Olympia’s Fish Brewing Co., unable to pay its debts, is in receivership

Homegrown Fish Brewing Co, a business that got its start in Olympia 26 years ago, is in financial trouble, according to Thurston County Superior Court records.

They show the business at 515 Jefferson St. SE owes creditors more than $4.8 million, but only has assets of $2.6 million. Fish Tale Brew Pub, which is part of Fish Brewing, operates across the street from the brewery.

“Fish Brewing is unable to pay its debts as they become due,” court documents read.

The petition to appoint a receiver was filed May 22. The result is a Kirkland-based business called McCallen & Sons is now in control of Fish Brewing’s assets.

“The receiver shall have exclusive possession and control over the debtor (Fish Brewing Co.) and its assets, with the power and authority to preserve, protect and liquidate those assets and to distribute the proceeds thereof to the party or parties legally entitled to them,” the documents read.

The court filings show a long list of creditors, including South Sound Bank of Olympia, which has since been acquired by Timberland Bank of Hoquiam. South Sound Bank was owed $1.3 million.

Fish Brewing President and Chief Executive Sal Leone emailed a short reply to a request for comment from The Olympian.

“Operating as normal,” he said. “Trying to refinance or find new ownership.”

He declined further comment.

It’s been a tough year for Fish Brewing.

Its Point Ruston brewpub, which opened in December 2017 at The Shops at Point Ruston, closed in February, The News Tribune reported. The Shops at Point Ruston, which also is identified as a creditor, is owed about $63,000, court records show.

Leone told the paper the market for brewpubs is difficult at the moment. And not just for Fish Brewing.

In Oregon, a number of notable breweries have closed in recent months, according to The News Tribune. Bridgeport Brewing closed in February, and both Portland Brewing and Widmer Brothers Brewing closed their public-facing locations (but both continue as brewing businesses).

Three Magnets Brewing Co. of Olympia co-owner Nate Reilly said the craft beer market has definitely become more competitive. A craft beer maker must have a nimble business model and cater to consumers who want hyperlocal products.

Regional breweries get into trouble when they turn out the same flagship product to customers craving diversity, he said.

“They want new beers all the time,” he told The Olympian.

The history of Fish Brewing

In 1993, Crayne and Mary Horton, and some local investors, opened Fish Brewing Company and Fishbowl Pub in downtown Olympia, according to Olympian archives.

Mary Horton left the company in 1999 and died in 2016. Crayne Horton could not be reached Thursday.

Court documents show both are still shareholders.

“It’s just sad,” said Lyle Morse, a former president, chief executive and chairman of the business, about Fish Brewing on Thursday.

Fish Brewing was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s. Morse helped the business emerge from that period and get its financial house in order, he told The Olympian in 2007.

Morse said Thursday that decisions to invest in out-of-town pubs and spread management too thin were the reason he left. He accepted a buyout and moved on, he said.

Fish Brewing acquired Leavenworth Biers in 2001, merged with cider maker Spire Mountain in 2005, and acquired Grapeworks Distilling in 2016, according to the Fish Brewing website.

Mike Reid, Olympia’s economic development director, said late Thursday that if Fish Brewing is looking for a buyer, it’s potentially an opportunity for another business.

“If ever there was a time for the community to come together, go down there right now, get a meal and show that there’s still a lot of community support,” he said. “That’s the hope.”

Rolf has worked at The Olympian since August 2005. He covers breaking news, the city of Lacey and business for the paper. Rolf graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1990.