Most Olympians are familiar with the artesian well located on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia. But did you know that there are 95 other original artesian wells located throughout the downtown area? Most have been boarded up but a few are still providing drinking water. Wells 32 and 34 supply fresh water to The Spar and King Solomon’s Reef.
Chris Knudson, owner of Casa Mia restaurants, knew our town was dotted with these wells, but had no idea how many. Chris was intrigued by the history of the wells, too, understanding that the water all comes from the same strata as the wells used by Leopold Schmidt at the Olympia Brewery. Schmidt famously touted that the difference in his beer was “the water” and accessing that water today would firmly root a new brewery in the rich brewing history of our region.
Chris has always enjoyed looking at downtown real estate and has kept his eyes peeled for a good downtown site to open a brew pub. In 2015, he and his partners, brother Evan and father Bob, thought they had found the ideal site. After they discovered the building required extensive renovations and upgrades, they were ready to give up on the project.
However, when visiting Olympia City Hall, they ran into a friend, local contractor Scott Wall. He convinced their group to look at a building just across the street. 514 Fourth Avenue was originally part of Olympia Fireplace and Spa and, after a fire destroyed the building in 2011, was rebuilt and awaited a new tenant.
Chris, Evan and Bob were immediately impressed by the interior of the building. Exposed wood beams and a vaulted ceiling “screamed brew pub,” according to Chris. The façade features wide windows and includes an 11-foot high garage door, opening the building to the street outside.
The Knudsons were almost sold. It was then that the group walked towards the rear of the building and spied a large piece of plywood covering a portion of the floor. It was underneath the plywood that they discovered well 80 of the 96 artesian wells in the downtown core. An artesian well coming up through the floor in the building where they wanted to brew beer? It was almost too good to be true.
The brothers had their location and Olympia will soon have its newest craft brewery aptly named Well 80 Artesian Brewing Company.
Already successful restaurateurs, The Knudson family has enjoyed watching the revitalization of downtown Olympia take hold. “The economy has improved to the extent that we feel very comfortable opening a new business downtown,” says Chris. The Knudson family has been part of the Olympia core for two generations. “I would love to do something cool for downtown Olympia,” he explains. “We want to be Olympia-centric and a brewpub is a perfect fit.” The brewpub will be called Well 80 Brewhouse and will, they hope, become a community gathering place.
Chris is realistic about the limitations of a downtown location. “Lack of parking is always a concern,” Chris says. He is very encouraged by the development happening downtown, however, especially in the area of housing. “More people living downtown means more people walking downtown,” he adds.
Additionally, the Well 80 Brewhouse will have great access to bike parking directly in front of the building and Chris believes they will have a product worth walking for.
Chris shares how the neighboring businesses, even the competing brew pubs, have been friendly and collaborative. “I truly believe in the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats,” he shares. “We can all share in our success and help Olympia become one of the brewing hubs of the Northwest. I see Olympia following in the model of Bellingham which has numerous breweries and conducts fairs and brew tours for locals and draws tourists,” Chris continues.
The City of Olympia has been very positive and extremely helpful throughout the process. “Mayor Selby has been great and we have worked extensively with Renee Sunde, Economic Development Director, who is really working hard to facilitate downtown growth,” he explains.
Well 80 Brewhouse will feature a family section along with indoor and outdoor seating. The open concept will allow diners a full view of the actual brewery operation as well. Patrons will see the fermenters and the grist case, which houses the grain, from all seating areas in the restaurant. The atmosphere will be warm and inviting with a fireplace and tables that have been hand made by Chris’ father, Bob.
The first order of business is to hire a brewer. Chris has met with several and tasted some great samples of their beer. Well 80 will have their own lager and an IPA to start. Other varieties will depend on the brewer. “I would love to see a barrel-aged program and maybe some sours, but we will see what direction our brewer wants to go,” says Chris. “We want to be a cutting-edge brewery,” he adds.
Well 80 Artesian Brewing Company hopes to be open for business by the end of the August. I can already envision the garage door up on a beautiful day with the sun glinting off the kettles. The grand opening cannot come soon enough. Olympia is waiting for a cold beer.