PORT ORCHARD — When Cody Morgan was 6 years old and living in Manchester, he started to dream big.
Not of becoming a professional athlete or a fireman like many boys his age, mind you. Cody wanted to own and operate his own business.
He’s 27 now, but the dream burns bright. And today, Morgan and a collective of owners now have a share of Peninsula Beverage Company, or Peninsula BevCo, Port Orchard’s newest Bay Street business, which has an extensive row of brewed beer taps and literally hundreds of bottled and canned labels stacked into a row of refrigerated cases.
In the industry’s parlance, it’s a brew taproom and meeting place for beer lovers of all stripes.
But BevCo’s reality was preceded by plenty of baby steps, fueled by big dreams.
He made his first foray into the business world a few years back when he opened a diminutive beverage bottle shop in Manchester, leveraging the skills he picked up from college classes in entrepreneurship at the University of Washington.
The little shop — Morgan said it wasn’t much larger than a small office — was a big step removed from his big dream at the time to start a brewery in Manchester. Morgan — himself a home beer brewer — and his business partner, Blake Ecklund, spent the next year and a half cultivating customers and lining up a broad spectrum of beer labels and brew categories that were new to the area.
When the pieces didn’t fit together for a brewery at the location — the owner of the building housing the little shop felt it wasn’t the right time to take on that effort — Morgan began searching throughout Port Orchard for a site that might work for his dream of one day owning and operating a tap house and beer “bottle shop” with potentially the space to one day open a brewery.
Last year, Morgan found a suitable storefront location in a downtown Port Orchard historic building at the corner of Bay and Frederick streets, across from the bustling Josephine’s Mercantile store.
“I checked all the vacant spots throughout the town,” the 27-year-old entrepreneur said. “This spot wasn’t available at the time last year, but the building owner said the tenants in the corner suite would be moving out in a month.
“I remember having this kind of nervous, excited feeling you get when you think, ‘Should I do this? Should I not?’ I’ve always felt like when you have an opportunity, you have to go for it,” Morgan said.
A tough sell
But his enthusiasm wasn’t shared by others.
“Every single person told me not to do it. My parents, all my friends, everybody I talked to urged me not to,” Morgan said with a smile. “That was a time a year and a half ago when half the stores on this street were vacant. It didn’t look promising.”
Still, his dream of owning a business that would make a difference and his faith in a reimagined downtown Port Orchard drove him to plunge ahead. Morgan and Ecklund gathered a group of investors — a collective, as they like to call them — who pooled a modest amount of funding and provided the sweat equity needed to pull off the effort.
Morgan devised a unique business plan in which those partners who work at the space only take tips as income. Profits are instead reinvested into the business. Fifteen percent of the ownership is being set aside for employees. So far, there aren’t any paid staff — the partners work the taproom on a day-to-day basis, and some friends volunteer to help out.
The collective meets every week and votes democratically about business decisions. Everyone has a say in how things operate, Morgan said.
Two of their business partners are Morgan’s parents, Harlan and Sylvia Morgan of Manchester. Also part of the collective is Tanner Mueller of Southworth, David Wallis, Bob Frazer and Sara Arrowsmith.
Morgan and Ecklund got the location under lease in March 2018. It’s a space wild with potential but was riddled with challenges. When they took it over, the interior was trashed. It wasn’t until Jan. 7 that the Peninsula BevCo opened its doors to the public.
“It took us that long to build it out and get it open,” Morgan said. “We had a low budget and we had to do all of the work. We didn’t pay anyone to do any of the work. We did the plumbing and electrical ourselves, all of the craftsmanship, everything. I couldn’t just pay somebody to do the work — that’s why it took longer.”
The duo and the small team of helpers had to interrupt their rehab work there last year when, with just nine days to prepare, a friend, Marty Kellogg, who runs the Olalla Americana Festival, came to them with a request.
“Marty asked us to open a beer garden there because whoever they had lined up backed out at the last minute,” Ecklund said. “We killed it, were successful and made a lot of money. We got our name out there quite a bit too.”
After that delay — albeit a valuable learning experience for them at the festival — the team jumped back into their remodeling work.
“There was no bar here,” Ecklund said. “The floor covering was completely different. We had to do all the trim. Everything you see here, we slowly designed it over time.”
After opening the location in January, they said their business has been encouraging. Morgan said business since opening day “is better than I could have even hoped for.”
“We’re super-excited. Every week has been better than the last week,” Sylvia Morgan said prior to the collective’s business meeting Tuesday evening.
“What we’re trying to do is brew a community.”
The partners’ enthusiasm overflows not only about the offerings they are bringing to customers but to the community as a whole.
“Our goal is for this to be a place Port Orchard loves,” Cody said. “We also want this to be a place that can attract people from outside the area. For out-of-towners, up to this point, there’s not a lot of things here that they would come here for.”
From early indications, the taproom’s customer base runs wide. Morgan and Ecklund said the customers’ ages range from the early 20s to the 80s. Ecklund said he believes the average age of a BevCo customer is in the 45- to 50-year range.
“You come in here on any day and you might see someone who is 21 on up to 80,” Morgan added. “You see all ages.”
“It’s definitely the number-one place to meet people. We see people interacting who’ve never met before, but they’ll start talking about beer, and then to other things.”
Morgan and Ecklund are especially gratified that their regular customers from the Manchester bottle shop are now part of the scene at the new location in Port Orchard.
Whether they’re a regular or new to the spot, Morgan and Ecklund say they are certain there is a beer style and flavor that will satisfy every tastebud.
So, what’s popular with most tastebuds who visit?
Ecklund said it’s the Peanut Butter Stout beer distributed by Belching Beaver Brewery in San Diego. He said the taste reminds of Reese’s Puffs cereal. He’s also a fan of City of Dreams brewed by Fort George Brewery.
“I’d give it to a girl. I’ll give it to an old man. Everyone likes it. It’s a really light beer that we’ve had on tap six times. It always runs out every weekend.”
The partners also provide an array of ciders that have proven to be popular, especially with women. Ecklund said about 90 percent of cider drinkers are women.
While the hundreds of bottled and canned beer brands and the dozen or so taps are the obvious draw to BevCo, the business’s food is eliciting positive reviews.
“The menu is fairly simple,” Ecklund said, “but it changes every week. We do small pub food bites, and the food is really good with a lot of flavors. We use high-quality ingredients and everything is homemade. The meat is slow-cooked and marinated in different beers.”
The most popular, the team agrees, has been the Bahn Mi Sandwich. The Bahn Mi Tacos also are big sellers. On weekends, their grilled cheese specialties sell well, they said.
Dream of a brewery
Morgan, still marveling at the success of their taproom so far, still harbors a dream: to create and operate a brewery in a larger space downtown. The old Myhre’s building, perhaps, one day?
With his location in the middle of a promised redevelopment along Bay Street, he’s plotting the future for the business.
“We are at the center of this rebuild downtown,” Morgan said. “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to be doing yet. But the future could include a brewhouse. We want to be a part of reimagining Port Orchard.”
Note: In the March 22 print edition of the Independent, the front page photo cutline didn’t match with the correct image. It should read: The Peninsula BevCo Collective (left to right): David Wallis, Sylvia Morgan, Cody Morgan, Harlan Morgan (at front), Tanner Mueller and Blake Ecklund. Not pictured: Rob Frazer and Sara Arrowsmith. (Bob Smith | Independent)