The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

'Way of life' brings new owners to brewery

 

September 27, 2018

Courtesy photo

Rex Czuba and Javier Sanchez will soon be taking over the reins at River Mile 38 Brewery.

The owners of River Mile 38 Brewing Co. have quietly been looking for someone to take over the business for some time now. Little did they know, their future was already in the community, sitting at a table enjoying an Aye Aye IPA.

Community is a word that Rex Czuba and Javier Sanchez use a lot, and their impression of Cathlamet and Wahkiakum County would put a smile on anyone's face.

Czuba is originally from Macon, Missouri. He understands the charm of lightning bugs and a proper thunderstorm and works in the video department of Amazon in Seattle.

Sanchez comes from Woodburn, Oregon, and travels between Portland and Seattle managing a facilities maintenance company that handles electrical and engineering for big buildings, including airports, schools, and hospitals. The two met in Seattle several years ago, and have been sharing adventures ever since.

The corporate life has been exciting. They've lived in Spain and Brazil, but even then, their dreams were shifting, ever circular.

Sanchez's grandparents were self sustaining farmers, growing enough to feed the family, only buying coffee and sugar at the store.

Czuba, too, grew up in a family of farmers. His grandfather had been a dairy farmer in Utah, at one point owning a thousand head of cows. He also became an onion farmer and a tomato farmer before retiring and joining his son and his family, who were farming in Missouri.

"Back in the day you think to yourself as a kid, 'Where am I going? Why am I here?'" Czuba said. "And then when you are an adult, you think, those were the best moments that I had. Perspective is very important when you grow up."

They had been looking for a place to start a farm for seven or eight years, working with a realtor who showed them several properties all over the northwest. Nothing was quite right until they saw the land in the Elochoman Valley a couple years ago.

It was a perfect fit. The former owners have become friends, showing the two men where to find mushrooms, the berry patch, where to look for the deer that always has twins.

"I want to go work on the farm. We want to have our animals and get all our plants going," Czuba said. "We're talking to people on the island about what is growing well. We need to get some hoop houses going and all that good stuff."

"That's the plan," Sanchez echoed.

Well, that, and downsize the corporate life, to varying degrees. And now, a brewery.

"This is the dream," Sanchez said of Wahkiakum County, "out there is where the real world is."

The two had done a little home brewing and they really enjoyed coming into Cathlamet and hanging out at the brewery.

"I think we got the best sense of the community when we started going to the brewery and talking to people. You meet the farmer who produces the meat for parts of the community," Sanchez said. "You meet the goat creamery people; you meet the artisan who makes baskets. It's just fun. People from outside the community that come and see that are surprised at the sense of community. The musicians that play are so enjoyable. I've never been in a community where you have so many people with skills and artistic talent, but you see it come together at the brewery."

"We've met some really good people, made some really good friends already," Sanchez added. "The interesting thing about Cathlamet is how open the people are here. In Seattle you really don't know who your neighbor is sometimes. Here you know who your neighbor on the island is, what they do, what they specialize in. It brings you down to the roots of 'good life.'"

Spending so much time there, they were bound to make friends with the owners along the way. One day they were talking over drinks and the subject of the brewery came up in conversation. The owners were looking for the right people to take over their baby.

Czuba and Sanchez went home and talked. And talked some more. They sat down with the owners, the investors, the brewers, and the servers, one at a time. And they talked some more.

"That's when we thought it would be a good fit," Czuba said. "We need to learn from the people there and we've got things that we can help people learn. It's not about us coming in and taking over, but really being part of this little family at the brewery."

Mind you, there are still some hoops to jump through, but it's just a matter of time before the founders can step back and let Czuba and Sanchez step into the lead roles.

"They've built a really good momentum with the brewery," Sanchez said. "How can we help with our skill sets to go even further? The current owners are ready to hand it off and sit back and watch it grow."

"And drink!" Czuba laughed. "We tell them we want them to sit in front of the bar instead of behind it. They've worked a lot and done a great thing. We want to keep the ship steady and move forward."

So Czuba, who claims he was a CPA in a former life, will work behind the scenes, while Sanchez will do the "heavy lifting," utilizing the creative skills he's picked up while studying marketing and working in merchandizing in a large retail market.

"There are things that we can hear from the community that we can potentially do to make it even better," Czuba said. "I think that's the goal, but I think right now we want to keep it a great place for the community to come."

"The group at the brewery is gung-ho to watch it grow," Sanchez said. "We want to grow in the right direction, where we cater to community but are helping the business to become self sustaining and sufficient."

They love their new home, their new community. Along with an appreciation for what it is, they also have a vision to make it better for the people who will work along side them and walk through the doors of the brewery.

We're super excited to be here," Czuba said. "You don't just move in for the house, you move in for a different way of life. It's the best kept secret in Washington, if not the whole Pacific Northwest."

 

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