By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There will be another "new" brewery in Portland early next year. Fat Head’s Brewery, launched in 2014, is slated to close in January. Look for it to be replaced sometime in the first quarter of 2018 by Von Ebert Brewing, which will be operated by current Fat Head’s franchisee, Tom Cook.
News of Fat Head’s closure initially caused a stir in beer circles and on social media. A lot of fans wondered why the apparently successful brewpub would close. In fact, the closure has nothing at all to do with the wellbeing of the business here.
What's actually at work is that corporate Fat Head’s, based in Ohio, has a lot going on in its home market. Rather than continue to focus on the remote Portland outpost, the company and Cook mutually decided to end the franchise arrangement.
“We were unable to agree on a vision for the future,” said Fat Head’s founder Glenn Benigni, “As a result, we’ve mutually decided to close the Fat Head’s location in Portland, pouring our last beer in early 2018. We’d like to say thanks to the beautiful city of Portland and all of the customers who joined us there over the years. It has been a pleasure serving you.”
Cook offered similar thoughts.
“I know it sounds like spin," he said via email. "But this is exactly what happened. They wanted to focus their energies on the Midwest, where they have a lot going on with a new production brewery and the new Canton brewpub. I wanted to focus on Portland. We decided it's probably best for them to pursue their plans in the Midwest and for me to do my own thing out there."
He admits it wasn't an easy decision. The franchise has been highly successful here. Indeed, the success of Fat Head’s surprised more than a few in the beer geek crowd. Many thought an out-of-state chain would quickly collapse in beer-wacky Beervana. It didn't happen.
"I think we succeeded here because we built a talented team and gave it the right tools," wrote Cook, who added current employees will have the opportunity to continue on. "There's no way I would be doing what I'm doing with Von Ebert if my team here wasn’t staying and fully behind me. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it's the right decision for everyone."
Von Ebert, when it opens, will specialize in hoppy brews from head brewer, Eric Van Tassel. Sean Burke, formerly of The Commons, is also part of the Von Ebert Brewing team. Burke's talent for making uniquely interesting beers is well known. Cook expects the team to release 100 or so unique beers a year, including American, German, Belgian and barrel-aged varieties.
"Von Ebert Brewing is a new concept, where Northwest family traditions meet innovative ideas in craft brewing,” said Cook in a press release. "We’re excited to unveil a completely new experience for customers, blending our brewing expertise with the adventurous flavors Portland has come to love."
The pub will feature what he refers to as "elevated American pub food." That includes items like traditional German pretzels with beer cheese, stone oven-baked pizzas, cheeseburgers stacked high with locally sourced meats, decadent sandwiches and smoked wings.
"True to our character, our menu will combine classic pub fares with the kind of top-tier quality local ingredients you can only find in Portland," Cook said.
Many in and around the craft beer industry are aware that Cook had quietly planned to open a brewpub in the vacated RingSide Grill space adjacent to Glendoveer Golf Course in Northeast Portland. Evidently, those plans will be more or less on hold until he clears some regulatory hurdles.
"There's more to come on this," he wrote. "I don’t want to comment or give a timeline until I finish with the City of Portland. I would hate to promise something and then learn we can’t do it."
Many wonder about the Von Ebert name and logo. It’s obviously a strong departure from Fat Heads and has no apparent connection to Portland. What’s it all about?
"My great grandmother came to the United States from Germany and her last name was Ebert," Cook wrote. "She gave up quite a bit in Germany to bring my family here, so I wanted to pay some respect to my immigrant family. ‘Eber’ in German means boar, thus the boar in the logo."
Von Ebert Brewing will open sometime in early 2018. Watch for updates on social media or check the company website at vonebertbrewing.com.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.