PENINSULA PROFILE: Tom Curry juggles career in health care with popular watering hole

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Raise a pint or two for VIMO

GATHER TO GIVE, a benefit for Volunteers in Medicine in the Olympics, aka VIMO, comes to Barhop Brewing, 124 W. Railroad Ave., Port Angeles, this Friday.

The party, open to all ages, will start at 6 p.m. with local beers, wines, soft drinks and Little Devil's Lunchbox tacos.

A silent auction will get under way as the duo Bill and Rudy and the band Joy in Mudville, with Jason Mogi, Colin Leahy and Paul Stehr-Green, provide live music.

Admission is a suggested donation of $75, though smaller or larger contributions are welcome. No tickets are required, and more information can be found at www.VIMO or by phoning the clinic at 360-457-4431.
PORT ANGELES — Among eight brothers and sisters, “I am the slacker in the family,” Tom Curry jokes.

He says this at the end of a day's work at one job, and at the start of a night at another.

Not that anybody should feel sorry for him. Curry, 56, is having the time of his life.

After some two decades working in corporate long-term care — rising to Greater Seattle Regional Director of Operations for a major provider — Curry quit.

When he gave this news to his friend, Dr. Mike Maxwell, Maxwell naturally asked: “So what are you doing now?”

“I'm making beer,” Curry replied.

Maxwell laughed.

“I'm serious,” Curry said.

OK, said Maxwell, but we at Family Medicine of Port Angeles have a position open. We need a clinic manager.

This is how Curry came to work with the doctors and nurse practitioners at Family Medicine by day, and serve them his handcrafted beverages by night: usually Friday night, when his pub, Barhop Brewing, has live music.

Curry learned to make beer back when he was a college student. Then he took a 30-year break, got a graduate degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California and went to work in long-term care management, eventually joining Extendicare, which runs 247 senior care facilities across North America. Sequim Health and Rehabilitation is the one that brought Curry out to the North Olympic Peninsula.

Curry moved in 2005 to Port Angeles, where his wife Rhonda, former administrator of strategic development at Olympic Medical Center, lived.

Then, on a trip to Hawaii a few years ago, the couple visited Kona Brewing Co., a family operation on the Big Island.

Curry looked at his mate and said, “I can do this.”

“This” started out with beer-brewing kettles at Harbinger Winery west of town and the Barhop Taproom, which opened on Laurel Street in July 2011.

Last December, Curry moved both the brewery and the pub to the Port Angeles waterfront, in large part because of the city's plans to build an esplanade past his new front door.

The esplanade opened at last this August. It was a joyous moment for Curry and crew, and just in time for the brewmaster to settle in for another Friday night with a local band to go with his local beer. Eggplant, the classic rock and funk outfit, played Aug. 30, as people strolled the new promenade.

This Friday night, Sept. 20, brings another notable event in Barhop's young life: the opening of the brewery for “Gather to Give,” a party and benefit for Volunteers in Medicine in the Olympics, aka VIMO.

The free clinic's development coordinator, Zoe Apisdorf, approached Curry because she wanted to try a different kind of fundraiser. Gather to Give is to be a casual event instead of a high-ticket sit-down dinner because, Apisdorf believes, people have just about had their fill of the latter.

Friday's event will start at 6 p.m. at Barhop — but not in the pub itself. The party will be in the inner sanctum where Curry makes his FnA IPA, his Judge Porter and his PA7 ale; supper will be tacos from Little Devil's Lunchbox in Port Angeles. Harbinger wines will also flow, as will music by the duo Bill and Rudy and the trio Joy in Mudville.

On the surface, Curry's reasons for hosting the VIMO benefit look obvious. It's a way to promote Barhop, potentially to a well-heeled audience.

But press him a little, and he'll tell you why he considers it an honor.

Curry was born into a big Irish Catholic family in San Francisco. His father was Dr. Francis J. Curry, a man who had grown up poor but won a full scholarship to Stanford University, where he got his medical degree.

As a young doctor, Frank Curry worked in California's Central Valley, serving migrant farm workers and Native Americans. He next served as a captain in the Army during the Korean War, then returned to San Francisco, where he became county director of public health.

In 1958, Dr. Curry opened what was then unheard of: a neighborhood clinic. This was in a washroom beside St. Anthony's Dining Room, a soup kitchen in San Francisco's rough Tenderloin district.

He “retired” at age 65, in 1976, but continued to volunteer at the St. Anthony's clinic — until he was 83.

Dr. Curry died in 1996 at age 85. The clinic, his son Tom notes, still is operating today.

Tom Curry felt a calling, too, to work in health care.

“I loved my career,” he says of his time with Extendicare, which is one of the nation's largest long-term care companies.

“It was a mission,” Curry adds, “and an obligation not only for the patients and their families, but also to be a good employer.”

No one wants to go to a nursing home, he acknowledges.

“But I knew we could do it better,” and provide high quality of life.

In running a much smaller company, he says, “My business background is my strong suit.”

But that doesn't mean Curry can predict what will happen in Port Angeles' retail ecosystem.

“This is Main Street 101,” he says. “It's total entrepreneurism. There is no corporation backing us up; we make payroll or we don't.”

It's clear Curry revels in the challenge.

“Creating something from nothing has been an absolute blast.

“And what's awesome, from my standpoint, is the music part of it,” he says, shaking his head and smiling.

“I have more fun on Friday night than the bands do.”

Mike Pace, a member of three groups that have played Barhop — the Soulshakers, the Hay-Shakers and Chesnut Junction — has witnessed this.

“It's pretty cool that he's booking such a variety of acts,” he says. “It helps to create a more vibrant musical scene in our little community.

Curry “goes out of his way,” Pace adds, “to make sure you are comfortable in his club.

“He and Rhonda are always out dancing” on the Barhop floor.

Rhonda arrives at the pub Friday nights after making the trip from Whatcom County, where she has worked since November. Last fall, she left Olympic Medical Center to become director of marketing and communications for the PeaceHealth NW Network of Care, which includes PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

When the conversation reaches this topic, Curry pauses. He'd rather talk business.

This commuter marriage thing is “crazy,” he says.

Then his on-message aplomb returns.

“Rhonda is an awesome woman. I'm lucky to have the time with her that I do have.

“It's not ideal,” he acknowledges. “But it's given me a lot of time, midweek, to concentrate on growing the [Barhop] business. I'm not sitting around watching TV.”

Curry is likewise devoted to Port Angeles. He went to the Sept. 3 City Council meeting to thank the leaders who chose to finish the esplanade project.

“It's the best thing I have seen the city of Port Angeles do,” he says.

The waterfront promenade is “the first impression for visitors, and it's the last impression.”

The esplanade is also a key piece of Barhop's future. Curry wants to reconfigure the place, and plans on a wood-fired pizza oven and food bar inside with French doors and a deck out front.

He also hopes to have live bands more often, but he won't book them until it makes sense financially.

Revenues will have to rise from the food and drink, since Curry doesn't want to have a cover charge for the music.

“Because there isn't a cover, it exposes people to local talent,” he says.

But “the live music is our third-largest expense. It's neck and neck with payroll.”

The highest cost is for the cold ones: Curry's production target this year is 200 barrels, or 6,200 gallons, which is twice the output of last year.

The brewpub staff is three part-time workers and one full-time: manager Natalie White. She's Curry's daughter, one of the six kids and stepkids he and Rhonda have between them.

The best thing about this job, White says, is that it's part of her family's business. She also likes the fact that Barhop serves neither hard liquor nor cheap beer, “which is nice for me as a bartender.”

“I love that it's something different for Port Angeles,” she adds.

“I am really proud of her,” says Curry, noting that White, a hairstylist who attended the Gene Juarez Academy, works two jobs: managing Barhop plus working one day a week at the Envy salon in Port Angeles.

As for Curry, he puts in 12- to 15-hour days on Monday, brewing day.

People are thirsty for what he's making: Business stayed good through last winter, went up in May and stayed up.

“I'm assuming a slight taper with the off-season,” he says, but “we have a really solid local following.”

Barhop was named top nano-brewery of the Pacific Northwest by blogger Steve Body, aka the Pour Fool. That was in 2011, though, back when Barhop's taproom was a snug storefront on Laurel Street.

With this high-profile location, the operation may not stay nano.

“Five years from now, I envision this place with 20 or 30 employees,” Curry says, “and selling product off the Peninsula.

“We want to create a business that we can be proud of, and that Port Angeles can be proud of.”

Last modified: September 14. 2013 6:30PM
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