Scuttlebutt owner is named entrepreneur of the year

  • By Jennifer Sasseen For The Herald Business Journal
  • Friday, May 1, 2015 3:46pm
  • BusinessEverett

Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. owner Phil Bannan Sr., the Herald Business Journal’s Entrepreneur of the Year, is a man known for his capability at the helm.

He’s been a Port of Everett commissioner as well as executive director of the Port of Everett. He was also executive director of the city of Everett under former Mayor Ed Hansen.

“Phil has a reputation of being bright, having common sense and being very ethical,” said Jim Langus, who was Everett’s top administrator, in charge of day-to-day operations, when Bannan worked for Hansen.

Raised in Los Angeles, Bannan first came to Everett in 1967 to work for Western Gear Corp., a heavy-machinery manufacturer started by his grandfather and employing some 3,000 people across the country. The job took him to several cities in 10 years, but he and his family finally settled in Everett in 1977.

Western Gear, which built the turntable on which the Space Needle restaurant revolves for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, was later sold to a Midwestern company. Its former site on the Everett waterfront is now part of the U.S. Navy base.

These days Bannan, 75, owns a microbrewery near downtown Everett and a restaurant on the waterfront. He and his wife have four grown children: Maggie, twins Judy and Janet and son, Phil Jr., who manages the restaurant.

His father is a very smart man and a good sounding board, Phil Jr. said.

Car dealership owner Dwayne Lane, a regular at the restaurant, said he has a lot of respect for Bannan.

“He’s a self-starter, he’s loyal and he has vision,” Lane said.

Add to that a willingness to do whatever needs to be done — whether it be sweeping the floor or hefting beer kegs — as well as a propensity to think things through before taking action, and it’s clear Bannan is the right guy for Entrepreneur of the Year, he said.

“I just think he’s as good as you’ve got in Everett,” Lane said.

Others agreed, including Langus and Port of Everett attorney Brad Cattle.

“Phil is such a terrific gentleman and a good person, I’m really glad he was chosen Entrepreneur of the Year,” Langus said.

Said Cattle, “He’s contributed significantly to the community through his public service, and he’s built a great family business.”

That family business, which today employs about 75 people, started with a home-brewing kit Bannan’s wife bought him in 1990.

“I’d seen an article about home brewing and I said, ‘Hey, that looks like fun,’” Bannan said. “And I guess my wife picked up on that.”

She’s the “Scuttlebutt” of the enterprise. Born to a Navy family in Norfolk, Virginia, Cynthia Bannan’s father gave her the nickname because her impending birth had been the scuttlebutt, or gossip, of the base. After begging him to stop when she turned 13, he dropped the “butt” and she’s been “Scuttle” ever since.

Mostly, she feels honored the company bears her old nickname, she said, though she doesn’t take it too seriously.

“Phil just ran out of ideas,” she said, laughing. “Everybody else had animals or mountains.”

Back to that home-brewing kit. Turns out, the beer he was able to make from it was pretty good, Bannan said.

Coupled with the fact that craft breweries seemed to be popping up everywhere, it got Bannan to thinking about starting his own microbrewery.

“They were growing at a phenomenal rate,” he said, “and it was the right time in our lives to make a change.”

His wife, now 71, was right there with him.

“I told Phil he wasn’t getting any younger,” she said, “and ‘if you’re going to do it, you’d better do it now.’”

Plans for a microbrewery changed course when it was discovered that zoning laws didn’t jibe with a brewery at the favored site on West Marine View Drive in Everett.

“The zoning code wouldn’t allow a brewery,” Bannan said, “but it’s OK to have a restaurant. And it’s OK for a restaurant to have a brewery in the back room.”

And so the Scuttlebutt restaurant was born along with the brewery.

Phil Jr., who was just out of college and helped with actual construction of the restaurant — completed by Gaffney Construction in 1996 — said his parents worked 14-hour days to get the restaurant up and running.

His oldest sister, Maggie, and her husband, Pat Doud — Scuttlebutt’s first brewer — also put in long hours.

“My parents and Maggie and Pat put in the real hard work of a start-up,” he said.

On July 4, 1996, Scuttlebutt brewed its first beer, taking Bannan from the five-gallon buckets of his home-brewing days to a 620-gallon — 20 barrel — tank system. The system included two 20-barrel fermenters and one 20-barrel bright tank, a tank used to clarify, mature and carbonate beer, as well as to store it.

That first year Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. brewed three styles of beer and sold 170 barrels. Today the company brews more than 20 styles of beer a year and in 2014, sold 7,635 barrels, shipping to at least 18 states and four countries: Canada, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

International shipping is what helps make Scuttlebutt Brewing one of the leaders in the craft beer industry, said Eric Radovich, executive director of the Washington Beer Commission, based in Shoreline.

“It’s one of the few craft breweries that even ships internationally, which I think is very entrepreneurial of them,” he said.

From four simple ingredients: water, hops, yeast and grain — mostly malted barley, but sometimes wheat — Scuttlebutt’s brewers, led by head brewer and 15-year Scuttlebutt veteran Matt Stromberg, create variations of the refreshing elixir Bannan never ceases to enjoy.

The company’s biggest seller is its Gale Force IPA, Bannan said. His favorite beer at the moment is the winter seasonal 10 Below ale, but he also likes the Weizenbock and is never averse to trying new brews.

“Beer has always been my favorite beverage,” he said.

Considering the growth in the industry, he’s not alone. In 2013, the latest years for which figures were available, there were 63 new breweries in Washington, Bannan said.

“With so many people entering the business, we wonder how long that can last,” he said. “But so far, they’re still jumping in.”

His advice to those making the leap: “Don’t expect to get rich.”

The brewery is profitable now, he said, but the restaurant turned out to be a good decision, as it carried the business in the early years.

He said his wife is just as much a part of the business as he is, and that credit for its success should be shared with family, friends and many others.

“We’ve had some really good, loyal employees,” he said. “And then, our loyal customers, who drink in our restaurant and buy our beer.”

Regardless, Phil Jr. said his father is the driving force behind Scuttlebutt.

“I think I would agree, it’s definitely a big team effort,” he said, “but he’s definitely the tip of the spearhead and we all follow him.”

Bannan’s wife Scuttle said, “We’re quite tickled for Phil,” being named Entrepreneur of the Year.

“He doesn’t like to draw attention to himself,” she said, “but he deserves it.”

Head brewer Stromberg attributes Scuttlebutt’s success to Bannan’s “frugal” business sense and his steerage toward slow but steady growth.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said of Bannan’s award, adding, “He does deserve the credit, and Scuttle too.”

The company has expanded several times since the restaurant first opened its doors nearly 19 years ago.

In 2007, the brewery moved to a larger location at 1320 Cedar St., near downtown Everett, more than tripling its space and allowing the restaurant to also expand.

Then in 2011, the restaurant more than doubled its size when it moved to the Port of Everett’s new Waterfront Center on Craftsman Way.

Once more the brewery is in the process of expanding, into space formerly occupied by a tenant at the brewery property on Cedar Street. Separated from the brewery by a concrete-block wall, the space will be largely rebuilt before the wall is knocked out to join the two properties, Bannan said.

The expansion will add about 5,300 square feet to the 7,500-square-foot brewery and mean the addition of at least two employees to the six-member brewery staff, he said. Production could increase to 24,000 barrels of beer a year.

As for Bannan, he said he’s still having fun in the business and has no plans to retire.

“I never want to,” he said. “A guy has to have something to do when he gets up in the morning.”

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