An Alaskan Corporation Grows out of Denali National Park
DV3 Corp wins Small Business Person of the Year for Alaska
The Bake provides an authentic Alaska experience for those traveling to and from Denali National Park, featuring thirty beers on tap—including 49th State Brewing’s own Baked Blonde Ale—and hearty portions of good food made with fresh Alaskan-grown ingredients.
Photo courtesy DV3 Corp
In March Linda McMahon, head of the US Small Business Administration, announced Alaska’s Small Business Person of the Year winners are Jason Motyka and David McCarthy, owners of Denali Visions 3000 Corporation (DV3 Corp), headquartered in Healy.
DV3 Corp is generally better known for its individual properties: Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse; Denali Crow’s Nest Cabins; The Overlook at the Crow’s Nest; The Denali Park Salmon Bake; 49th State Brewing Co.; and Miners Market @ McKinley RV & Campgrounds, all in Healy, and a second 49th State Brewing Co. location in Anchorage.
The Bake that Started it All
Motyka graduated with a business degree from Western Washington University, after which he entered an exchange program in Ecuador where he learned to white water kayak. Motyka, who grew up in Anchorage, wanted to come back to the state and “do something outdoor-related,” he says. Through a friend, he got a job as a white water rafting guide on the Nenana River in Denali National Park. “I started managing that company in Denali, and I really loved Denali, and I saw potential for some different opportunities,” Motyka says.
It was soon after in 2005 that he and a partner approached the owner of The Salmon Bake about buying the property. The Bake is located across the highway from the Princess Hotels in Denali. Motyka says, “We basically changed the concept from kind of a mom-and-pop diner where you ordered over a loud speaker microphone—there were picnic tables that were lined with old red and white checkered table cloths, etc. That was the only kind of restaurant available at the time in Denali [other than the hotel property restaurants].”
Motyka says that in that first year, expectations for how they would run the restaurant didn’t exactly meet reality: they thought they’d need to hire fifteen employees to run the restaurant-side of things, such as serving tables, while they ran the business. As it turned out, they had fifteen employees in the first two weeks and ended up hiring forty by the end of the first month, and at the end of the first summer season they’d already doubled revenues over the previous owner.
The next year, 2006, brought a whole new set of challenges. Motyka says that he wasn’t really a “restaurant person” and had no experience, prior to The Bake, other than a few months as a busser. “We were looking for some seasonal help, and we were looking for chefs and people that had restaurant experience. Line cooks and chefs are a hard thing to find up here in Alaska, especially on a seasonal basis.”
In the summer of 2006, David McCarthy, who graduated from Kendall College in Chicago with a Culinary Arts degree in 1998, felt the time was right to hop on a motorcycle and drive the Alcan north to the Last Frontier. Motyka still remembers seeing McCarthy pulling up, decked out in full motorcycle gear.
McCarthy was just what The Bake needed, as it was during that summer that The Bake had been suffering some food quality issues and other problems. McCarthy was asked to step up, with his restaurant experience and education, to address the problem. “He basically helped up get aligned in the right operations,” Motyka says.
The following year, 2007, was the first full season with McCarthy on board, “and that’s the year where we saw some amazing growth in getting the food quality up and other areas of the business.” It was in 2008 that Motyka and his partners applied for, and won, their first SBA Small Business Persons of the year award. According to a May 2008 release from the Alaska Journal of Commerce, “During the three years since the team incorporated their business and leased the facilities, [The Bake] has shown a 350 percent increase in revenues over the previous owners’ best year and added sixty-five new full- and part-time seasonal jobs to the area.”
Motyka and his partners saw the incredible value of McCarthy’s involvement in the business, and McCarthy was seeing great potential in Alaska; and through a combination of serendipity and great foresight, McCarthy was made a partner in 2008. Motyka says, “We wanted to continue to grow; we saw the tremendous opportunity in Alaska, and we were just starting to figure out how to run these seasonal businesses effectively, how to go ahead and get employees up to Denali, how to deal with the remote locations, and the shipping, and the employee housing, and everything else.”
In 2009, DV3 Corp bought a package license liquor store from the Cantwell Lodge in Cantwell and opened Denali Park Grocery, “which was the first kind of little mini-mart grocery store/liquor store in Denali, [and it was] right next to the Denali Park Salmon Bake,” Motyka says. Around the same time, the group was in talks with the owner of the Northern Lights Theater, which showed old films of the Northern Lights called Northern Lights tours. “Sales had started to decline because the theater was getting older, and the film was kind of played out.”
DV3 Corp wanted to operate the theater as a pizzeria, since there were none in Denali other than the one owned by Princess. “Because of David’s knowledge of being a chef and his passion for craft beer—in fact he was a home brewer—the concept was to make pizza from scratch with locally-sourced Alaska ingredients and have a massive beer collection.” Their tap selection had forty-nine craft beers; Motyka says they call it “The Old 49er.” The old theater turned into Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse in the spring of 2010, which was later voted one of the “Great American Beer Bars” in 2013, 2014, and 2015-2016.
Start the Beer Brewing
In 2010, McCarthy left Alaska for a short time, returning to Chicago to attend a Master Brewing program at the Siebel Institute. That same year in the winter he traveled to Munich, Germany, to receive a European brewing certification. McCarthy’s passion for home brewing was the impetus for the training and certification, but “we realized the program and certification would be a significant benefit to us,” Motyka says.
The same year, DV3 Corp opened its first 49th State Brewing Co. location in Healy, building out the restaurant and brewery in an old bus barn. Motyka says, “I remember going into the bus barn—we had used it for storage—and David said there was a temporary bar framed out, and he says, ‘We’re starting,’” Motyka laughs. “I remember saying: Okay, here we go.” To begin, Motyka and McCarthy purchased a SABCO half-barrel brewing system. “A half barrel is basically one keg,” Motyka explains, “so we could basically brew one keg at a time, just to have some legitimacy to call ourselves a brewery.” He says their first keg of beer disappeared in about three hours.
In 2011, after receiving a 2010 SBA loan to refinance the company’s debt, they upgraded to a five-barrel brewing system, which while still small, “was our first legitimate system,” he says. Even with that upgrade, the brewery was still running out of beer, and working out of Denali National Park only compounded normal issues surrounding managing a brewery and restaurant. “It was very challenging to do business in Denali, to get grain up there, to get the amount of kegs we needed, to deal with the freezing conditions over the fall and winter time, to house all the new employees that we had,” says Motyka.
In the spring of 2013, a fifteen-barrel system was installed at 49th State Brewing Co. in Healy, giving them a steady flow of beer and the opportunity to bottle and export the product to other markets.
In 2014, DV3 Corp finished renovations of two more locations in Denali National Park: a collection of cabins called The Crow’s Nest and The Overlook Bar & Grill, a fine-dining restaurant. “We redid all the cabins: put in new pillow top mattresses and down comforters; redid everything at the front desk; and landscaped the whole property, and made it a property that I’m very proud of,” Motyka says. The Crow’s Nest log cabins are a historic property with breathtaking views of the Alaska Range, connected by a series of natural pathways and wooden wrap-around decks. The Overlook is located at the Crow’s Nest.
Pictured above, owners Jason Motyka (left) and David McCarthy (right) opened their second 49th State Brewing Co. location in 2016 at 717 West Third Avenue in Anchorage, which involved a revision and renovation of the historic Snow Goose, built in 1918.
Photos courtesy DV3 Corp
Growing into Anchorage
And then came the 49th State Brewing Co. in Anchorage. Though it was renovated and opened in 2016, preparations started much sooner. “We knew we wanted to get into Anchorage somehow, but we just couldn’t find the right space,” Motyka says. That is until Motyka and his partners discovered the owner of the iconic Snow Goose, built in 1918 with stunning views of Cook Inlet and Mount Susitna, was thinking about selling. “David had met the owner previously when they had come up to Denali, and David had set the bug in his ear saying: if you really want to sell your business, please let us know.”
Though working in Anchorage takes McCarthy and Motyka away from the majority of their businesses in the Denali Park area, it isn’t without its perks. “If you’re comparing Denali to working in Anchorage, it is a luxury to work in Anchorage,” McCarthy laughs. “In the Denali/Healy area, if you forget something you have a minimum of a two-hour drive, four-hour round trip, just to run to the hardware store.”
McCarthy says that the Anchorage property was strategic not just for company growth but also for supporting their other properties. “One of the reasons we’re growing [into Anchorage] was actually to stabilize our business in Denali, which is the foundation of where we come from,” McCarthy says.
He says one of their challenges was actually how popular their beer had become; its popularity was making it logistically difficult to meet increasing demand at their high standard of quality. “In order to produce more, we actually had to expand in an area that was going to be cost prohibitive or expand in an area that was going to help reduce our costs so the beer could be even more affordable,” McCarthy says. The large storage spaces at their Anchorage location allow them to bring in raw ingredients and store them in larger amounts. “Beer does not have the price point that wine has in the market,” he explains. “Beer is for the people, and we’re trying to keep it as affordable as possible.”
That Alaska Feeling
Motyka says they focus on an experience, at all of their properties, that feels like Alaska. It’s not exactly rustic, and it’s not what many people from the Lower 48 might picture as Alaskan. DV3 Corp properties feel very much like a friend’s house: some of the décor makes sense, some of it is beautiful, some of it is unexpected, and together it all somehow feels familiar and comfortable. All of their properties pay homage to their origins, and it is this respect for history that lays the foundation for every DV3 Corp renovation or remodel. Instead of simply starting anew, Motyka and McCarthy embrace the idea of making a good thing even better. For example, in the Anchorage location there’s a wall made entirely of old barrel staves. “I took them apart myself, I power washed them, I scrubbed them out, and we sanded the interior,” McCarthy says. “At the end of the process, [the installer] is taking selfies next to the wall and posting it to his friends. What better feeling can you get out of a place than that?”
Hard Work and Clear Visions
It’s easy to see success from the outside, but Motyka says, “We were not really handed anything. I had invested my life savings, at the time, into starting The Salmon Bake, and we’d keep signing on the dotted line for loans from the banks. But at the end of the day, we’d show up to work—and you keep growing, and you keep growing, and you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, you start seeing the vision that you set out to create.”
McCarthy and Motyka credit their employees and business and community relationships as vital to their growth and success. With regard to the 49th State Brewing Co. in Anchorage, McCarthy says, “How all those things come together—to me it’s just hard working people with great intentions. And it’s a sense that people love this location, they love the decks, they love the view; and to me this describes a lot about what Alaska is. We’re making something, taking a raw ingredient and making something out of it that people can all appreciate.”
Motyka says, “We take great pride in being able to be an Alaskan-owned business, to be able to provide opportunity for jobs here in Alaska. We feel that tourism in the state is a very bright segment in the economy, and we’re very proud to be a part of that.”
McCarthy says, “In Alaska my dreams became a reality. I have learned so much; no matter what happens with any of these businesses, I will never look back and say any of those decisions were not good, because the people we meet, the relationships we built, all the things that happen in building something from nothing—there’s a feeling that can never be taken away.”
Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business.
This article first appeared in the May 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.