North Coast Brewing Company: Investing in a Local and Sustainable Future
In the “Local Seafood Heroes” series, Fort Bragg Groundfish Association is highlighting local businesses and individuals who share our values and work hard to support local and sustainable seafood.
At the heart of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, North Coast Brewing Company is nationally celebrated for its craft beers and locally known for its savory brewpub.
Since opening in 1988, the Brewery’s Taproom and restaurant have featured a menu of local favorites – from fish and chips, to burgers and fries, to their new brick-oven pizzas. Over the years, that menu has evolved to promote more local and seasonal ingredients, while still delivering to its devoted local clientele. With sustainability and responsible sourcing as company-wide priorities, today’s taproom team is looking forward. They are shaping the next chapter of the restaurant’s story with clear commitments, deep integrity, and an eye on the future.
A commitment to sustainability – environmental, economic, and social – has long been the ethos of North Coast Brewing Company. As a Certified B Corporation, the company is committed to “philanthropy, community, and environmental stewardship.” For instance, they recently launched a new “ocean-friendly” beer – named Steller IPA after the Steller sea lion – that contributes a portion of all sales to marine mammal research. “We are facing increasing threats to ocean life due to climate change and each of us needs to do something about it,” says Mark Ruedrich, who was a marine biologist before co-founding the brewery.
In addition to supporting community organizations and nonprofits, the team is pushing to make a difference directly from the brewpub and its kitchen, too. In partnership with Fortunate Farm in Caspar, they compost spent grain from the brewery – offsetting waste and sequestering carbon. The local greens and vegetables grown there are served at the restaurant, including in the “Fortunate Farm Salad,” a new staple on the menu. At the local farmers markets and through the Mendo-Lake Food Hub, the kitchen staff is reaching out to source more local ingredients.
For its seafood dishes, the North Coast Brewing Company works hard to source locally and responsibly.
With the Pacific Ocean within earshot, the restaurant has always include a strong selection of seafood on its menu. Since the beginning, the brewery committed to sourcing that seafood as locally and responsibly as possible. To start, they only offer options that are approved as “Best Choice” (green) by Seafood Watch, says Mark Ruedrich, the company’s president. The kitchen team agrees that, even for professionals in the food industry, it’s a challenge to determine what is “local” – and how to define that. (Learn more about the challenges of local seafood.)
With the Seafood Watch list as its baseline, the restaurant team aspires to go a step further and strives for “local first.” However, they know it can be a challenge to secure a consistent supply of local seafood, with our unpredictable weather and other conditions, and they continue to work with how to address that with their buyer.
As often as possible, the seafood choices – like the menu’s “catch-of-the-day” – are seasonal, locally-caught, and locally-processed. In October, the menu featured petrale sole, a local groundfish harvested year round – while back in August, it was wild King Salmon, a local specialty with a short window of availability.
“Continuing to ask for locally caught and locally processed seafood from your buyer is key to building a local seafood supply and aids in supporting a sustainable fishery,” says Michelle Norvell of Fort Bragg Groundfish Association. FBGA is a member of the California Groundfish Collective, which worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program in 2014 to assess and evaluate the sustainability of eight species caught by the Collective. The assessment resulted in eight species caught by the California Groundfish Collective, using trawl gear or fixed gear, receiving the “Best Choice” (Green) rating. (Learn more about these best-rated fish species here.) The Petrale Sole caught by the California Groundfish Collective is the only Petrale on the West Coast that is”Best Choice” (Green) rated.
Like everyday seafood lovers, these restaurant professionals determine their seafood choices with a few key strategies…
First, the company aims to create relationships with the people who supply their seafood. “As we work with any suppliers, we’re building relationships. And with that, there’s trust and responsibility,” says Tony Hannah, the restaurant’s kitchen manager. “With our local seafood processor, we have an ethic that we want to maintain, and they do, too.” In fact, the team has worked with some of the same local vendors for many years. “We’ve worked with the same person at our local fish processor since the beginning,” says Mark Ruedrich. “We can go to him and say, ‘What can you do for us? Is there anything else out there that we can get?’ He knows best about what’s fresh and available.””
Next, they ask questions to understand the sourcing of their seafood. These conversations happen week after week with the changing seasons and shifting stock. “I’m always asking our suppliers all these questions… First, is it local? Then, is it sustainable and fished in an ethical way? If it’s not local, was it caught responsibly, under good management?” Tony explains. “And then if what we want isn’t available, we just don’t buy it. We take it off the menu and serve something else.” We wish more chefs had Tony’s commitment to sustainability. By demanding locally caught seafood, he is doing his part in sustaining fishing operations in his community and that creates net economic, environment and social gains for our town, says Michelle. When more chefs, markets and consumers demand locally caught and locally processed seafood, more of it will stay in our community rather than sent to the City.
Finally, the team is always evolving by continuing to learn more and seek new opportunities. “With seafood, it’s an interesting supply chain because it’s always changing,” Tony says. The team takes an interest in what’s new in the local community, including with organizations like the Fort Bragg Groundfish Association. They see that their responsibilities extend beyond the kitchen and the brewery. With clear commitments and values, they are quick to seek out new connections and opportunities to source more responsibly and more locally.
Looking towards the future, the North Coast Brewing Company continues to push the definition of “sustainability” in its business.
Currently, the Brewery’s Taproom is working towards an increasingly local menu – both for produce and seafood. With Tony and restaurant manager Josh Coates at the helm, the kitchen team moves step-by-step towards the farm-to-table and fish-to-fork model. Like many well-established restaurants, their existing routines and longtime customer favorites were built around different models and availability. “It’s not something that we can change overnight, but a little at a time, moving forward,” Tony says. “We’re trying to contribute to the community in a better way through the products we buy – to be more socially responsible.”
It’s this kind of forward-thinking and continuous progress that Fort Bragg Groundfish Association celebrates. With sustainable seafood today, there is “no quick fix” or easy solution – but making good choices at each step of the way is essential. This is rooted in knowledge, relationships, and mutual responsibility for the greater good. As Tony points out, “Here in Fort Bragg, we have local farmers and fishermen and people committed to organizing local food distribution. Our community is lucky to enjoy the benefits of all that. We’re fortunate.”
Learn more about the North Coast Brewing Company – or stop into the taproom and restaurant in Downtown Fort Bragg. To follow upcoming stories and the “Local Food Heroes” series, subscribe to our FBGA newsletter.
Photos by TrimTab Media, Corey Arnold, Amanda W, and Candice B.