The summer solstice, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, is cause for celebration here in the 49th state.
Not far from the entrance to Denali National Park and Reserve in Interior Alaska, the 49th State Brewing Co. was certainly hopping during solstice in June. The brewery-restaurant and four other businesses that comprise Denali Visions 3000 hosted the inaugural Solstice Brew Fest.
The week-long festival featured live chats with all forms of “beer-fully” great knowledge, music and food.
“Everything went very well,” said David McCarthy, one of Denali Visions 3000’s co-owners. “More than 1,500 people showed up for events over the course of the week. For a town of some 996 people, that’s pretty impressive. It allows us to think we’re doing something right.”
The solstice soiree near Healy proved a great success for 49th State and showcased the continued growth and popularity of Denali Visions 3000. The corporation is made up of 49th State Brewing Co., the Denali Park Salmon Bake restaurant, Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse, Sled Dog Groceries & Liquor and McKinley RV & Campground.
The 49th State Brewing Co. opened in 2010. The brewery and restaurant feature award-winning handcrafted beers, sustainably-produced food that often includes the beers among the ingredients and an energetic atmosphere right in the heart of Alaska.
McCarthy and Jason Motyka are co-owners of Denali Visions 3000. Originally from Anchorage, Motyka first arrived in the Healy area about 12 years. A Chicagoan and chef by trade, McCarthy never planned on living and working in Alaska. He was about to open a restaurant back in the Windy City when a vacation and a classified ad looking for summer help brought him to Denali in 2007.
A year later, Denali Visions 3000 was named the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Team of the Year.
“The recognition was certainly a big deal for us,” said McCarthy, 38. “We had a vision for what we wanted to do in the area and to create good will in our community. The demand was there to expand, to open additional restaurants like 49th State.
“We had a productive system in place and looked to duplicate the system for the other businesses.”
Managing five separate businesses during a mostly seasonal time (May-September) each year in one of the nation’s most-beautiful locales brings unique challenges. A few examples include hiring and maintaining personnel, upkeep and expansion of infrastructure and all financials. And while those don’t read differently from the job of running any other business, Denali Visions 3000 starts each year anew.
“Almost from scratch,” McCarthy said. “Some of the businesses get closed down completely in the offseason, no water, no electricity. It’s kind of like we reopen from the ground up each spring.”
McCarthy and Motyka said a healthy, long-standing relationship with First National Bank Alaska has eased many concerns related to the financial aspects of keeping the businesses in line. Motyka either visits or calls the bank’s Healy Branch on an almost daily basis and is always pleased to chat with Branch Manager Marty Crow and the branch’s staff.
Senior Vice President Bill Renfrew has worked closely with Denali Visions 3000 throughout the years, solidifying lines of credit and financing for needed equipment. Renfrew is based some 110 miles away in Fairbanks, but Motyka said the banker’s always treated him with the helpful nature of a next-door neighbor.
“On a personal basis, Bill really believed in us,” said Motyka, 33. “The entire bank, really. When we decided what we were going to try to do, I called about a line of credit. I was just some 25-year-old guy.
“The bank had to be asking itself if we knew what we were doing. It took a chance on us, and we can’t thank people like Bill, Marty and (Healy Branch Operations Supervisor) Julie Shorey enough.”
A master brewer as well as a chef, McCarthy takes the beer-brewing process seriously. The 49th State Brewing Co.’s beer selection includes eight house specialties, some seasonal selections and the five-beer Hibernation Series. The beverages feature names like “Solstice IPA,” “White Peach Wheat” and “Dubbel On Tundra.”
It all sounds pretty tasty. But McCarthy and Motyka don’t spend their days pouring themselves pints.
“We always make the same joke with one another – we have to make sure we’re all in,” Motyka said. “Every time we’re up repairing a roof or cleaning out a septic tank, we look at one another.
“Yep, we’re all in.”
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