Portland breweries raise a glass to new opportunities

Special Reports

Three Portland breweries are expanding their businesses during the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For some Portland breweries, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been all that bad. That’s not to say it’s been easy, but a few are taking risks and choosing to expand during a relatively uncertain time. 

Scott Lawrence, the owner of Breakside Brewery, is choosing to see the glass as half full.

“I always think risks pay off, I mean, I know sometimes maybe I’ve been told I take too big of risks, but, if there’s no great risk, there’s no great reward,” he said. 

His brewery, along with Migration Brewing and Upright Brewing, are three Portland beer companies in the process of expanding amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

For Lawrence, his latest project is taking him to a new city: Beaverton. He said he saw the lot for sale in Restaurant Row while on a date with his wife. 

Breakside Brewery owner Scott Lawrence purchased a piece of property on Restaurant Row in Beaverton where he plans to build a beer garden. (KOIN)

“The area was just kind of busy, full of people that lived over this way,” Lawrence said. “There’s just a lot of attention and activity that’s going on in this area. We just thought it would be a neat spot to finally do a project in Beaverton.” 

The property Lawrence purchased is on Southwest Angel Road, stretching between Southwest 1st Street and Southwest Farmington Road. He’s calling it a beer garden and has plans of not only putting a new Breakside Brewery location on the site, but also a new restaurant, dessert shop, food carts, music stage, and fire pits. 

Lawrence’s goal is to open the beer garden by July. He expects Beaverton and the Portland metro area will still be affected by COVID-19 in the summer and is looking forward to a large outdoor space to serve customers. 

The design for the new Breakside Brewery location at Restaurant Row in Beaverton. The owner hopes the location will be open by July 2021. Courtesy Breakside Brewery

Patio space is also a huge perk for the new project Colin Rath, owner of Migration Brewing, is working on. Over the last couple months, he’s been renovating the space Hopworks Urban Brewing recently vacated on North Williams Avenue in Portland. From the front it looks like a traditional restaurant located under apartments, but the real surprise is the large outdoor space in the back. 

Rath is planning to put in two fire pits, hop trellises, and a beer loading dock.  

Since the space was previously used as a brewery, it isn’t take long to renovate and Rath hopes it will open to the public by March 1.  

“It has very much the look and feel of our brand. Building owner of this space is also absolutely amazing. He’s really worked with us, made it a good fit for the lease structure and allowing us to do what we need to do to make this space feel like our own space,” Rath said. 

In Northeast Portland, another small brewery is also planning a move that it hopes will make its name more widely known. Owner Alex Ganum has been operating Upright Brewing for about 12 years in the basement of the Leftbank Building, about two blocks north of the Moda Center. 

During this time, the small-batch brewery has attracted devoted fans who enjoy visiting the intimate underground bar. However, when the café on the building’s ground floor closed, Ganum said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to claim the space. 

“We’re going to have a lot more exposure, natural light, fresh air, bigger space, everything about it’s looking really positive for us,” he said. 

Ganum said he’s especially looking forward to entertaining fans before Portland Trail Blazer games. 

Alex Ganum, owner of Upright Brewing, drinks a beer near the counter he plans to transform into a bar in the Leftbank Building in Portland. (KOIN)

He’ll be partnering with Portland Bottle Shop to provide food to go with the beer and the bottle shop will also run a café out of the space during the early hours of the day.

Ganum hopes the ground-floor brewery will be open within the next few months. 

According to data published by the National Institute of Health, per capita sales of beer in Oregon were down from March to September in 2020. 

Lawrence said for Breakside Brewery, 70% of the company’s production revenue comes from draft beer. When their breweries closed for the shutdown, that revenue dropped to 0 for several months. The other 30% comes from package sales, which he said were up about 40-50% in 2020, allowing them to break even for the year. 

Rath and Ganum agree that 2020 was anything but easy for their beer sales. For Rath, the worst part was knowing the uncertainty his staff faced throughout the year. He said as the brewery locations opened and closed, his employees sought new opportunities and he’s hired and lost several workers.

While the road might be rocky now, Ganum said the pandemic isn’t stopping him from planning for the long-term. 

“A funny thing about doing these expansion projects during the pandemic has been a reaction from folks thinking that it’s in part because of the pandemic, but the reality is that these are long-term plans. The pandemic doesn’t really play into it,” Ganum explained. 

While the plan was always to grow into a larger space, Ganum said he’s incredibly grateful for the customer loyalty he’s seen during the difficult months in 2020 and early 2021. While some people showed their support by buying his beer, others offered kind words of encouragement – and both meant a great deal to the brewery owner. 

Migration Brewing also recently opened another new rooftop bar across the street from Providence Park in late August 2020. The bar closed after about three and a half months due to the rain, but Rath is excited to open it again in April and hopes Portland Timbers games will soon allow fans back into the stadium, bringing more crowds to the area. 

Breakside Brewery’s “Winnebeergo” will cater large events, but is temporarily serving beer at The CORE in Southeast Portland. Courtesy Breakside Brewery

In mid-February, Breakside Brewing opened its “Winnebeergo” — a Winnebago RV that it converted into a mobile beer cart. The intention was to make the Winnebeergo available to rent for weddings and events, but with the pandemic putting a stop to most large gatherings, Lawrence decided it was best to temporarily set up the RV at a new food cart and food hall location called Collective Oregon Eateries, or CORE, on Southeast 82nd Avenue. 

While all three of these breweries are taking on new, large projects now, they’re all also focusing on other upcoming developments. 

Breakside Brewing is also opening a new location at the Windward Development in Lake Oswego in June. 

Lawrence is currently brainstorming another plan for a location that he hopes will be “like an Epcot Center for beer.” He said he owns 30 acres in Gresham and he’d eventually like to brew beer there and create multiple tasting rooms. He envisions it as “a big outdoor beer playground.” 

“People can come and play bocce ball and croquet and there’ll be playgrounds for kids and maybe soccer fields, I’m not really sure yet,” he said. 

Ganum also owns property he hopes to develop at Northeast 72nd Avenue and Prescott Street. It’s the site of an old gas station that’s long been abandoned. Ganum would like to keep the gas station-style layout for the second brewery location and use the lot space to bring in food carts. He’s waiting on city permitting before he can move ahead with his plans.

For these three brewers it’s the long-term planning and hope for the future that allows them to see past the pandemic to a time when things feel a bit more normal. 

“I can’t wait,” Ganum said. “Just the thought of being able to sit down and enjoy beers in person again, that’s a really nice thought.” 

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