Submitted by The Cider Barrel
When Olympia’s Mayor Cheryl Selby spoke at January’s Thurston Chamber of Commerce luncheon, using pom poms to proclaim that she wanted to be the city’s biggest business cheerleader, local entrepreneur Troy Kirby felt that he had made the right decision to invest in the downtown area.
Kirby launched The Cider Barrel, a cider bar at 168 W 4th Avenue, in the historic Mottman Building. It is a reverse tap house concept focused on multiple draft hard cider options, wine and hard seltzer. The June 13 soft opening attracted 57 customers, and Kirby plans to do pop-up hours in a speakeasy form through their social media channels until mid-August.
“I wanted a place that had multiple hard ciders on draft, in a place that wasn’t large and surrounded by a more natural environment,” he said. “We’ve taken reclaimed cedar to cover the walls, and live-edged wood for the counter tops and tables. Another focus is minimal waste, where we have glass ware, an aluminum can recycling program and 2-ply napkins that absorb more liquid but feel like cloth, to be ecologically friendly.”
Several of the ciders include non-corporate distributed options such as Bull Run (Forest Grove, Oregon), Slake (Carlton, Oregon) and Independent Cider (Dryden, Washington). The goal is to provide an experience of ciders that normally don’t get on the taps of area bars, but should.
Kirby, 44-years-old, said that he sought the vibrancy of the late 1980s/1990s downtown, where he would spend hours walking around the city with his grandmother, Birdie Johnson.
“There are a lot of opportunities to bring customers back to this area,” Kirby said. “I am excited to see the new construction happening, as well as new businesses investing in converting the empty storefronts downtown. We’re going to build the conversation that downtown is a place that people should want to return to as customers.”
Up until now, a majority of Kirby’s business interests have been in his home town of Lacey. That includes a sports consulting business, a family fun center, and several other smaller companies. “Lacey is a great city run effectively, their mayor writes a personalized note to every new business that starts up in his city,” Kirby said.
In 2017, Kirby launched the Lacey Pocket Gophers Football Club, creating more semi-pro opportunities for the local South Sound players. Over the past two years, the team’s home matches at South Sound Stadium have averaged about 275 fans per match.
“There wasn’t a real family friendly sports and entertainment option in the area,” Kirby said. “So, we went out and created one.”
Kirby was awarded the 2019 Lacey South Sound Chamber Entrepreneur of the Year Award, boasting a marketing plan that included two mascots, Digger and Nutmeg, at various events around the community. Last season, Kirby brought in a $15,000 t-shirt launcher, which fired off 80 t-shirts in five seconds over 120 feet.
“Everyone in traditional soccer said that no one would want bounce houses, food trucks, music during the game, or anything that distracted from what was happening on the field during a semi-pro soccer match,” Kirby said. “Turns out, they might have been incorrect in their assessments.”
Kirby said that listening to customers was important over non-customers who tend to complain more. That includes his experience when he took over as managing partner of Charlie’s Safari in May 2019. He believes that establishing meritocracy that rewarded employee work performance over years at the company solidified the turn around. Charlie’s Safari is currently slated for reopen in Phase 4 of Governor Inslee’s plan. “For the first 10 months, I didn’t have to let one person go,” Kirby said. “It isn’t just about paying $15 an hour and leaving it at that. You’ve got to make sure that they are invested, that they believe you are invested in them, in order to get the results for the customer and the employee.”
Kirby said that there are multiple opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest in Downtown Olympia. “All you have to do is look past the stereotypes and actually see what is possible,” he said. “Once we are back to normal, there will be plenty of places for new small business retail and restaurants, along with customers eager to come back to this area. It’s about re-building the vibrant energy that I used to feel down here as a kid and hope to be a part of bringing back.”
The Cider Barrel
168 W 4th Avenue, Olympia (Next to Old Ben Moore’s)