “I spent six months drinking Widmer Hefeweizen with lemon, then Full Sail Amber, then Deschutes Black Butte Porter. But Bridgeport IPA was a game changer. I’ve been in love with IPAs ever since.”
After working as bar manager at an Italian restaurant and Kells Irish Pub, Potter’s interest in craft beer led him to jobs with McMenamins and Rogue. In 2007, his wife was about to graduate from Reed College, and they’d heard about a new brewery in Eugene. The day after graduation they moved south, where Potter became one of Ninkasi’s first employees. Fast-forward 10 years, Potter was learning how to be an owner.
Potter and Farah began working with a bank to navigate the “long, drawn-out process” of getting a Small Business Administration loan. Potter also worked side-by-side with the Hardys to understand day-to-day operations and get advice. Along with respecting the Hardy’s wishes to keep the sale quiet, Potter had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say anything to his colleagues. Then, finally, “the bank put everything in writing, and I gave my 30-day notice,” says Potter. “It was a surprise at Ninkasi.”
Smooth Transition, Strong Future
Founded in 2005, The Bier Stein began as a 2,100-square-foot bottle shop and beer bar between downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon campus. In 2012, The Bier Stein moved to a 12,000-square-foot building. Now offering more than 1,000 beers in bottles and from 30-plus taps, The Bier Stein seats 185 and has 50 employees. And that, says Potter, is how he wants things to be.
“The staff and managers are amazing, and everyone was excited to stay on,” says Potter. “I didn’t change one thing. Not the menu, not the beer. That turnkey aspect was in its truest form. Why change something that’s working perfectly?”
Potter is at the shop each day, working with managers and on marketing, advertising and overall operations. “I’ve also been bussing tables, running food. I intend to work in the kitchen and the bar too — keep my finger on the pulse and connect with customers,” says Potter. “The Bier Stein is about the best beer and the best customer experience. That’s what will keep The Bier Stein strong.”
Plans include growing The Bier Stein’s reputation as a destination and craft beer institution. “About 35 percent of our customers come from outside of Eugene, based on word of mouth.”
Increased customer education is also a priority. Potter wants all staff — including himself — to have Level Two Cicerone Certifications. “New customers come in, and they might know a little about beer, but it can be hard to come up to those cooler doors and pick a beer,” says Potter. “Something we can make better is to be there with customers and help them make that bottle purchase.”
Overall, Potter sees his role not as a game changer, but as the next generation. “My goal coming into The Bier Stein is not to change anything,” he explains. “My goal is to grab that torch that Chip and Kristina created and carry it forward. We’re going to keep it about the beer.”
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether a Eugene/Springfield local or visiting for a University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) home game at Autzen Stadium, it’s nice to have a pregame or postgame stroll … with beer, of course. The walking portion of this 1.5 mile route can be done in around 30 minutes. In addition to watering holes and restaurants, you’ll also take in an iconic cinema spot and go from near downtown Eugene to the heart of the UO campus.
Sam Bond’s Brewing Co.
540 E. Eighth Ave.
After parking your car in one of the city’s downtown garages (free on weekends), make your way east on foot, by taxi or by bus to our starting point. Nestled in between downtown and campus, Sam Bond’s is a natural evolution from its namesake, local favorite Sam Bond’s Garage. The iconic bar always has a good tap list, so it only made sense that the owners (also behind the scenes at both Plank Town locations and Cottage Grove’s The Axe & Fiddle) would want to dip their paddles in their own wort. You’ll start your tour with an excellent beer in a mellow setting: Think of it as the warmup stretch for the day’s stroll. Founded in 2013, Sam Bond’s Brewing supplies the Garage, and their 10-barrel brewhouse pumps out Northwest favorites, such as Sam I Am Beer (amber, get it?) and Crankshaft IPA, along with up-and-coming beers of interest: 50-Stone Scottish Wee Heavy, Accelerator ISA, Pre-Klassic Kolsch, and a stellar Filbert Brown made with hazelnuts. If your appetite needs food in addition to excellent beer, a full menu offers pizza, salads, paninis, pastas and more. Vegan and gluten-free options are available.
Beer Nut Mix: Mixed nuts slowly caramelized in butter, brown sugar, spices and Filbert Brown
Foundry Sampler: Seasonal assortment of cured meats, cheeses, tapenades and marinated vegetables with toasted bread
Elk Horn Brewery
686 E. Broadway St.
She’s from the Willamette Valley, he’s from Mississippi. When wife-and-husband team Colleen and Stephen Sheehan decided to step up from food cart to brewpub in 2014, it was only natural that they combine the Northwest’s food and drink sensibility with warm and welcoming Southern hospitality. The whiskey bar is well stocked, but the main event is Elk Horn’s 24 taps, pouring their own beers, ciders and sodas brewed by Rogue veteran Nate Sampson. (Lemon Pils just took home bronze for American- or International-Style Pilsener at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival.) The family-friendly space has racks for board games and plenty of big screens so you can catch the big game. If it’s nice, sit outside at least a little while: the comfortable, spacious screened patio quickly and surprisingly makes you forget that you’re near busy streets. The Northwest touch of Elk Horn’s food combines with a solid Southern pedigree, including hearty bowls, burgers, sandwiches, plus some salads and wraps to keep a few light touches.
Hushpuppies filled with jalapeno cheddar, served with chipotle aioli
Bayou Gumbo: chicken, shrimp, andouille sausage, okra, celery, bell pepper and onion, served with rice
Cafe Yumm! - On Broadway
730 E. Broadway
Just down from Elk Horn, our next stop brings us to a healthier, home-grown option. While waiting for your food, Ninkasi is on tap (with other wines and beers by the bottle). Raise a glass to Cafe Yumm! on Broadway, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday. Taking home The Register-Guard 2017 Readers' Choice awards for Lunch Bargain and Vegetarian (no easy feat in a former hippie town renowned for its veggie and vegan fare), Cafe Yumm! started in Eugene. Today, the Oregon benefit company has 20 locations in Oregon and Washington. Since you’re walking today, the six electric vehicle charging stations aren’t of use, but it’s good to know that you can charge your ride for free while you eat — and that this is the first restaurant in the country to offer solar-powered EV charging. Back to that food. Wraps, sandwiches and soups are available, but you are here for the Yumm! Bowl — and specifically, the magical, mysterious Yumm! Sauce. What’s in it? How does it get its savory yet tangy flavor? You will never know. You won’t care either, because this is the sort of vegetarian food that others aspire to (though chicken is available). Cafe Yumm! elevates humble rice and beans to satisfying, sumptuous fare, with organic ingredients, generous helpings of Yumm! Sauce, plus cheese, avocado, salsa, olives, sour cream and cilantro. It’ll fill both your body and your soul.
Original Yumm! Bowl
751 E. 11th Ave.
By now you are likely ready to walk and digest — a great time for an odd detour. Strolling south down Alder Street, we’ll turn right onto East 11th Avenue for the sake of seeing something that doesn’t exist anymore. Really, we’re paying some respect. 751 E. 11th Ave. is where parts of the 1978 zany classic “Animal House” were filmed. Home of the Psi Deuteron chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity from 1959-1967, the house fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1986. Today, perhaps as a sign of fate or irony, the site is now home to the School of Education and Counseling for Northwest Christian University. Head to the parking entrance and look for a boulder: it has a plaque that commemorates the Delta House location. Next time you watch “Animal House,” keep an eye out for other Eugene spots: much of the film was shot around the UO campus, the parade and road trip took place in Cottage Grove (and the marching bands were from Eugene’s own Sheldon and Churchill High Schools), and it’s thought that Greg and Mandy’s scene in the MG was filmed on top of Skinner Butte. Much of the movie’s wardrobe is local too: since John Landis had such a small budget, his wife Deborah thrifted for costumes at area secondhand stores. Nearly 40 years later, please stop and take a moment to reflect: No more will anyone dump a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet. No one will deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. And no more will Halloween see the trees filled with underwear. Oh well. “Grab a brew. Don't cost nothin’.”
Mashed potatoes and cheap lager
1214 Kincaid St.
After stopping to reflect on what was and no longer is, it’s time to turn around and head back to Alder Street. We’ll continue south, going past a row of little shops and eateries that continues as we turn left and head east on East 13th Avenue. Turning left onto Kincaid Street, it’s time for a classic. Right across the street from the eastern edge of the UO campus and located in the historic John Rennie house (built in the 1920s), Rennie’s Landing is a favorite watering hole. “We love our Ducks,” they say at Rennie’s, “but opponent’s fans are welcome too.” Fair enough. Also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sports of all kinds are showing on six TVs throughout the interior (and one more on the upper deck). Nine craft and specialty beers, two domestics and 2 Towns hard cider are pouring, but also check out the trademark Rennie’s Lemonade. Locally made art is sprinkled throughout the second floor, including sculptor David Thompson’s metalwork of a McKenzie River boatman, and paintings by George Von Der Linden (who also carved a signature whale over the fireplace). Over the front door hangs a large aerial photograph, taken in the 1930s, to help plan the site for what is now the Knight Library.
Breakfast and a Bloody Mary until 1 p.m.: ‘nuff said
Falling Sky Pizzeria & Public House
1395 University St., Room 46
Now we cross into campus itself, walking amidst the old brick and stone buildings and towering trees that give UO the world-apart feel unique to college campuses. Our final destination is at the heart of campus in the newly renovated Erb Memorial Union. The Pizzeria & Public House is Falling Sky’s third location (and part of why they expanded their downtown brewery). No stranger to local acclaim, Falling Sky recently was named one of the Best Microbreweries in The Register-Guard 2017 Readers’ Choice awards. Pouring 11 house and guest beers and ciders, Falling Sky offers a mix of seasonal, limited-release and flagship Northwest, Belgian-style, British-style, and German-style ales and lagers. Be sure to try Polar Melt Pale Ale, made with Glacier hops and a new yeast strain they’re experimenting with. This third location builds Falling Sky’s pizza menu that consists of house doughs, cured meats and produce that you’d find at the pizzeria’s sibling sites. Calzones, Italian sandwiches, soups, salads, bowls, wings and a kids menu are also available.
Vegan & Loving It: Roasted vegetables, spinach, squash, garlic, vegan white bean and red pepper sauce
The Reubenator: House-cured turkey pastrami, sauerkraut, caraway seeds, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing
Now that you’ve reached the end of our walking tour, you still have options. If you want to venture some more, you are still a stroll, bus, or cab ride away from other restaurants, sports bars and more. Want to keep your walk going strong? Head to the nearby Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System. A riverside walk and one footbridge can have you at Autzen Stadium in minutes.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Two brothers wanted a family-friendly brewery, so they built one. Now, Eugene’s ColdFire Brewing sees itself as a hub for bettering the larger community. Early on the two founders, who are also brothers and dads, made a business commitment to focus on children's nonprofit organizations, and more specifically, children's health organizations.
“We all take our kids to the same schools, pay the same bills, buy groceries locally and spend our recreational time locally,” explains ColdFire co-founder Dan Hughes. “It's the broader sense of being part of a community that drives our business values to extend beyond our walls. It is our duty and our privilege to give back where we can.”
Focusing on children is also a way for ColdFire to express their commitment to the next generation. “We want to invest in a way that makes sense,” says Hughes, “by helping those who will be taking the reins from us someday, and maybe inspire them to do the same.”
Not that “alcohol” and “family-friendly” usually appear in the same sentence — much less the same business plan. Between the lingering legacy of Prohibition, as well as national ad campaigns that aren’t exactly known for focusing on family, beer has gained a bad rep. That association is inaccurate, says Hughes, who was inspired by the family-friendly pub culture of Ireland and Germany.
“European communities know what we are trying to recapture here: family is welcome everywhere,” says Hughes. “People there have vastly different expectations on what's expected at a pub. It's centered around food, music, socialization, and family is a key aspect. We see this changing rapidly here in the U.S., and we are very much a part of it.”
ColdFire backs that up not only with its support of community organizations and causes, but also with the simple nuts and bolts of the brewery: visitors to ColdFire can let their kids romp in a play area while parents enjoy a quiet pint.
The family-friendly culture — and kid-welcoming layout — is part of what brought local nonprofit WellMama to ColdFire. With volunteers providing pregnancy and postpartum mental health support services (including services in Spanish) for moms and their families throughout Lane County, WellMama’s fundraising events with ColdFire and Ninkasi have demonstrated how powerful breweries can be in raising awareness for a good cause. WellMama is also looking at how it can further collaborate with breweries to grow its Reaching All Mothers Initiative to support women in underserved areas and bring everybody in the community together.
“ColdFire presented us with an idea to work together, hang out, have family-friendly community events and see what happens,” says Jessica Schultz, WellMama volunteer coordinator. “The intent was to look for something where we could have families and especially kids welcome at, not just board members or staff. We could get everybody together. ColdFire is particularly family friendly, and that serves our mission of serving families and of helping families be healthier.”
Schultz sees the laid-back atmosphere of a brewery, plus its role as a community melting pot, as key ways to help people overcome social stigmas and personal embarrassment — common barriers that often prevent people from seeking needed services. Schultz also appreciates that craft breweries host local food carts and provide non-alcoholic options, striking a balance of healthy and fun interactions with the community.
“Most of us have had experience with postpartum depression and anxiety, and now we want to reach out to other mamas and help them,” says Schultz. “The breweries create space for people to come, relax, and feel like they can be themselves. They can support WellMama and support other families. The breweries bring that together.”
Dan Hughes sees ColdFire continuing to increase its role in supporting the broader community. Plans for 2017 and onward include more support of organizations such as WellMama, local school events and the nearby Campbell Community Center.
“People love a well-crafted beverage. They enjoy socialization. And they love it even more when they can do these things while supporting a good organization,” says Hughes. “We are building our business’s future, so we build our community’s future through our children.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.