Pocatello’s beer pioneer retires

April 4, 2019

POCATELLO — Penny Pink has devoted so much effort and emotional energy toward her brew pub and restaurant throughout the past 23 years that she likens Portneuf Valley Brewing to a third child.

At her 60th birthday party on March 29, the city’s pioneer of hand-crafted beer turned her baby over to a new manager and officially retired. Sort of.

Pink explained she’ll be available to help ease her new service manager, Melissa Leewright, into the job. She’ll also collaborate with Leewright on an effort to recreate the brewery’s identity, which will include the addition of a new upstairs restaurant.

Leewright, of Portland, Oregon, joined the staff of the brewery, located in the city’s warehouse district at 615 S. First Ave., early this year. Pink has been grooming her to take over the business’s reigns ever since.

Now eligible for Social Security, Pink intends to spend more time rafting, skiing and otherwise enjoying Idaho’s outdoor life with her circle of friends. She’ll also be available to share the knowledge she’s gleaned from keeping the business afloat through thin and fat years alike to help Leewright succeed.

“My big epiphany was, ‘Wait a minute! I don’t have to sell the business to retire.’ I can still own the business, I can retire and I can hire people to run the day-to-day operations,” Pink said.

Leewright has helped about half a dozen restaurants reinvent themselves and will work with Pink to do the same at Portneuf Valley Brewing. By this summer, they plan to open Tacos Up Top on their upper floor, quickly and affordably serving a dozen types of “street” tacos. They’ll need to move a large a cabinet on the upper floor to free space for the kitchen, and they’re willing to give the cabinet to anyone who would disassemble it and haul it away.

“One of the things we recognize we need to improve on here is our ability to get food out quickly when we have a lot of people here,” Pink said, adding her kitchen is “microscopic” but the restaurant seats hundreds. “We spent a bunch of time talking about how do we remedy that situation.”

In addition to adding tacos, they’re developing a “fast” lunch menu, with foods that can be prepared in short order. They’re also improving their dinner menu with an expanded burger selection.

Leewright said they’ve already experimenting with the new burger options and tacos, which have sold out quickly. The burger buns are made from scratch.

“With the new menus, we want to incorporate a bit more beer into our recipes and try to use what we already have here to create something a little bit more unique,” Leewright said, adding spent grain from brewing is used as an ingredient in ciabatta beer bread.

Leewright envisions the brewery filling the role of the community’s preferred location for celebrations, such as wedding anniversaries and birthday parties. She noted a couple from Detroit happened to stop by the brewery for a meal and opted to get married there on March 30.

Pink got her start in brewing when her late husband, Bob, decided to try making beer as a hobby and had a batch explode all over his power tools. He reasoned his wife, who was a chemist and a biologist, was better equipped to make beer and let her run with the hobby, instead.

Using old scrap metal, Pink built her first commercial brewing equipment for a small operation located inside the former Dudley’s Sports Bar & Grill. She chose the warehouse district for her permanent location hoping to spur additional investment in the area.

Pink has taken solace in knowing that she’s found a good team to lead her business into the future. Her master brewer, Danny Paz, started working for her a decade ago as a dishwasher. As he moved up the ranks at the brewery, Pink was impressed by his attention to detail and his ability to be immaculate in his cleaning, which are both hallmarks of a good brewer. Since taking over brewing duties, Pink said Paz has developed a host of creative new beer recipes, including Machismo Oatmeal Stout, which won a medal from the North American Brewers Association.

J.V. Cernyar is lead bartender, and Jasmine Kirby is kitchen lead. Pink is now searching for someone to oversee marketing and social media.

Pink has no shortage of interests and knows she’ll keep herself busy in retirement. At age 53, for example, she started downhill skiing. She enjoyed the hobby so much, she sold three small properties she owned and bought a large home near Pebble Creek Ski Area. She has a season pass to both Pebble Creek and Grand Targhee Resort.

She’s also converted the basement of her home into an Airbnb rental unit.