New Medford bar has entrepeneurial spirits

New Medford bar has entrepeneurial spirits

The departed spirits of past ventures hover about the present domicile of newcomer Jefferson Spirits on downtown Medford's East Main Street.

The bar, founded by Arthur Lee and Keet Beck-Brattin, is part new wrinkle, part transition and part dream. It's a not-so-dry run that could culminate with a micro distillery reaching markets from coast to coast, with the downtown location serving as a tasting room.

Lee and his associates see themselves as part of a rising wave in downtown Medford, where the people of the Pear and Fair cities — Medford and Central Point — convene for an evening out.

"Medford has the most potential of any site we've looked at from San Francisco to Portland," Lee said. "We've looked all over, and this was by far the most intriguing place."

Lee was working with Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotels when he helped Beck-Brattin launch the Oswald Restaurant in Santa Cruz, Calif., five years ago. After that, he began looking for the next opportunity.

"Ashland has maxed out in a way," Lee said. "Almost every available commercial site is filled — it's sold out, so to speak. Everything in California is more expensive, from licensing to property. Medford has the most potential for growth in what we're doing. I would rather be in a place with young, like-minded people as opposed to a place that is already thriving and booming. Ashland is thriving and doing well, there's just not a lot of room for growth; Medford is hungry for it."

What Lee and Beck-Brattin see is continued efforts in the downtown core, including Limestone Coffee and the Inn at The Commons.

"With a few new venues and new activity," he said. "Medford has the potential to be a remarkable town."

An underlying strategy is to turn the night spot into an employee-owned enterprise, with the owners focusing on the distillery and the employees running the tasting room.

Bar manager Ryan Keller, whose two decades in the business include stints at 4 Daughters, Howiee's, Havana Republic and Rocky-Tonk, said that's an appealing concept.

"I've been searching for a place in Medford where I could grow, and I feel like I can do that here," said Keller, part of a six-person staff.

"We have a lot more options for people downtown than we have in the past, which is nice," Keller said. "There are a lot more people coming downtown; many of them didn't have a place to suit them before with a relaxed style."

With no stated time line, the business partners are seeking the right place to build a distillery in Medford. They have a significant part of the $500,000 to $750,000 they'd need, not including real estate, for the project. But they await another investor.

"We're not just looking for money," Lee said. "We want a like-minded investor who isn't just focused on a quick return on investment, but is interested in the overall project."

Even when money is in hand, there won't be a rush, said Lee, noting young families consume much of the partners' time.

"It's a matter of logistics," he said. "It will be the size of a custom-crush facility, with five people initially."

Vision and timing matter as much as management in the nightlife business.

In the end, the challenge is to succeed where others in that location have failed: businesses such as Sambuca Martini Bar and Bistro, Osprey Bar, Shenanigan's Irish Pub, Bone Yard Pub, and Sloe Bar and Grill.

Once the distillery is producing vodka, whiskey and gin, Keller said, it will change customer options, but not operations.

"We won't change things entirely," he said. "We will just have our own distilled liquors."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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