Friends and family warned Aaron Burks not to name his brewpub “Atomic Ale.”
It was 1997 and “atomic” had fallen out of favor as a business name.
But Burks, a former Weyerhaeuser executive who came to Richland to help his sister and her husband with their Italian restaurant, wanted to honor the area’s history.
“It’s really how this place started,” he told skeptics. “Let’s have fun with it.”
And he did have fun.
He went ahead with “Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery.” He packed the menu with more cheeky names — Half-Life Hefeweizen, Atomic Amber, Plutonium Porter and so-on. The business sells T-shirts that boast “Our beer will blow you away.”
Twenty years on, and Burks and Atomic Ale are survivors in a high-mortality, low-margin industry.
The brewpub, 1015 Lee Blvd., Richland, celebrates its anniversary with a series of celebrations the weekend of Feb. 17. Hand-crafted ales will sell for their 1997 price of $2.78. A new menu with items such as Fallout Fajita Pizza will make its debut and Atomic will offer anniversary T-shirts, glasses, growlers and other items.
A brewmaster’s dinner Feb. 19 features seven beers paired with seven courses. Reservations are required.
Aaron Burks said it takes more than business acumen to sustain eight percent annualized revenue growth over 20 years. For that, he credits customers and employees.
Burks said he always knew he wanted to start a business.
But after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business at Western Washington University, he went to work for Weyerhaeuser, the Fortune 500 timber giant based in Federal Way. A rising executive, he was sent to California to lead a plant. After a year, he concluded that the corporate life wasn’t for him.
His sister and brother-in-law had started Monterosso’s Italian Restaurant in an antique rail car in Richland. The couple recruited Burks to help out. In time, he bought the business.
Two years after Monterosso’s opened, Burks created Atomic Ale, borrowing ideas from the brewpubs he frequented on the west side.
“I like beer and wine and good food,” he said.
The brewpub in Richland celebrates its anniversary with a series of celebrations the weekend of Feb. 17.
Burks said his corporate background has been an invaluable part of the businesses’ success. At Weyerhaeuser, he worked to improve productivity, customer service and quality. Those factor into the challenging task of running a restaurant.
Burks said it takes more than business acumen to sustain eight percent annualized revenue growth over 20 years. For that, he credits customers and employees.
“I feel fortunate every time someone chooses to come dine with us,” he said.
It’s a sentiment he works to instill in Atomic Ale’s 20 employees as well.
Burks began as a home brewer and perfected the craft at other Northwest brewpubs. Atomic Ale cycles through about 75 different recipes, ranging from light to bitter. The brewpub has seven taps, all dedicated to in-house brews, which are also sold in growlers.
Twenty years on, Aaron Burks and Atomic Ale are survivors in a high-mortality, low-margin industry.
The food menu centers on Atomic Ale’s wood-fired oven, another Tri-City first. It features hand-tossed pizzas with unusual bacon, a lineup of salads, sandwiches and other entrees. Its best known offering is its Atomic Ale Potato Soup.
“It is to die for,” Burks said.
On Feb. 23, Atomic Ale will participate in the annual Dine Out for United Way fundraiser. All proceeds will support United Way’s local health and human services programs.
Atomic Ale’s winter hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.