Former Dave's Killer Bread CEO Shobi Dahl is trying to open a distillery called Modernist Spirits in Portland, alongside partners Patrick and Teressa Chizeck, but says that he's stuck "in limbo" as a result of city regulation.
"I've been fighting with the city, trying to open a distillery for more than a year," Dahl tells WW, after we took note of his March 1 liquor license application with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Dahl was CEO of Dave's Killer Bread for 10 years until May 2015, running the company during the legal troubles faced by his uncle, Dave Dahl—the local bread company's eponymous co-founder—after he rammed police cars with his Cadillac Escalade.
Dave's Killer Bread was sold to an Atlanta holding company in August 2015.
Shobi Dahl had originally submitted plans for a distillery in Montavilla, at 7940 SE Stark St., in April 2015, but says that this location proved impossible.
"The city wouldn't budge," he says. "We bought an industrial building we thought would meet the requirements."
The distillery is now planned for the Swan Island industrial area at 1211 N Loring St.—the current home of The Party People party-supply company, which plans to move.
But, Dahl says, the city is asking for requirements he feels are unnecessary.
"They want us to improve streets that will never be used," he says. "They've told us to build sidewalks along the train tracks—it's pointless."
Dahl believes that the city is cracking down on distilleries, in particular.
"The city of Portland is now treating distilleries like they're an oil refinery," says Dahl. "They think they're going to blow up the city."
He says new distilleries now have trouble getting their doors open, citing the long delay in the opening of House Spirits' new, expanded distillery, which was initially anticipated for November 2014 but did not open until November 2015, with a dedication by Mayor Charlie Hales. (House Spirits did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
The proposed Modernist Spirits building is located under the I-405 overpass near the Union Pacific Railroad site, between I-5 and the river.
Dahl says that his partner, Patrick Chizeck—a bartender at Farm Cafe before the restaurant closed last December—had his heart set on keeping the distillery in Portland.
Dahl is less sanguine about the prospects, and says he's ready to sell the building he bought.
"I don't have faith in politicians and pencil pushers in the building department," Dahl says. "They don't care. They're overworked—you feel bad for them."
Dave's Killer Bread moved outside city limits, he says, after similar problems.
"Dave's Killer Bread, when we were in Portland, the city of Portland was impossible to deal with on expansion," Dahl says, "and that was nothing. That was a bakery. We made the decision to move out to Milwaukie. We talked to the mayor, they wanted a business to open."
Modernist has appealed at least one building requirement from the city of Portland at its current location; its appeal was granted, with stipulations.
Modernist Spirits plans the usual run of gin, vodka and eventually whiskey, says Dahl. But it plans more exotic liquors as well.
"What we want to be known for is bittersweet herbal liqueurs," he says." A lot Italian, amaro, aperitivo, some French alpine herbal products. We've got a whole long list of what we want to do eventually."