Portage Brewing Owners Focus On Rebuilding After Sunday Fire
“We have our Portage tap handle and no more Portage beer,” says Marcus Mitchell, a Walker community member who works at Benson’s Bar.
Many in Walker say they woke up Sunday morning to multiple text message and calls that a local spot, Portage Brewing, was no more. The Walker Fire Department was first called to the scene just after 6:30 a.m. and were able to put out the fire pretty quickly. No one was injured in the fire, but the damage to the structure was done. The building is one of the oldest building in Walker and used to be a hospital, where many Walker residents say they were born. Portage Brewing moved in 2 ½ years ago.
“Portage came in here with a bang. They were not a quiet, mellow – they came in and just integrated into our community so well. Like, they met and shook hands with everybody and just last week, we have an events calendar at the chamber and we approved 19 events that Portage was going to have directly at that building over the next six weeks,” says Roxie Parks, administrative and events coordinator for the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
Officials spent most of Monday accessing the damage and trying to determine the cause of the fire. Arson has been ruled out and the fire has officially been deemed accidental.
“We do have really good insurance so we are planning to rebuild. We’re not asking for any support at this time financially because we do have that insurance, but we’ll be back. They think it’s going to take about a year for the rebuild, but we’re trying to speed that up even faster ,hopefully,” says Jeff Vondenkamp, Co-Owner and head brewer for Portage.
Locals say Portage was one of a kind.
“It’s just a sad day for Walker. Something like that, I mean, it really hits home. This town thrives on tourism and craft beer is a big deal,” says Mitchell.
“Just seeing it burned down was really sad because I’ve had a house fire in the past and it’s not good. It was a beautiful place,” says Alicia Hamman, a Walker local.
As the owners set their sights on rebuilding, right now they say the reaction from the community has been positively overwhelming.
“Between locals, people in the Minnesota beer community, people nationally. I mean, it’s just, we’ve got a lot of emails, text messages, phone calls. It’s been nonstop. I mean, my phone’s still ringing so I think that just solidified our necessity to bring this brewery back,” says Vondenkamp.