The word “cozy” may be a bit hackneyed today, but it seems made for Rail Hop’n Brewing Co., at 122 W. Main St.
From the railroad bell, railroad lights, railroad paintings and railroad thingamajigs on the walls to the hand-hewn wooden doors, tables and bar, the microbrewery is vintage, blue-collar Auburn.
No accident that — owner Kristi (nee Sluys) Newman and her family have been a part of Auburn for five generations. And her beloved grandfather, Edward Sluys, in whose honor she named and festooned the joint, came to Auburn to work for the railroad here when he was still a kid.
It comes as a shock to many, that while the family-friendly, pet-friendly, Rail Hop N’ Brewery is new to downtown, it is not new.
“And we are not a bar, we are a microbrewery,” said Billy Jack Newman, Kristi’s husband, and brew master of the establishment. “I also brew an old-fashioned root beer.”
Newman, her husband and a partner set up the city’s first legally-licensed microbrewery, then called Wethead Brewery, in Auburn in November 2012 in the garage of the house they’d bought from her grandfather at 513 A St. NE, two blocks south of Fred Meyer, two blocks west of Scarff Ford. They opened in January.
For five years, the garage and tap room was a hopping place, packed with a devoted customer base, wildly enthusiastic about Billy Jack’s fermented creations, including his signature jalapeño beer and his nut brown ales.
“He turned his home brewing into an actual business,” Kristi Newman said.
But in 2014, their partner left, and they changed the name to Rail Hop’n Brewing.
“It was either close down, continue or start over,” Kristi Newman recalled. “We chose to continue for a few years longer, as we were still the only brewery in town. After several failed attempts to buy out our partner, we decided we should close up shop.”
Billy Jack Newman, who had worked so hard for years to build the customer base at the only micro-brewery in town, was crushed at the prospect.
“I started brewing beer because I love to cook, and after you have exhausted all your spices on your meats, the only thing left for me to change was how I put beer in it,” said Billy Jack Newman. “So, why not start making beer, and start changing the flavor of the beer to change the flavor of the meat and one thing led to another. I am a kid at heart when it comes to it.”
“He was so passionate about his beers and having that fun garage-micro brewery vibe, so I wasn’t got to let him give up on his dream,” Kristy Newman said.
On July 21, they opened on West Main Street, next to Oddfellas. To keep their three daughters involved with the business, they added a coffee shop.
“We built everything here,” said Billy Jack Newman.
“We had a few family and friends that came in and helped, but we designed it and did it all ourselves,” added Kristi Newman.
The couple plan to add diverse activities to the menu, including open-mic night and musical entertainment.
Newman wishes her grandfather could have been there to see it open.
Edward Sluys was 15 when he came to Auburn to work for the railroad. He briefly left to join the Navy but returned after he met his future wife. Here they raised their four children, all of whom attended Auburn schools and all of whom graduated from Auburn High School. He was a captain for the old Auburn Fire Department and started up his own recycling business, which he later sold to Waste Management.
“In the year my grandpa got sick, we knew he wouldn’t make it long. We named our new brewery for him, Rail Hop’n Brewing Co.,” Kristi Newman said. “He’s the reason I am here, the reason my family is in Auburn. Even in his very last weeks from his hospital bed he was asking about our searches for commercial space and always asking about our growth and possibilities. He was a true entrepreneur and lived vicariously through me when he no longer could do it himself.
“We all talk about how proud grandpa would be. He taught me a lot of things about owning a business,” Kristi Newman said. “We have gone from a 200-square-foot garage to now a 2,000-square-foot space, and we have opened our possibilities.”