Q&A: Michael LaLonde, President & CEO
By Jan Mitchell
Describe what your company does. How many employees do you have?
Deschutes Brewery is a family- and employee-owned craft brewery. Deschutes brews, packages and ships craft beer to 31 states within the U.S. and to several countries. Deschutes also owns and operates two Public Houses in Bend and Portland, and has tasting rooms at Bend’s production facility and in Roanoke, Va., as well as a pub at the Portland International Airport. Deschutes currently employs 515 people.
How long have you been in operation? How did your business get started? Why Oregon?
Deschutes Brewery opened the doors of the Deschutes Brewery Public House in downtown Bend in 1988. Bend was an unlikely place for our founder Gary Fish to open at the time, with the collapse of the timber industry and the brutal recession of the early ‘80s. However, the idyllic Pacific Northwest outdoor wonderland provided Deschutes with a backdrop to bring people together over really good beer. The concept of Deschutes' Public House was inspired by English public houses where all walks of life would meet and debate while enjoying a pint.
What makes your product unique?
Deschutes has a robust portfolio of award-winning craft beers and is constantly innovating with our small batch, experimental and barrel-aged brewing programs. At Deschutes we pride ourselves on our high quality standards and excellence in customer service.
What other businesses are dependent on what you do? How has the local community benefited?
As the original Central Oregon brewery, Deschutes helped put Bend on the map and now shares “Beer Town USA” with more than 30 breweries in the region, many of which got their start after their founders worked at Deschutes Brewery. We’re among the top 20 largest employers in Bend and have honored our longest held value, to help build a healthier society, since day one by supporting our local not-for-profit community with financial support for 31 years. We also work with many local farmers for the ingredients in our delicious menu items at the pubs and have used many local contractors as we have built the brewery over the years.
How has your business changed since it began?
In 31 years Deschutes went from a small public house in downtown Bend to the 10th largest craft brewery in the country, brewing close to 300,000 barrels annually with pubs and tasting rooms in Oregon and Virginia. We are now a family- and employee-owned company since forming an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) a few years ago.
What do you think your business will look like in five years?
We expect growth in the next five years. We’re innovating now more than ever, finding new ways to engage and grow our consumers with not only our brands, but at our pubs, at events, in social media and more. With these innovations we have to look for another round of expansion to our brewery in Bend.
What are your thoughts on the current state of manufacturing? Thoughts on the future of manufacturing?
Oregon can be an expensive place to operate. Additionally, state taxes and regulations are only making it more difficult and costly. We plan to work with our state representatives to make it an easier place to manufacture. For others, the regulations and taxes may be a deterrent to build a location in Oregon, but we love it here.
Why is it important to have manufacturing in Oregon?
Oregon has been our home for 31 years and is an important part of our culture. Being located in Bend has also helped in our recruiting efforts because it is such a great place to live. Tourism in Bend and the rest of Oregon continues to build our brand to this day because when visitors return home they associate the great time they had in Oregon with our brand.
What makes you excited to come to work every day?
There is never a dull moment around here and we’re problem solving on a daily basis. But most importantly it’s the company culture at the brewery that keeps me coming back. I am lucky to work with an incredible group of people every day.