A passion for craft beer launched 7 Seas Brewing. Persistence, timing, and the “alignment of the stars” kept it going.
After many setbacks and blessings in disguise, co-owner Mike Runion has a theory: “Things choose you.”
The 7 Seas Tacoma taproom and brewery at 2101 Jefferson Ave. celebrated its first anniversary in August. The 2,400-square-foot tasting room boasts an independent counter-service restaurant called 3uilt (pronounced Built).
3uilt serves shuck-to-order local oysters, artisan cheese platters, salads, and sandwiches. Try the Tacoma Trinity sandwich — a turkey sandwich with a fig and olive spread. Local favorite Valhalla Coffee is also served and roasts at the site.
This is an airy open space with history and character. It’s a place you go with friends, and to meet new ones. There are no TVs. The only time there is screen time is when screens are brought in for Seahawks games (because that is a sacred time around the PNW). And if the awesome atmosphere, amazing brews, super-fresh food, and coffee weren’t enough to bring people in — next spring, a soaring staircase will open up to a massive deck with views of the Tacoma waterfront.
The 80,000-square-foot building provides ample space to continue to ramp up production. The brewery is on track to produce 25,000 barrels this year, up from 8,000 barrels in 2015. The Tacoma brewery has the capacity to produce as much as 100,000 barrels a year.
While 7 Seas currently enjoys calm waters, the 8-year-old brewery hasn’t always experienced smooth sailing. In fact, Runion and business partner Travis Guterson have weathered many storms.
The first hurdle was the Great Recession, which kicked in the year the two set out to start their business. “The market tanked, and capital became hard to come by,” he says.
Eventually they found an angel investor and purchased a small amount of equipment. They found a 1,500-square-foot commercial space in downtown Gig Harbor and did all the renovations. In January 2009, on the eve of what was supposed to be the day the first keg was brewed, a space heater ignited an adjoining office, and their equipment was destroyed.
Though frustrating, Runion now considers the disaster a blessing in disguise. The original space lacked retail access, which would have hobbled growth.
Luckily the equipment was insured, and they were able to find a 3,000-square-foot building behind the Inn at Gig Harbor with a small taproom and an outdoor space.
“It was the whole Phoenix rising from the ashes to become better than before,” Runion says.
The 7 Seas beer products and tasting room, with an outdoor area, quickly caught on with Gig Harbor locals. By 2012, 7 Seas had outgrown the space and moved into 11,000 square feet of the former QFC building on Judson Street in downtown Gig Harbor.
“When we first got there, I couldn’t walk around at 9 o’clock at night. We had to work with the city to get streetlights, clean up debris, and fence that six acres across the street.”
Their growth continued. Retail sales remained stable, but the wholesale demand grew. Unable to keep up with the growing demand, 7 Seas attempted to acquire more space in the Gig Harbor location to expand its brewing capacity, but lease negotiations were unsuccessful.
By 2014, it had become apparent that — once again — the brewery operations would need to be relocated.
Finding a proper property with a mix of retail and industrial space is no easy task. The two searched Gig Harbor, Fife, and Tacoma for suitable locations.
Eventually, the old Heidelberg Brewery emerged as the best choice.
“The building itself was ideal,” Runion says. “It’s the only one that checked all the boxes. It had loading docks, a tall ceiling, it was on the sewer and sits over a 700-foot Artesian well.”
Not to mention the cool fact that it was historically a brewery. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Runion says.
The two were intrigued by its proximity to the 80-foot-wide Prairie Line Trail, which cuts right behind the building.
The building itself had been well-maintained. It was most recently used as art storage for Chihuly Art Studio. Some artist treatments had been done in the building as well.
The exterior had intentionally been left to look unassuming to disguise the fact that valuable art was stored inside.
The building’s façade was dilapidated. At the time of the purchase, the area around the building had a higher rate of crime and homelessness. “When we first got there, I couldn’t walk around at 9 o’clock at night,” Runion says. “We had to work with the city to get streetlights, clean up debris, and fence that six acres across the street.”
But Runion and Guterson saw the potential of the building and had a vision.
Just south of 21st and across the street from University of Washington Tacoma, the zone was next in line for rehabilitation and development.
“It was one of those things that we kind of had to jump on,” Runion says. “By the time the area is developed, who knows if we’d be able to afford it?”
Runion beams with optimism when he talks about the development of the Prairie Line Trail and it will link the area south of 21st with the rest of downtown Tacoma.
More promising is the “crown jewel” across the street. The 6.4-acre grassy lot between 21st and 23rd streets is slated for development. Plans are to create a mixed-use space.
With the Tacoma site getting most of the attention and doing most of the beer production, many Gig Harbor patrons expressed concern that the taproom will abandon its hometown. Not to worry, Runion reassures.
“We will always have a presence in Gig Harbor. We aren’t leaving that town.”