Downtown taproom moves from idea to actuality, with LaunchPad’s aid


Earlier this year, all husband and wife Zach and Sarah Millar had was an idea: They wanted to open a taproom that would be part of Missoula’s growing craft beer scene but offer a broader range of selection than is available from a traditional brewery. The Millars, however, weren’t sure how to turn that idea into a reality. In search of some guidance, they went to the Blackstone LaunchPad on the University of Montana campus, worked with director Paul Gladen and received assistance with developing their business plan, legal advice and finding funding.

“We’re not [ABC’s] ‘Shark Tank,’” Gladen says of Missoula’s eight-month-old LaunchPad, which is one of 15 affiliated centers around the county. “We’re really there to help the individual teams that we’re working with develop their entrepreneurial skills. So, helping them understand what are the steps that they need to take, what are the questions or assumptions that they need to get answers to to help them figure out whether their idea has real potential, and whether what they’re working on has got a chance of success.”

As a result of that kind of assistance, the Millars are getting close to opening a business based on what was once just a vision.

“All the wheels are turning now,” Zach says.

The business now has a name (the Dram Shop), a space (on East Front Street, between the Trail Head and the Pearl) and preliminary designs for how to transform the space into a tavern and growler-filling location with some 35 taps of beer, as well as wine, cider and soda.

All the Millars need now is for the city to approve their conditional use permit and for the state’s departments of Revenue and Justice to approve the transfer of a beer and wine license the Millars have bought. They’re hoping that will happen later this year. If it does, the Dram Shop will likely open early in 2015 and offer consumption on premises, as well as growler fills of everything on tap. It won’t, however, be a typical downtown bar.

“We have two daughters, so we want it to be a family friendly place,” Zach says. “We’re going to have a play area for kids in here, and we want the atmosphere to be laid back, like a taproom atmosphere. That’s our goal. A place where people are comfortable bringing their kids, having a snack, filling a growler and going home—or staying for longer, if they want to.”

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