When the Mountain Sun Pubs’ management announced their plans to open a brewery in Denver, the whole city rejoiced. No longer would Denverites have to endure a trip to Boulder for some of the finest, freshest brews on the Front Range. Tim McMurray, Managing Partner and Talent Buyer for the Mountain Sun, Southern Sun and Vine Street Pubs, sat down with me over one of his namesake quesadillas to discuss breaking into the Denver market, why the sign over the marquee and along the side of the building still says “Vine Street Pub & ”, and why you’ll probably never be able to get a Mountain Sun beer out of a bottle.
So, why open a pub in Denver in the first place? There are plenty in Denver already—and it’s not like the Mountain and Southern Suns are hurting for business. As Tim explained it, there were three main reasons: the Sun Pubs and Breweries have always had a sort of organic feel to their growth: once the Mountain Sun was packed all the time and more and more employees wanted to move up, grow with the company, and have a stake in the business, the Southern Sun was born. The second reason was simply to bring their business model to Denver, to introduce the same type of pub-and-brewery, staff-supported and motivated, organic-style business into the city. Finally, they needed another place to brew beer: even with the Boulder pubs cranking, the demand was so high that they’d already outgrown the Southern Sun. So they started looking around Denver in the spring of 2007, and by April of 2008 had opened the Vine Street Pub at 1700 Vine Street, smack in the middle of comfy Uptown Denver and just enough off of Colfax to retain an awesome neighborhood vibe.
To get the brewery going would take some more doing; at the time of this publication, the management team already has the zoning restrictions in place, but are waiting for their license. The cavernous part of the structure that will become the brewery will take a lot of work, but Tim anticipates that by late 2011, early 2012, they’ll have the brewery up and running. So, how does the beer get to the pub for now?
“We drive it down once a week from Boulder,” Tim replied. My jaw dropped slightly, and he grinned. Once the beer is brewed, he explained, it’s all taken to a warehouse in Boulder to be delivered as inventory demands. The pubs in Boulder get deliveries daily, and the Vine Street Pub gets a very carefully-chosen inventory of what they’ll need for the week, once a week. Hmmm…could we move that licensure process along a bit, please?
Would any of the Sun brews be bottled? He was shaking his head before I’d even finished asking the question. “I’m not going to say never, but there’s maybe a half-percent to a one-percent chance of that happening.” To do so, he explained, would mean filtering the beer, which would completely destroy its flavor and body and everything that makes Sun beer so good to begin with.
And it is good. And the food’s delicious. As I finished up my interview with Tim and tucked into the last couple of wedges of quesadilla, I watched Tim transition easily from his discussion with me to bartender, server, busser, or whatever else needed to be done. It’s tough to wrap your head around a restaurant/pub/brewery business model that includes profit sharing and health insurance for its employees, an excellent pay scale, and plenty of opportunity for motivated employees who want to move up and grow with the business...not to mention management working beside their employees. Looking around the packed pub—brimming with patrons on a Monday night—I couldn’t help but think that, whatever they’re doing, it’s been working so far.