By Katie Cracchiolo
Brewery owners in Eugene are coming together to form a beer district that can serve the community from one central location: The Whiteaker.
“It gives the community an area where if they want to go on a brewery tour they can go to one central location and taste all the different beers that all of us are producing,” said Hop Valley owner and partner Jonas Kungys. Businesses in the Whiteaker take pride in their community involvement. Owners have made it very clear that camaraderie and cooperation are a top priority for them. The breweries are so successful in this neighborhood because they promote a social and relaxing environment for every demographic.
The owners can agree that the idea of forming a district somewhat fell into their laps. It wasn’t an elaborate planning process by any means, but because so many other cities have a designated brewery area geographically, it just started to happen in Eugene.
One of Eugene’s most popular spots is the Ninkasi Brewey. Owner and partner Jamie Floyd emphasizes the importance of community service and being a place where people want to gather at the end of the day. “It was really important to us and our identity that we didn’t move from here once we got here and set up. It is such an integral part of who we are,” he said. Floyd lives in the Whiteaker and enjoys the convenience of being able to walk or bike wherever he needs to go, whether that be work, the store, or to visit some friends. “I just rode home from lunch on my bicycle, 4 blocks away, that certainly wouldn’t be the way if we were out West 11th.”
Floyd also mentioned that the Whiteaker has been in a transitional period, “This neighborhood has definitely gone through a complete rebirthing of its identity in the last 20 years.” He, as well as Kungys and Falling Sky owner Jason Carriere, all hope to continue that transformation as they bring more tasting rooms and pubs into the Whiteaker. Their hope is that when people come to Eugene to do a beer tour, this is where they come first. Hop Valley and Falling Sky breweries both have locations set up in the Whiteaker. Kungys is looking forward to the May opening of Hop Valley’s new tasting room, saying, “It’s a great location because it is central enough where we have people come in on bike or on foot to check out what we’re doing.” Ten years ago, many people thought these owners were crazy to open businesses that required so much space and maintenance in a neighborhood like the Whiteaker. Turns out it’s the best decision they’ve made.
The Whiteaker is off the beaten path of most college students who are likely to frequent a pub and a large warehouses of hops seemed unlikely to attract a steady customer base. Clearly this assumption was wrong because business is booming. Location is everything in the alcohol consumption business. Having a variety of tasting rooms all within walking distance of one another, and being easily accessible from other parts of town by public transportation, it’s no surprise that they’re doing well. “Being in the Whiteaker has been wonderful for our business in that our community, for the most part, has completely accepted us and appreciated it,” said Floyd. Ninkasi’s success in the Whiteaker has undoubtedly inspired other breweries to move into the neighborhood. “It’s hard to imagine if we picked anywhere else that it would be as good.”
These breweries don’t just attract Whiteaker residents, many University of Oregon students and other people in the Eugene community enjoy coming into the neighborhood to enjoy a pint. The students in particular are excited at the prospect of having a legitimate district in town. “A brewery district would be fantastic for the Whiteaker community because it would draw in people who don’t live there,” said UO senior Reggie Miller. “It would create a watering hole of beer culture for everyone.” Another UO student and Whiteaker resident, Carlos Martinez shares Miller’s sentiments saying, “With a district we could have lots of different options for both food and beverage in one place.” These are the kinds of sentiments that Ninkasi in particular strives for. Floyd said, “Our brewery message is one of celebrating and sharing beer as nourishment with the world and celebrating the cultural aspects of humanity. So by being here we’re a part of the community rather than if you’re were in a business district somewhere out [West Eugene].”
Ninkasi has definitely made its mark on the people of Eugene. Floyd and his partner, Nikos Ridge, are always looking for ways to make their patio and tasting room a more community oriented place. “Every Monday we do a fundraising night here where portions of each pint go towards a cause,” said Floyd. It’s important to him that they give back to the community for the support it has given them.
One of the long term changes these businesses are hoping to make by having a beer district in town is expanding the customer base through convenience. “It gives us an area where people out of town can go when they visit and it’s easy for them to go and say, let’s check out the breweries and another one area without driving all over eugene-springfield,” said Kungys. Floyd remembers before the opening of Sam Bond’s Garage there wasn’t really a reason for people to come over to the Whiteaker from the campus side of Eugene. Now with Ninkasi, Hop Valley, and Falling Sky it gives people more of an incentive to wrap up their week with a pint. “We sell beer to people, not beer geeks or men of a certain age or anything,” said Floyd. With a wider variety of brews to choose from, the neighborhood can sell to everybody.
While recipes are constantly being developed, breweries aren’t just about the beer. A Tuesday evening, rain or shine, will undoubtedly attract a large amount of customers at Ninkasi. Eugene Local Foods delivers weekly groceries that people have ordered to the tasting room on Tuesdays and the brewery brings a wood-fired pizza oven onto the patio to serve up dinner. “It becomes a gathering place and true community zone,” said Floyd, “People know they’re going to see each other there.” Customers will get off work and come by to pick up their groceries. While there they usually wind up with a slice of pizza and a pint in hand, catching up with their friends. There’s a handful of people the Floyd and the rest of the Ninkasi crew consider to be family that regularly unwind there once a week.
Floyd, Kungys and Carriere can also agree that having their establishments in one similar location is great for the business of the city. Legislators like peter DeFazio and Floyd Prozanski are often found hanging out at the breweries with friends and family. Not only does it generate more business for the owners, but it also dilutes the barrier between everyday residents and their officers.
The consensus is that a distinctive district would positively nurture the community by creating a common place for people to gather and relax.