Intrigued by the city of Madras' efforts to recruit a brewpub to downtown Madras, restaurant owner and chef Roberto Cardenas, of Bend, came up with a plan.
Cardenas, who owns the Islas Rio restaurant in Sisters, is preparing to open Madras Brewing Co. — an upscale restaurant with a variety of brews on tap, in the Harriman Building, as early as next month.
While he does not plan to brew his own beer, he will be partnering with the owners of Mystic Roots Brewing, of Terrebonne, to offer a new line of locally produced brews.
"We're excited about Roberto and what he's proposing," said Rick Allen, former mayor and partner in the BrickHouse Group, which owns the Harriman Building. "Harold Siegenhagen (another partner) and I have been working on this for a couple months. We've had other people who wanted to rent it, but we turned them down."
"After over 18 months of work, the city and community is seeing the fruits of its labor, and we have an experienced restaurateur who will be opening the Madras Brewing Co.," said Nick Snead, director of the Madras Community Development Department, which was behind the city's recruitment effort.
The city spoke with more than 34 people from all over the country who expressed interest in the city's offer of financial assistance to someone starting a brewery or brewpub in Madras. The assistance, offered through the Madras Redevelopment Commission, could be applied to costs for architecture, engineering, permits, site development, building renovation, or other forms of assistance.
"It's been a challenging recruitment, as those interested in opening a brewpub have certain needs and expectations, and so does the city and the community," said Snead.
"We certainly know more about the industry, having gone through the recruitment process," he said. "City staff and the community continue to believe there is unmet demand and brand loyalty for locally derived craft beer."
Although assembling capital for a new business can be difficult, as it was for a couple of those that started the application process, "This industry has no shortage of examples of breweries or brewpubs that have started up on little to no capital and are wildly successful today," said Snead.
Cardenas is not currently planning to go through the city's process to obtain financial assistance. Instead, for now, the brews offered at his restaurant will be brewed elsewhere.
"I'm starting small," said Cardenas, who is in the process of creating his menu. "Right now, my main focus is here. I've learned in the past, you have to focus."
The restaurant will feature "steaks, hamburgers, pizzas — anything locals want. I'm going to get produce locally, and beef locally, and even the bakery," he said. "We're building a menu that will represent Central Oregon."
Entrees will be priced from about $12-$28, Cardenas anticipates. "We will have lunch specials for soup and salad at about $8 — something people can afford."
Many in the community will remember Cardenas from his first local business, Rio, which he opened in 2009, and later sold. From that start, he opened Rio restaurants in Redmond, Sisters and Kennewick, Washington. The Sisters restaurant is the only one he still owns.
"My time here, I made some of the best friends I have in Central Oregon," he said. "Madras, for me, has been great all the time. From all the towns that I've been in, I have the most friends in Madras."
Cardenas is delighted to be able to set up his restaurant in a location with a full kitchen. He's in the process of making changes to the interior to fit his plans.
"Location makes a big difference," he said. "The kitchen is huge. You can see what the staff is doing and what the customer needs."
Snead pointed out that the former Geno's location is the last available commercial building in Madras with a modern kitchen. "If you just have a building and have to build the rest, it's a huge cost," he said. "Location matters and amenities matter."
The Harriman Building was built on the site of a major blight removal effort by the Madras Redevelopment Commission. From June 2005 through August 2006, the MRC spent $1,585,000 to purchase six properties on or around the old sandstone "hump" along Fourth Street. In the end, the MRC spent about $1.8 million to purchase and remove the six buildings, and nearly 7,500 yards of dirt, in order to level the property where the Harriman Building now stands.
"The past investment: buying the property, cleaning it up and selling it to the BrickHouse Group — an amazing group of investors — has allowed us to work with Roberto," said Snead.
In their search for a tenant for the former Geno's location, Allen said, "We heard loud and clear from the community what people wanted to see. Some wanted a brewery. Ultimately, they wanted a place that was nice and had something beyond brewery fried food."
In the brewing industry, some breweries and brewpubs offer small, pub-style menus, while others offer full menus.
"We wanted something that would provide good food, a fun atmosphere and, if a brewery is part of it, that's a plus," Allen continued. "When Roberto came to us, he was all of those things. The city's marketing plan on a brewery made people aware of what we wanted."
A native of Guadalajara, where he started working in restaurants and night clubs when he was only 15, Cardenas, 43, graduated from the Guadalajara Pure Homeopathic School in 1995. After opening an office and practicing homeopathy for four years, he returned to Puerta Vallarta and started working in a bar, took classes in a culinary school, and learned how to cook.
In 2001, Cardenas moved to the U.S. He has three sons, Nicholas, Christopher and Ethan, and plans to move back to Madras, where he intends to support causes, hold fundraisers and generally get involved in the community.
"When I first came to Madras, people were telling me, 'Why Madras?' I said, 'Why not?' The first six months were hard, but after those six months, it was nonstop," he said. "That motivates me to stay in town."
In searching for the right restaurant for his building, Allen said, "Our desire was to complement the many establishments that currently offer a variety of options. This will give folks and tourists a new option that has been missing — a brewery type of atmosphere."
The MRC's offer of financial assistance remains on the table. "I really believe that initially, we may not see the moderately-sized craft brewing capacity and pub in Madras, but over time we will; certainly, that is the industry trend," said Snead. "Our hope is that the taphouses and small brewpubs are successful, and allow those businesses to grow and thrive."
"Knowing that the city's willing to help in the future, that's a great incentive," said Cardenas, who considers himself an entrepreneur. "Microbrew's the industry now. I'm very open to starting new projects."
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