Craft Brew Alliance Closes Widmer Brothers Taproom After 22 Years

After more than 22 years of operation, Craft Brew Alliance today announced plans to close its Widmer Brothers pub in Portland, Oregon.

The decision to shutter the taproom – which is located underneath CBA’s corporate offices and across the street from the Widmer Brothers production facility – comes a little more than one year after the company scrapped a full-service kitchen that was located on-site amid rising labor costs and declining foot traffic.

In a post to the Widmer Brothers Brewing Facebook page, CBA cited “profitability challenges” and increasing competition from “over 115 breweries in the Portland Metro area” as reasons for the closure.

“As a result of the increased competition in the market and the pub’s more remote location in North Portland, we weren’t able to make the pub financially sustainable,” Jenny McLean, CBA’s director of corporate communications, wrote to Brewbound via email.

In a conversation with Brewbound, CBA chief operating officer Scott Mennen said that despite serving as a destination for beer tourists, and being located just a few blocks away from the Moda Center, where the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers play, it was increasingly difficult to draw local residents to the pub on a frequent basis.

“So much of it was location,” he said. “If you are not bringing the right people in the door, it is going to be a struggle. It was tough to get foot traffic to our location, and the money we were spending to support the pub just didn’t make sense anymore.”

Five employees were let go as a result of the move, and another three accepted new positions as tour guides and retail associates, Mennen added.

“We are going to continue to use the space for special events,” he said, noting that an adjacent retail shop would remain open and that the brewery would continue to sell beer to-go.

Meanwhile, an innovation brewery that is located behind the pub will remain operational and the company’s innovation brewmaster, Tom Bleigh, will continue to lead the development of new and experimental offerings, Mennen said.

“We will continue to crank out beers and this actually gives us more opportunity to have those beers in the local marketplace,” he said.

CBA recently hired a “small-batch” ambassador that is tasked with selling those products to Portland bars and restaurants, Mennen added.

Nevertheless, the closing of the Widmer pub is yet another attempt by CBA to improve the profitability of its own-premise business. Last June, the company converted the pub at its Portsmouth, New Hampshire, production facility into an “island-inspired” destination for Cisco Brewers, a Nantucket-based craft brewery that CBA eventually acquired three months later.

The move also comes about a year-and-a-half after CBA opened the Redhook Brewlab in Seattle after 20 months of building and planning.

Still, those locations remain a work in progress, Mennen said.

While the Cisco Brewers rebrand helped to improve trends in New Hampshire, the Redhook Brewlab is still “not as profitable” as executives would like, said Mennen, citing higher overhead.

“Pubs are all about showcasing the brand and adding value to the company,” he said. “And Brewlab is an area that we continue to focus on.”

CBA isn’t the only established Portland, Oregon, brewing company to close a retail establishment in recent months, however.

Citing a “challenging restaurant market,” FIFCO USA-owned Portland Brewing closed its taproom last November after more than 30 years of operation.

One month earlier, the 22-year-old Alameda Brewing announced the closing of its pub and taproom.

Additionally, Lompoc Brewing closed its original tavern location after more than 20 years last September.

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