“We have three chefs, and put out quality food along with our beer,” said Zech. “That sets us apart from all the other breweries in Clark County.”
Zech acknowledged that the Laurelwood Public House and Brewery in Battle Ground also has a restaurant, but the beers they serve are crafted primarily in Portland.
According to Zech, other area breweries are “production breweries” that generate most of their revenue by shipping beer to other locations. In contrast, Mill City Brew Werks sells most of their beer in-house, with a limited amount on guest-tap at other places – more for marketing than for revenue, he explained.
Zech said Mill City produces 160 barrels of beer per month (a barrel equals 31 gallons) and has 12 styles on tap at any one given time – eight core beers (such as Alpha Ale IPA and Zech Bavarian Hefeweizen) and four rotating beers.
The Cedar Street location is another key to Mill City’s success, said Zech. Market research revealed that the east county was the place to be, and when Zech and LeDoux first started, the brewery was located in Washougal and was called the Washougal Brewing Company LLC. But when they found the Camas location, he said, it was “perfect.”
“Camas was trying to bring in businesses to revitalize downtown,” said Zech, “and I think we have been an asset in helping that occur.”
Of course, with the location change, the name had to change as well. Zech said they chose “Mill City” because it reflected the community – not just Camas and the paper mill, but also the woolen mill in Washougal, the lumber mills scattered across Clark County, and even the grain mills in Vancouver.
“It identified with the location but is not so specific we couldn’t grow,” explained Zech.
Speaking of growth, Zech said that over the next five years he hopes to open a couple more locations in Clark County and a production brewery that can produce a 50-barrel minimum, shipping to four or five states.
Besides listening to the community and finding the perfect location, Zech said two other factors that have been crucial to Mill City’s success – they’ve grown from 18 employees to 35 in just three and a half months – is startup capital and assembling the right staff to run and management the business.
Zech said he, who retired from the US Air Force after 22 years of active duty, and LeDoux, a retired Oregon National Guardsman, had enough capital between them to launch Mill City Brew Werks without needing additional funding.
“The more you don’t have to rely on another entity for capital, the better off you are,” said Zech.
Mill City Brew Werks is just one of several breweries that have opened in Clark County over the last year. Zech said that rather than engaging in fierce competition, all the breweries work together as a fraternity – more choices attracts more people.
“We’re building up a base on this side of the river to bring people here instead of them going to Portland,” said Zech. “We don’t want anyone to fail, because that harms the whole community.”