Three Creeks Looks Back at Growth over 10 Years

When you celebrate your 10th year of operation in 2018 that means as a brewery owner, you opened in a tumultuous time.
Wade Underwood acknowledged that it was a struggle at the start. Just days after celebrating with thousands of friends, family and fans in the home base of Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters, Oregon, he looked back at the last three years as a driver for the brewery’s growth — from around 2,000 barrels as a brewpub into a plan for more than 7,000 by the end of 2018 thanks to the addition of a 30-barrel brewhouse production facility in late 2014.
“It’s what’s driving the majority of the growth,” he said. “The restaurant has only got so much square footage so even with the seasonal nature of the business we are in (being in a tourist town), you can only grow so much until you have no more seats for people.”
Filling the seats was the main concern for Underwood to start. After moving back to Oregon from Phoenix with his wife, he settled in Sisters to open the town’s first craft brewery. He chose a brewpub because of the location.
“We’re about 20 miles from Bend and 20 miles from Redmond,” Underwood said. “Redmond had one brewery at the time and I want to say Bend probably had six. And I just thought that it made a lot of sense to try it here in our little community that we picked to live in.”
Once he could spend some time in the market, Underwood decided that they could have a successful shot at running a brewpub.
“So we jumped in and bought the dirt, designed the building from the ground up, hired the management team — which I’m part of — and we were off and running,” he said.
Things were “rocking and rolling” he said, until the economy fell out below them like it had for everybody else, Underwood and his team found themselves in the restaurant business with the worst economy since the Great Depression.
“That was a little bit scary,” he admitted. “We ground it out and made it. We managed to grow a little bit every year in the restaurant as well as the beer side.”
Underwood said he was lucky enough to get a good front of house manager who had been in the industry for 20 years and a solid chef for the back so he could run the brewing side of things.
“I got lucky. I had some good people that knew the business already,” he said. “I was running a large business beforehand. It just wasn’t a restaurant so all the business parts pieced together … but the actual hands on, I needed help with.
Underwood took on a job while starting the brewpub by waiting and bussing tables at local restaurants to learn a food-service setting.
“I’ve got a whole lot more respect for how hard a server’s job is,” he said. “You walk in someplace and understand intuitively what’s going on. So yeah, I have a lot of respect for my crew whether it’s the front of the house or the back of the house.”
The brewpub had about 800 square feet for a brewery, so growth past a certain points wasn’t much of an option.
“We had about a 1,000 barrels we could actually produce and ship to the market,” he said. “So we started trying to get into the distribution world with just one partner up in Portland and then we continued to grow and expand that reach throughout Oregon.”
Now Three Creeks are in portions of Washington while still looking for the right partners to work with in other areas, like southern Idaho, other parts of Washington and into California.
“It became clear to me that there was a lot of pent up demand for our beer that I couldn’t provide out of the pub,” he said, which led to the production facility opening in December of 2014.
“We grew 250 percent in the first year and really pretty much taxed out our stuff,” he said of the surge. “We’ve already added five tanks to our tank farm in three years and will probably continue to do that as the need arises.”

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