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 Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Higgins Restaurant and Bar
It’s all too easy to get seduced by the hottest new restaurants in Portland while longtime favorites are taken for granted. Like an old, comfortable relationship, we just assume they’ll always be there when we need them. And at more than 20 years old, it doesn’t look like Higgins is going to up and abandon you when a warm corner bistro is what you’re looking for in the heart of downtown. But February might be the perfect time to renew that spark with the farm-to-table establishment, though not a brewery it has always boasted an impressively long beer list. Forgo the white tablecloth side of the house and slide into a well-worn, high-backed booth enveloped by floor-to-ceiling dark wood paneling. It’s a little cozier among the beer handles, cask engine and hurried keg traffic that crosses the bar floor every time one empties. Beyond the 12 taps are dozens of bottled varieties, including more than 40 Belgians on a recent visit. And if you need to impress that special beer geek in your life during a night out, Higgins has you covered with a $326 bottle of 2001 Chimay Grand Reserve. However, a $10 pour of Chimay Cinq Cents White Label will probably hit the spot, too.
1239 SW Broadway
Kells Brew Pub
If all you think of when you hear the word “Kells” is the Old Town location known for its slotted ceiling stuffed with dollar bills, raucous St. Patrick’s Day celebration and proximity to bro nightlife — blocks teeming with clubs for 21-year-olds looking to blackout the day they can legally drink — then you’re missing out. The original Portland site can be a hell of a good party on a Saturday night, but it’s not necessarily the most romantic venue — at least in the traditional sense. However, the Brew Pub, which opened on Northwest 21st Avenue in 2012, offers a more intimate experience with its oversized cobblestone fireplace and booths with hinged doors that provide you and your date unparalleled dining room privacy. Those secluded seats could be hard to come by since they’re kind of like a VIP section — everyone wants in and you can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside those wooden partitions. Ornate details also help set the mood: stained-glass windows stamped with a green clover, wrought iron-style chandeliers and even a handful of throw pillows in each enclosed area should you find yourself in need of a cushion mid-embrace while waiting for the check. In the case you can’t score a booth, sink into one of the supple leather sofas positioned next to the glowing hearth. There’s a view of the brewery in back as you share a sampler tray of Kells’ house-made beers. And if the fire isn’t enough to ward off that winter chill, nothing beats a hearty Irish dish like the velvety Shepherd’s pie or crispy Fish and Chips. You can also rely on the warmth of your lover, but don’t get too handsy -- St. Patrick is watching from the bar.
210 NW 21st Ave.
McMenamins Kennedy School
Admit it — as an adolescent you always dreamed of someday making out with your crush under the bleachers on campus. Well now as an adult, you can actually get past first base inside the school’s walls. McMenamins should hold a special place in any Pacific Northwest resident’s heart because of the franchise’s dedication to restoring historic properties. And of all the Portland locations, Kennedy School is the best because the story of its unique past is prominently displayed throughout the building and the array of rooms offer a unique drinking experience as you explore the sprawling property. Start your night in the now-unrecognizable cafeteria adorned with funky, mismatched pendant lights and mahogany booths. No miniature cartons of milk here. Just think how much more entertaining fifth period math would’ve been had the lunchroom come equipped with a bar. Although you may think you’ve experienced all the McMenamins beers — from Ruby to Terminator — don’t forget that each brewer has the freedom to create unique recipes that are only produced at that particular site. Do your homework and be sure to sample those offerings in The Courtyard Restaurant. After dinner, grab a pint to-go and roam the long corridors that have been transformed into a museum dedicated to mosaic art and the history of the school, which was founded in 1915. Then have fun discovering what kind of student you are. Skipping class and smoking? Head to Detention. Teacher’s pet with a penchant for opera and subdued debate? Honors Bar is the place for you. Remember: if the date goes really well, Kennedy School has overnight accommodations.
5736 NE 33rd Ave.
Occidental Brewing Company
Who says sausages aren’t sexy? Occidental’s Wursthaus may not be an obvious pick for a date since it lacks many of the amenities associated with the typical night out: dim lighting, table service and at least some seclusion from other diners. Instead, the space that opened this past summer has walls bathed in a bright shade of canary, wursts served six ways that you order at the counter and a long, narrow dining room with sturdy bench seating — but no booths. Now if you’re a couple with kiddos, this is actually the perfect place to get out of your house for a few hours when the babysitter falls through. You’re likely to find toddlers squirming away from their parents’ grasp since the place allows minors, unlike Occidental’s Tap Room across the parking lot. Urban Germany Grill, long a popular vendor at beer festivals and farmers markets, now provides a menu for both kids and adults at the Wursthaus. However, even if it’s just you and your partner, the sweeping view of the city’s most romantic span is reason enough to visit. Order some hot, melted cheese in the form of fondue and head to a table near the back wall covered in German beer signs. The gothic arches of the St. Johns Bridge suddenly come into view, with one end of the road disappearing into the rolling hills covered in pine trees across the river. A patio that runs the length of the second-story business awaits nicer weather. It could be the perfect spot to plan a wedding ceremony at Cathedral Park, which sits under the beloved bridge.
6635 N. Baltimore Ave.
Old Town Pizza & Brewing
It’s reportedly the site of a murder and the victim still haunts the space where she took her last breath. Sounds romantic, huh? Old Town embraces the scandalous past of the building it inhabits, and the possibility of running into a ghost is a draw for many customers as well. There’s that and the perfect date night pairing: pizza and beer. If anything, a haunted taproom is reason to hold onto your partner a little tighter, so take a deep breath, stay alert and walk through the low-clearance dining room toward the back of what used to be the Merchant Hotel. You’ll find a seating area partially enclosed by a brick wall. This is the former elevator shaft where the body of an enslaved woman was found. Legend has it that two missionaries tried to help her out of a life of forced prostitution in exchange for information about her captors. However, the woman named Nina was pushed to her death before the planned escape could take place. Fortunately, the scene there now is far less grim. Get comfortable on the red velvet couch (if you can) and as you wait for your pie from the kitchen, search for her name carved in the wall nearby. If the glowing crimson table lamp happens to flicker while you’re there, it’s probably just a coincidence…
226 NW Davis St.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.