ALL ARE WELCOME AT WORKING HANDS FERMENTATION
Chef Ryan Hunter of Deb’s Kitchen and Ellen Woods Potter, general manager, co-owner and cidermaker, at Working Hands.
Story and Photos by Laurel Brown, Columbia Gorge News.
Hood River has become home to some very unique, community-based restaurants and breweries over the years, but one you should be sure to check out is Working Hands Fermentation located on the Heights.
After combining with Slopeswell Cider and opening their new taproom mid-2021, Working Hands broke ground on their kitchen build last June. Ryan Hunter, head chef and founder of Deb’s Kitchen, paired with the brewery and cidery in November and has recently finalized his menu staples. While some describe his food as “upscale pub fare,” Hunter humbly dubbed his menu as being accessible, tasty bar food. “What’s so bad about bar food?” he joked.
Born in Los Angeles, Hunter moved to Portland in 1997, where he attended cooking school and worked in countless kitchens developing his culinary style. Between 1997 and 2018, when he moved to Hood River, Hunter traveled the globe for work opportunities, spending time at a bakery in Martha’s Vineyard on the east coast, as a sous-chef in Alaska, and even at a bed and breakfast in France. While his teachers and mentors influenced his own view of food, no one was quite as influential as his mother, Deb.
“She was kind of the first person to blow my mind with food,” Hunter said, explaining his concern for her mental state when she first offered him a pizza with pineapple and pepperoni toppings as a young child.
The pub fare offered at Working Hands is entirely Hunter’s own, including dishes he considers fun, creative, and comfy.
“The creative learning process is a fun challenge for me in the kitchen,” Hunter said, mentioning in particular that cooking for customer’s with special diets is just as fun and equally delicious as anything else that comes out of his kitchen. His years of refined training is offered via a more inclusive, friendly menu that makes fine dining less intimidating, which speaks directly to the establishment’s goal.
Ellen Woods Potter, general manager, co-owner, and cidermaker at Working Hands, can attest to the success of pairing with Deb’s Kitchen.
“We are a community-focused space with the mentality that craft beers and ciders don’t have to be an overwhelming, knowledge-based experience,” Woods Potter said. Although relatively new to the world of craft ciders, Woods Potter joined the Working Hands team in February 2021 after a long career in the craft beer industry. She is originally from the Gorge area and started at a brewery in Pullman, Wash., but has spent more than 11 years in taprooms and breweries, mostly in northern Texas, where she began working on her Cicerone Certification.
Now she lives in The Dalles and has been crafting ciders for Working Hands since mid-2022.
“I brew what I like and of course what the community likes. Mostly Old World ciders and German-style lagers. It’s great,” she said.
All too often, the term “craft beer” or “IPA” can turn beer-drinkers off for reasons of exclusivity or inaccessibility, but this mentality is one Working Hands Fermentation hopes to end. Choosing a taproom location on the Heights also appeals to locals who don’t want to compete for barstool space with tourists in the downtown and waterfront areas. Working Hands aims to connect the community as a non-exclusive local favorite, even using local ingredients and giving back to the community whenever possible. They strive to be on the forefront of delicious, unique craft beverages in the Pacific Northwest while staying true to their roots and neighborhood, even down to the artwork and design of the space.
Kasey McCullough, head brewer and co-owner, and John Terhaar, wholesale supervisor and co-owner, made sure the interior and exterior of the space came from grassroots, hands-on work, much of it McCullough’s own. He turned parts of the old bar into wooden lounge tables and wrapped the current bar in copper foil; he built shelving and a small stage inside the brewery, and even painted much of the space.
One of his coolest creations are the river tables, made of wood and epoxy that come together to create a topical view of different sections of local rivers. A small plaque on the side of each table details the exact river and coordinates of the section he recreated. Local artists Chris Potheir and Audrey Mae were both commissioned to contribute murals to the space, too. Potheir created the mural on the outside of the bright blue building, which is a close-up of the Working Hands logo, and Mae contributed the indoor mural that depicts plants in Mason jars. Together they have successfully created a comfortable, welcoming space with a cool atmosphere that stokes local pride.
McCullough has helped with many brewers in the area, Working Hands being his 14th taproom start-up, so his name and craft beverages are local favorites. Much of his background comes from studying in Germany, which is reflected in the beer selections. The Working Hands staple brews have predominantly been established and they are currently working to create staple ciders for the menu, too. With 300 gallon tanks and a small canning system, each batch is a time-intensive process for new or returning beers and ciders. Restricted space currently means their supply can’t always keep up with demand, but a possible expansion to grow production is on the horizon. Woods Potter mentioned opening a new space in The Dalles to help create jobs and bring more tourism opportunities to the Gorge. More production space would also allow for wider distribution of their craft beverages, which are available in the Dalles, Hood River, Mosier, and Dufur.
Both food and drink menus change seasonally, with growlers, crowlers, and canned beer for sale at the taproom. While discussing her favorite ciders to brew, Woods Potter said they plan to can and sell ciders soon.
“We focus on dry ciders with a wild fermentation process using natural yeasts and flavors,” she said. A few of her favorites include a cider called First Date, which used dates from a friend’s farm in Arizona called Naked Date, and a cherry cider that utilized cherries she and her father hand-picked from his farm in the area. Hunter uses certain staple beers in his recipes, from beer cheese to batter for fried menu items.
“The partnership with Deb’s Kitchen has been amazing and we are just so lucky to have Ryan,” said Woods Potter.
Other menu items that are must-tries are the fried cauliflower bites, curry ketchup, and fried Oreos for dessert. Hunter is thrilled at the feedback and patronage his food has gathered, and his Nashville-style fried chicken sandwich (the “hot mess”) is locally sought after. Check out Hunter’s Instagram for more about his cooking, @debs_hoodriver.
“Hood River was the perfect spot for the community feel because it’s smaller and more cohesive than somewhere like Portland, which is saturated with options … I can reach more of the community on the Heights, and Working Hands has been nothing but a good experience,” he said.
If you’re looking to try a new beer, or are in search of your new favorite local spot, stop in at Working Hands Fermentation. They are open Wednesday through Friday from 4-10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Although their lounge and bar are for ages 21 and over, they do provide family-friendly spaces, patio seating, and are welcome to dogs too.
Working Hands offers a number of weekly community events, such as live music every Saturday night, trivia on Thursdays, open mics on Sunday evenings, and more. They are also planning their second annual Sausage Fest & Mug Club Party on June 3, with vendors, bands, and fun contests. They are located at 1021 12th St. in Hood River, and can be reached at 541-716-4130.
More photo are on Columbia Gorge News. https://www.columbiagorgenews.com/news/gorge-local-in-business-all-are-welcome-at-working-hands-fermentation/article_8c1aff88-a71c-11ed-b0dd-13a2d694cbd2.html