Imagine a cozy, neighborhood taproom where you can go after work to relax and bartenders know you by name, and you’re surrounded by friends in a welcoming atmosphere. In Kent, there are two such places – Airways Brewery & Tap Room in the Kent Valley (100 S. 196 and Airways Beer & Bistro in downtown Kent (320 W. Harrison St.)
Kelly Uhlenkott, 28, frequents both. In fact, that’s where she met her boyfriend Eric. Uhlenkott, who lives and works in Kent, likes how calm and quiet the Airways locations are, and as a woman, feels comfortable going there by herself after work.
“It’s a little classier than your average bar without being pretentious,” Uhlenkott says.
She loves the family feel where everyone is welcome, and the staff is warm and friendly. She goes to Airways a few times a week, with friends or alone, to enjoy the Chocolate Stout or Maylani’s Coconut Stout and sometimes to grab a bite at the bistro. Though she visits both locations, she really enjoys the fun feel of the bistro.
“It’s really bright and energetic,” Uhlenkott says. “It’s very welcoming; I never have a bad time when I go.”
Owned by Alex and Dione Dittmar and Robby and Debbie Leviton, the Airways concept started in 2008 when Alex won first place at the San Diego Fair for his English pale ale. It was Alex’s first competition, and his favorite award. He beat out 53 other microbrewers and was hooked. Alex’s success making his own beer would eventually become Airways Brewing Co.
“I wanted to make something tangible, but I just didn’t know what it was until I discovered home brewing,” Alex said.
In March 2010, the Dittmars opened Airways Brewing Co., starting with a 20-seat taproom open only on the weekends. Founder and head brewer Alex kept his full-time marketing job at Alaska Airlines and Dione kept hers in Redmond while they tested the waters of business ownership.
“We started small here with a year lease with the idea that if it didn’t work, we could just close up shop. Sure, we would have lost some money, but we’d recover,” Alex explained.
By combining Alex’s passion for beer and his long-time love of jet planes, Alex and Dione developed a central theme for Airways Brewing Co. which is reminiscent of a more romantic era of travel – think Mad Men! Their beers (Sky Hag IPA, Pre Flight Pilsner, Loud Lady, Final Departure), the décor and the personality of both the taproom and the bistro reflect this fun, upbeat theme, one that resonates with customers whether they are affiliated with the airplane or airline industries or are just there to enjoy the beer.
The taproom quickly became a local favorite in the Kent Valley, drawing locals during the week and tourists on the weekends. The Dittmars knew they needed to expand. After initially brewing their beer in Seattle, they added their own 10-barrel brewing system. Next, taking on longtime friends Robby and Debbie Leviton as business partners, the Airways’ owners planned their next expansion, growing the tap room to 40 seats in July 2011.
Simultaneously, they planned a second location, Airways Beer & Bistro, which opened in November 2011, to seat an additional 35 guests. In late 2012, Airways began bottling its beer for sale at local bottle shops, and in early 2013, it began selling its beer in cans. Airways products are also sold online to 37 states.
Dione, who serves as Airways’ general manager and marketing director among other roles, attributes some of the company’s success to the visibility of the industry, but she adds, “We work really hard for it.”
More importantly, however, the owners and staff really strive to provide great customer service and fresh, high quality products in an inviting atmosphere. This includes the Airways beers, all created by Alex, as well as the bistro’s Seattle-centric food which Dione describes as locally made and globally inspired. Serving lunch and dinner, the bistro is known for its flatbread pizzas including customer favorites like the bacon, tomato and arugula and the black forest ham and apple pizzas.
“Community is our priority,” Dione explains. “I think we’ve created a place where people feel comfortable. They know we’re real people and we care.”
For more information about Airways, including taproom and bistro hours, seasonal food and beer selections and upcoming events, visit AirwaysBrewing.com.