When Barley & Vine Tavern originally opened in 2017, it filled a unique void in the otherwise college bar-heavy town of Newberg, Oregon. Known for their rotating tap of stellar wine and beer selections, friendly staff, and Yelp-famous nachos, Barley & Vine became a destination for both locals and travelers to the nearby Oregon wine country.
“It always felt very inclusive. You could go in there and have a beverage alone or start a conversation with anyone there, including the bartenders,” says Brad Buerkle, who moved to the area from Denver in 2013. “It was a classy and calm setting with a real community of regulars.”
So when the business went up for sale in 2019, Buerkle was distraught at the idea of a new owner coming in and changing things up—and he soon realized he was uniquely suited to do something about it.
Buerkle had bounced around as a chef for nearly 16 years, running the dining operations for several college campuses, office buildings, hospitals, and retirement homes, and he’d even done a stint as a cheese purchaser for Whole Foods. But while he’d never owned a brick-and-mortar business before, he knew his experience would lend itself well to running the bar.
“As an executive chef, you do a lot of the same work as a business owner does, doing food costs, scheduling, labor and all the fun stuff that goes along with it,” says Beurkle. It took about eight months for Buerkle to complete the purchase of the bar, but through the COVID shutdown and beyond, he’s been able to create the kind of business he wishes he could have worked for coming up in the restaurant industry.
“I never felt like I was really supported to grow,” says Beurkle, “but I know that this can be a stepping stone or a bridge to something better for my employees.”
Now, Beurkle is on the path to owning both the bar and its building through withco’s unique lease-to-own partnership. Learn how he’s managed as a first-time bar owner, how he fosters community with his employees and regulars, and what he plans for the future of his business.
What made you want to own your own business?
I liked the idea of being able to live out my own dreams, work for myself, and have an environment for my employees that harbors family and growth and friendship. I had worked for a lot of places in the restaurant industry that were really rough, very high stress, and I always wanted to start something that would be fun, that people could actually make a long-term career out of, instead of making it feel like it’s an in-between job as a bartender or a server. I wanted to create a place where people feel safe to be able to work and grow.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as a new business owner?
For me, personally, it’s got to be the admin work. The mundane paperwork, the licensing, the permits, and paying bills. It’s not really difficult, but it’s definitely not the reason I enjoy doing what I do. Overall, I feel like we’ve built a really, really good regular customer base and that’s made it easy to go to work. And all of my employees constantly hang out at the bar, even when they’re not working, they’re there for hours and hours before and after their shifts.
How do you foster that sense of community with your employees and local customers?
My approach has been to bring in the interests of my employees. Even something small like allowing them to choose the radio station every day for whoever is working upfront so they get to feel comfortable and energized however they feel necessary. Then all the customers know that when you go in, you can kinda tell who is working based on the music that’s playing. I’ll be listening to jazz when I’m working upfront. My front house manager will be listening to ’90s pop and Imagine Dragons radio. And then some of my nighttime crew likes a lot of hip hop, so there will be a lot of hip hop playing on the weekends and the evenings.
I support all of my team to bring their friends in and do what they enjoy, which is why we started weekly game nights – we have Magic Mondays for Magic the Gathering players and board game nights on Wednesdays. It’s great for business and it’s just a great social atmosphere that my employees love to be a part of. I also let them decorate how they see fit so it feels more like a home to them.
Have any of your employees gone on to start their own businesses?
I’m actually working with one of my employees to start his own food truck. We’re in the process right now of opening up a food truck under my LLC that he’ll primarily be running. After we get it established, he’ll start breaking off into his own business and be totally independent with it.
Have you made any other changes to the bar since you took over?
Everything has just been additive—we expanded the menu a bit, added some sandwiches. The game nights. But the nature of the bar is that it’s ever-changing—there’s always something new to try. We have 16 rotating taps, so every time we go through one keg of beer, we put something completely different on. Our wines by the glass change about every week to every other week.
What does owning your restaurant’s property mean for your business?
Well, I would be terrified of the building selling and then someone just running out the lease and kicking me out. Since I’ve kinda made this my lifelong career at this point, that would be pretty devastating. I definitely feel like I have more freedom to make the building more mine, make structural changes and think about possibilities for expansion.
But the best of all is that there’s potentially a future for my son to be able to take over, for him to do what he would like to do with it and have a space for that. We wouldn’t have this kind of certainty or longevity without owning the property.