By Gail Oberst
In Oregon’s celebration of craft beer, it’s easy to overlook Wendi Day, Central Oregon’s first woman brewery owner. But local and national beer drinkers have raised a glass to her, whether they spoke her name or not. Proof is in the blinding glint from dozens of medals on Bend Brewing Company’s wall: Ching Ching Sour Ale, Outback X Strong Ale, Black Diamond Dark Lager, Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter, and so on. In 2008, the brewery won the Brewers Association World Beer Cup Small Brewery of the Year, and its then-brewer, Tonya Cornett, won Brewer of the Year in the same category. More recently, Bend Brewing’s three awards at the Great American Beer Festival this fall only were outnumbered in Oregon by Pelican’s and Barley Brown’s awards.
Behind all that glory was Wendi Day.
Despite owning one of Bend’s most popular destinations (another award for that) Day said she is shy of the spotlight. “Tonya really put Bend Brewing Company on the map,” said Day, referring to the vivacious 10 Barrel brewer brought to Central Oregon in 2006 to work at Bend Brewing Co. Before Cornett, Day said her company had not entered competitions. Thirty medals and awards later, the company serves some of the most-decorated brews in Central Oregon.
But if Cornett was Central Oregon’s first woman brewer, Day was supporting her in the background, as Central Oregon’s first woman brewery owner.
There was a moment, though, when Day, who defines herself variously as mother, wife and “shy farm girl at heart,” was on the verge of refusing her father’s suggestion that she take over the company.
She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Jerry and Diane Fox, owners of a Cleveland-area feed and garden store. The family came to visit Bend and fell in love with the town. In 1986, they bought a home in Bend. By 1988, Day graduated from Bend High School and headed for Arizona State University, where she studied accounting and marketing, and where she met her future husband, Rob Day. Meanwhile, her dad (with partners) joined Dave Hill at Bend Wood Products. While Day was working in retail management in Bend and then Seattle, Jerry Fox was thinking that Bend needed another brewery. At the time, Central Oregon had just two breweries – Deschutes (1988) and Cascade Lakes (1994). In 1995, Jerry Fox and partner Dave Hill opened the Bend Brewing Company.
“My dad’s an entrepreneur. They thought there should be another brewery in Bend,” Day said.
There from the Get-Go
Almost as soon as he opened Bend Brewing Company, her father asked her to join him. “I’d planned to stay in Seattle, but Dad had other ideas,” Day said. Rob found work in Bend and is currently the National Sales Executive at G5 Marketing. Day joined her father in 1995 as the assistant manager of his fledgling brewery and restaurant. Day helped hire Cornett, and considers it one of her best decisions.
Five years later, her father was anxious to retire and pass the baton to his daughter. But recently a new mother, Day was reluctant. Talking about that moment brings tears to her eyes: “It was a really hard decision,” she said. “I wanted to be a mom. My family is so important to me.”
Her family’s help and her work support crew calmed her fears. Terry Standly, running the kitchen, became her business partner.
Two years ago, when Standly retired, Day became sole owner. “I love to manage the business side of it,” Day said.
Unlike Deschutes or Cascade Lakes, this stronghold of Bend’s brewing community focused its efforts on the local family-friendly restaurant and pub, expanding its distribution a bit five years ago. Bend Brewing’s 7-barrel brewery is tiny. Five fermenters and 8 conditioning tanks, a brewhouse and refrigeration room that delivers beer directly from kegs to taps, are crammed into about 400 square feet in the mezzanine above the restaurant. Despite its cramped quarters, brewer Ian Larkin and assistant brewer Josh Harned can produce around 1,000 barrels a year. With the purchase of additional refrigerated storage space two blocks away, Harned said the company can now create aged beers and other beers that require constant temperatures. The company also bottles its beer at a line stuffed into the small brewery. Bend Brewing Company’s bottled beers can now be found in Bend stores and in a few Portland bottle shops, including Belmont Station and Saraveza.
Day, who is not a brewer, said she leaves the brewing business up to the brewers.
“They have autonomy. They are talented and they have the freedom to brew their own beers. I am just the proud mom.”
“Because of my family and because of the awesome people who work here, I can do this,” Day said.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.