Ex Novo, a Brewery and Restaurant That Has Firmly Planted Their Non-profit Flag

ex novo brewery

Sustained success in the restaurant business is tough enough to achieve. Mix in a series of overarching ideologies, and the equation tends to become even more difficult to nail down.

Yet there seems to be something about adding great, hand crafted beer to the mix that has made things go down a little easier for Ex Novo, a brewery and restaurant that has firmly planted their non-profit flag amid the unofficial capital of progressive, grass roots enterprise. Perhaps it simply boils down to that old association of drinks to good conversation that smoothes out the rougher edges for the Portland based venture but walking into their corner brewpub in the burgeoning neighborhood northeast of downtown, it’s plain for anyone to see that ideology and a booming business can indeed make for a harmonious union.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Joel Gregory, President and Founder of Ex Novo and discuss how the business of non-profit brewing works.

Did you ever consider opening a traditional, for profit brewery before going non-profit? 

Absolutely. I was doing the business plan already, but the nonprofit idea came pretty early on. After that point, there were months of discussions on whether or not organizing as a nonprofit made sense versus for profit, which had essentially the same mission of raising awareness and funds for great causes.

Can you describe your experience working in cause-based environments prior to opening Ex Novo? 

I never did so professionally, just on a volunteer basis. I’ve been particularly focused on micro-finance in developing countries, and sustainable clean water initiatives. I helped in small part to get some of these initiatives off the ground near San Miguel, Guatemala.

Describe how Ex Novo makes brewery based business decisions? How were those formative non-profit structuring decisions made? 

High-level decisions are made by the board of directors, which I’m a part of as well. The other guys are volunteers, giving up a lot of their time to steer Ex Novo in the right direction and it would have been impossible to pull off without them. Day to day brewery decisions are made by my management staff and myself.

What has been the community response so far when people recognize you’re a non-profit? 

There have been many types of responses, from “that is a brilliant idea” to skepticism to “only in Portland…” and I welcome them all. I do believe this business model fits very well in our culture, and there are so many like-minded folks in the community and in the beer business that get it.

Have you spoken to brewers in other cities or states about similar ventures? 

I have, people from all over the country have written saying they have been pondering the same idea – I expect in the next few years we’ll see many of these nonprofit pubs, breweries, cideries, etc. pop up around the country and I think that’s awesome.

Ex Novo is certainly an original concept. Do you see any further business evolutions afoot in the craft beer industry? 

I think we’ll see more pooling of resources, maybe with more co-op models or community breweries, where the equipment is shared between several groups. People are looking for ways to be different, and to get off the ground in a very capital-intensive start-up, so I think we’ll see all sorts of creativity pioneered by this industry that is always up to something new.

As with any business, there are boom and bust cycles. The board at Ex Novo is aware of that. The craft brewing bubble is either ready to burst or still in its relative infancy – it all depends on who you ask. Either way, right now, the casual beer drinking public’s appetite for quality, locally crafted product has never been higher and for those with an eye for altruism at the bottom of their glass, Ex Novo truly distinguishes itself as a one of a kind experience.

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