Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Raising a pint translates into raising money for nonprofits

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 12.25.24 PM

If you quaff your next tasty craft beverage at Oregon Public House, you’re not going to be the only one it makes happy. You’ll be doing both yourself and the community some good.

Located in northeast Portland, Oregon Public House follows the typical Oregon brewpub recipe: great food and tasty beers. But it’s what they do with the money guests spend in the establishment that makes it special. Why? Because they donate 100% of the profits to local charities.

It’s not the normal business model, but the founders hope it will catch on. And with a Kickstarter campaign launching today, the impact can be even greater.

An idea begins to brew

The origins of the Oregon Public House can be traced back to a point 7 years ago. In a very different Portland from the one we know today.

“The recession hitting in 2008 meant two distinct realities for Portland,” said Stephen Green, one of the founding board members. “One, donations to nonprofits would be the first thing cut in slimming budgets, and two, beer consumption would increase.”

“Portland has more breweries than any other place in the US. It also has more nonprofits per capita than any other US city. We thought these two things would make the backbone for a great social enterprise.”

But going from a great social enterprise idea to an actual business required a focused approach. But Oregon Public House’s model is different than most establishments. It has no true owners; it is run by a board.

But how do you run a business without a CEO?

“Diversity is key, and all of our board members have very different skill sets,” Stephen adds. “Having the flattest organization possible means nothing gets lost in translation, egos are at a minimum, and stuff gets done.

“What we have learned from not having the head of the snake, you have to be brutally honest about your commitment to what we are trying to do or things can go downhill fast.”

“We started with the end in mind, that of getting money to charities ASAP. That meant bootstrap, elbow grease & some hustle. We committed to not taking on any debt so that from the first day we opened we were able to donate to our partner organizations. We have given money every month we have been open.”

Location, location, location

Before the doors could be opened, they needed a place with doors. The founding team located a building in the Woodlawn neighborhood, and with the likes of Breakside Brewery,  Good Neighbor Pizza and Firehouse Restaurant already in close proximity, Oregon Public House added to an already great food destination.

The actual process of getting the pub built out led to one of their biggest surprises.

“Without a doubt the biggest surprise has been seeing first hand the amazing giving nature of Portlanders,” Stephen said. “We spent two years building out the space before we opened and weekly folks would show up to paint, scrub & build things just because they loved our mission. We weren’t even open and we had people like Kurt Huffman and Bryan Steelman, who are big time restaurateurs, giving us advice and showing us the path to follow.”

“The best day was actually the first day we opened, when the woman who owns our building showed up with tears in her eyes and said that the place was finally the neighborhood living room that she had always imagined it would be.”

Going to the wisdom of the crowd

With a supportive neighborhood and community behind it since the opening, Oregon Public House has donated $47,000 to charities to date. That total in itself is impressive, but the board wants to make an even bigger impact.

That’s where the Kickstarter campaign comes in.

“The food business has small margins, typically only 10% in a restaurant if you’re killing it,” said Stephen. “To help increase ours, we want to go from only offering one of our own beers (The Do-Gooder IPA) to three, because the margins when we sell our own beer will be four times that of selling someone else’s. Buying a 20bbl fermentor & 24 kegs will allow us to increase the margins and diversity of our own branded beers, plus have the ability to sell Oregon Public House beers in other area establishments.”

All of which leads to an increase in the amount of money donated to charities, and the overall impact the company can have in the community.

But the concept they have created in Oregon Public House is one that is getting attention from not only other areas in Oregon, but nationwide, and while expansion is something that Stephen and the other board members see as a possibility, they are firmly focused on making this initial model rock solid.

“We have been approached to have other locations in Oregon and as far as New York, but honestly though we are still dialing things like processes, procedures, and operations. I have always said that being the first to do something means, ‘You have to be smart enough to know it’s a good idea, but dumb enough not to say no.’ ”

“The opportunity is that we remain laser focused on the idea of creating lasting relationships with the nonprofits we support and are motivated by them to do more and reach higher. We have some things planned for the next 12 months that will see more Portland firms be able to support local charities through our model, and shocker—lots more beer. “

But no matter what the future holds from a scaling standpoint, Stephen and the rest of the board are firmly aligned on what success means for the Oregon Public House, “Success means highlighting the work of—and writing checks to—the organizations that really do the hard work each month.”

And with the launch of their Kickstarter campaign, those checks could be a bit more impactful in the very near future. So here’s to supporting them and raising an #aletruistic pint.

For more information, visit http://oregonpublichouse.com/, or follow Oregon Public House on twitter and facebook


About author View all posts

Mitch Daugherty