Less than a year after it first opened for business, the Wishkah River Distillery is about to be sold to a new group of local businessmen who plan on expanding the products and aggressively pushing the brand of distilled spirits into bigger markets, such as the Seattle area.
The distillery, located in a designated Port of Grays Harbor enterprise zone designed to encourage and cater to new entrepreneurs and their start-up businesses, is being sold to a group that includes Josh Mayr, grandson of Werner Mayr of the Mayr Brothers Logging Co.
Current owner Sue Watts told Port commissioners yesterday she was having to sell the start-up company that specializes in making aged whiskey and vodka because her husband, Sid Watts, recently was transferred to Australia.
“I’d like to eventually join him,” she said.
Sid Watts had been the general manager of the Imperium Renewables plant at the Grays Harbor Port but recently left for Sydney, Australia, to become executive general manager at National Biodiesel Limited.
Sue Watts told commissioners she would continue with the business through a transition period as Mayr and his group applies for licenses to make and sell distilled spirits, and then she plans to turn the distillery over full time.
The new ownership group will be known as PCJP Holding LLC. Other operation mangers include Patrick O’Donnell and Chris Olsen.
“I just think it is a fantastic opportunity, both for myself and for them,” she said of finding someone like Mayr’s group to take over.
“We’re all local boys and we’ve all been around the Harbor a long time,” Mayr said.
The new group’s goal is to get more wholesale production and distribution started, since the distillery has been limited to a small tasting room off Port Industrial Road and mostly localized sales since products first became available to the public last November.
Most of the current products will be kept the same, but Mayr said he might tinker a bit with the labels, and there are plans for a gin offering, a cherry brandy and a new aged whiskey.
“We want to take what Sue has built and put some more steam behind it,” Mayr said. “We get the benefit of all her research.”
Watts currently has one employee and Mayr said the new group hopes to quickly expand once new markets can be established. The plan is to double production, sign with a distributorship and “aggressively market in Seattle and Portland,” he said.
After hearing of the plans, the Port commissioners unanimously approved continuing the distillery’s lease. The business will pay the Port $1,000 per month. The distillery is currently the only tennant in the building, though Barnes noted this morning that the Port is actively talking to other potential tennants.
“This is kind of a tough one, and I don’t mean that negatively,” said Leonard Barnes, Port deputy executive director. “Sue has been an awesome tennant and she has put her heart and soul into this thing.”
The distillery is located across from the main Port offices in a renovated building off Port Industrial Road designated as a Coastal Innovation Zone. The idea is to create a “business incubator tenant” for the facility, where companies can pursue new product development and collaborate in a building equipped with modern sustainable resources and laboratory facilities.
Watts’ business, which started research and development in 2010, is the first one to bring out a product, and selling the company might now pave the way for expansion. Money to renovate the building was initially part of a $1 million grant, along with another $500,000 from the Small Business Administration to purchase the building.
Mayr said it is now possible to distribute product to a far wider base once Initiative 1183 is put into place and the state is removed from the liquor business.
Port commissioners agreed Tuesday to allow Willis Enterprises to lease a hangar at Bowerman Airport for company flights. Willis Enterprises uses 25 acres of Terminal 3 to produce and ship wood chips.
Barnes said the company plans on making $300,000 in improvements to the building to house as many as two planes, and commissioners approved a 25-year lease at $265 a month.
The company, Port officials were told, uses a Cessna jet “that is vital to the business” as it expands, and are flying people back and forth between new facilities in Montana. The seven-passenger jet will have two pilots. Barnes said Willis has been a good tenant for the Port, and “it’s very important for the airport to see that kind of investment.”
“We think it’s a real positive,” Barnes said. “We hope to be able to build off that synergism and maybe attract some others that same way.”