By Sue Stringer
“This town is about collaboration,” says Thad Fisco, owner of Portland Kettle Works and Portland’s craft beer lab, Labrewatory. In 2015, Labrewatory opened in Lower Albina with Thad purchasing the building at 670 N Russell Street, a few blocks north of Interstate, and it has been the definition of collaboration in every sense of the word. Brewers from around the city come together to create beers which are creative and delicious. For the first couple of years, beer was the headliner at this storage facility turned brewery. That is changing now.
In 2011, Portland Kettle Works designed a new brew system and brewers immediately started placing orders. Craft beer, it turns out, was the one part of the economy that was doing well during the recession. Sales have continued and their brewing systems are now in over 250 breweries worldwide and going strong. Now Portland Kettle Works was off and running and they had a building to house equipment. Thad says that “we decided to open a brewery of our own because we were very active in putting breweries into business but hadn’t started our own yet and so we kind of looked at it as a challenge and a learning experience so we could be more informed about what we were selling to people. What an experience it has been!”
“Now we get to start doing some new things down here!” says Rachel Wilson, owner of Dawn Patrol Coffee and brewery manager. “At the beginning of the year, we added the coffee shop and extended our hours.” Dawn Patrol operates at Labrewatory in the morning hours from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm. Tamale Boy started providing burritos in the morning starting at 8:30 am and beer can be sold any time of day. “We also have different beer and coffee cocktails and growlers to go,”
Rachel adds. Rachel has also taken on distribution selling kegs of Labrewatory’s beer to different restaurants and bars like Loyal Legion. Rachel continues, “We really started focusing on community events. We’re trying to bring in a different crowd of people and having the neighborhood have a place to meet. There are many different events and groups that meet at Labrewatory such as a moms club and the NoPo running club. There is even a $1 neighborhood discount for those customers who live or work in the neighborhood.”
“On Tuesdays, there is a new beer release. At 5:00 people come in and we’ll put a new beer on tap and Nick, our brewer, will take those (who have purchased a tour ticket) around and then they get their t-shirt. And there’s live music between 6 pm and 8 pm,” Rachel explains.
Labrewatory hosted a Smash festival celebrating the 100th brewed beer and tied in a nonprofit to work with, which was Special Olympics. In July they hosted a “Go Fund Me” for a friend of Rachel’s who had a climbing accident. On August 17th, there was an S’mores event, called Mighty Clementine, designed by a customer’s daughter, Clementine, who recently has recovered from an aneurysm. She chose the nonprofit, Randall Children’s Hospital Pediatric Development and Rehabilitation Fund, and also chose the flavors of the s’mores.
In addition, there are the classes that both Labrewatory and Tamale Boy offer. Classes are offered to all of the Portland Kettle Works clients. They get all of Labrewatory’s operating procedures for the front of the house, operating procedures for the brewery and get to see financial analysis. It gives the new brewery owners an idea on how to operate their business.
Jaime Soltero, Jr., owner of Tamale Boy, says, “Our philosophy is to always be training and always be evolving and getting people situated, getting their brains right and their work ethic right and let them go and explore themselves. We work with a couple of organizations that come and prep and train here so that they can get them back into the workforce. We have a person that actually went blind that used to work in the kitchen and we have gotten him back in the kitchen. That helps us also really think about what we’re doing and how we go about things. It’s a humbling experience for sure. That’s just one of the programs. We also support our community with gift certificates, fundraisers, and whatever we can do.”
The collaboration has been good for all three businesses. Thad says, “When Jaime came in with Tamale Boy our beer sales increased 30% when they opened their doors. That’s one thing we teach people. If you don’t have food you’re basically cutting yourself off at the knees. So you have to have some way to serve food and the better the food the better. So it’s been a great partnership.”
Jaime agrees, “It actually it worked out perfectly because at that time I was looking to expand to a commissary kitchen because where I started
off at Dekum (first location of Tamale Boy) it was super small and we were already saturated. Summers we were packed to the gills and we needed more space. Thad got wind of me and we got started and it’s the perfect marriage. We don’t have to worry about anything in the dining room.”
“It’s really interesting,” Thad says, “that’s the part of overhead that a restaurant hates, is the dining room, but that’s the part that we want – for people to hang out and drink beer. We tell a lot of clients if you can lease the kitchen out and keep the people in the dining area drinking beer as long as you can…”
“And coffee!” Rachel chimes in. “It IS the perfect marriage!”
Rachel says, “The fun thing is that with this space we can have all these people that want to have an event and Labrewatory can offer the beer, Tamale Boy supplies the food and then there is a different kind of profit without having to rent an event space so more of the proceeds can go to the business holding the event.”
With any business and especially with this unique collaboration there are going to challenges and surprises. Jaime says, “We’re always adjusting we’re learning together. Everybody’s strengths we pull in together and learn from each other.” Thad says, thinking about the challenges, the important thing is, “Keeping Rachel! Plus, without this (Labrewatory) I wouldn’t have been able to grow my business and without Jaime, I wouldn’t have had food to offer. We push the edge to find new revenue streams and are backed by Portland Kettle Works so we can take risk.”
Lastly, Rachel says, “It’s fun!” She is learning about the financial side of a business, managing skills, and is challenged to find new businesses with items that are needing distribution to offer at the taproom, as well as trying to scale cold brew coffee which will be on one of the taps at the brewery.
The classes that are offered by Thad and Jaime help pop-ups which in turn are helping our community become stronger and offer diverse food and beverages to all of the Portland metro. So if you have an inkling to start a brewery or restaurant, check in with this successful team on North Russell. Collaboration is the name of the game and to sum it up, referring to the old television sit-com, Jaime says, “We’re very tight here. We’re very three’s
For more information:
Labrewatory/Dawn Patrol Coffee
670 N Russell St
Monday –Thursday 7 am—10 pm
Friday 7 am—11 pm
Saturday 9 am—11 pm
Sunday 9 am– 9 pm
668 N Russell St
Monday –Thursday 11 am—9 pm
Friday –Saturday 11 am—10 pm
Sunday 11 am– 8 pm