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Mike DeKalb
Mike DeKalb, in his new brewery in Hollywood, Portland Oregon 2007

My introduction:

I am not much of a beer drinker, more of a wine and vodka person.  But through getting to know the founders and brewmasters behind these Portland breweries I began a love affair with the whole process as well as the product they created.

I wanted to understand the type of person behind a brewery and I wanted to know what it takes to stay on top, or at least, in the running.  I interviewed a dozen founders/ceo’s/brewmasters.  I sat down with each of them, face to face for about an hour and asked a series of questions I felt were pertinent to their industry and to their involvement in it. I interviewed Kurt Widmer, one of the founders of Widmer Brothers Brewing, Brian McMenamin of the Mcmenamins  chain, the founder of hair of the Dog, Alan Sprints, also John Balfe and Scott Barnum, the CEO of Pyramid Breweries and Mactarnahan, Karl Ockert, the Brewmaster and founder of Bridgeport Brewing, Ron Gansberg the founder of the Racoon Lodge and Mike De Kalb the founder and owner of the Laurelwood Brewing Co.  and a few others.  I have found them to be incredibly intelligent, kind, humble and witty.  It is exhilarating talking to people who truly love what they do.

Mike Dekalb, Laurelwood Public House and Brewery

Owner of 5 pubs in Portland

4/11/07 in Hollywood

Paint chips on his eyeglasses, working on the new pub on Sandy.  “Garden bug sprayer and ivory dish soap do wonders on taking off a popcorn ceiling.  One third soap to water took off the 80’s popcorn.  You might have to put that on your blog”, laughs, yea how to take popcorn off your ceiling.

History on the background of the brewery’s inception?

My wife Kathy and I were looking to buy a restaurant, we both have restaurant backgrounds and we live 8 blocks from here, and this restaurant became available and it just so happened it had a brewery in it.  I worked in the beer industry previously, we were going to treat the brewery as a novelty, something to supplement the restaurant so we hired a good brewer and the brewery took off and it became an integral part of what we do.  We opened in 2001.  We opened the Northwest in 2004.  We also have 2 more at the airport opening this year (2007) and the one on Sandy I just came from.  65-70% of our sales are still in food, people come for the beer.  We also distribute to 60 other places around town.  With our new brewery we’ll be able to at least double that.  

We found our first brewer through the person that started this place initially, he had a great concept and a great idea but no experience.  It took him a year and a half to get it opened, they had no real kitchen.  Credit cards and a home equity loan helped us acquire it from him.  It took about 3 months and we painted ourselves.  We added more brewing capacity in 2003 to keep up with demand.  We picked up the brewing equipment for next to nothing.  We bought the booth but lease all the other furniture from the landlord.  The family friendly part of our business has been huge.  Between 5:30 and 8PM 70% of our business is families with kids.

How did you know the brewer and the beer would be good?

I ran 65% of the food and beverage at the airport before I started this business.  One of those was the Widmer Pub.  They recommended him to me.  I called the Oregon Brewers Guild and they said he was a good guy so I hired him.  He had originally designed the brewery,  and I did not know if the beer was going to be good but there was still some beer in the tanks, for over 8 months and we got some good reviews for that beer, a lager style beer. So before we even opened we were getting some good press on this beer.   lagers improve with age.  He left here about a year ago and is starting his own place on 29th and Powell.  His protégé has taken over, and he’s doing a great job.  We won the best beer award in 2004 at the World beer cup awards.  50 countries, 500 breweries, 1600 different beers entered.  Space Stout and Free Range Red were the gold winners.

In what direction do you think the craft beer industry is going?

The Northwest as a whole is more organic, independent, original beers, and does not reflect what the country is doing in terms of sales.  We are definitely leading the pack and the rest of the country is slowly catching up.  There are 5000 breweries in the United States and Portland has the highest brewery per capita than any city in the world.

Would you say there is any competition in the market for you and why?

Most of us belong to the Oregon Brewers Guild and we meet regularly, there is friendly competition.  

Do you care about the differences in your current pubs?

The menus are about 90% the same and each one has its own personality.  We wanted the NW location to be Laurelwood but also NW 23rd.  The colors are different, brighter, not as muted as here on 40th.  We marketed to a younger crowd, the team that developed our initial logos, five years ago, came up with some edgier stuff for 23rd.   They begged us for work and developed all our logos and everything.  The place you take the kids was one of their logos.  We have a graphic artist now that works for beer.  The kid-friendly thing was totally my wife Kathy’s idea.  Before we opened the kids play area here we had a huge fight with our brewer.  There was no place for our friends and us to go with our kids if you wanted to go and have a beer.  McMenamins gives you crayons if you go with the kids.   

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