SunRift brewery to open Whitefish location
SunRift Beer Company's owner Craig Koontz, general manager Mandy Ralston and brewery manager Luther Manasco enjoy the sunny beer garden at their new location in Whitefish. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)
Hagadone News Network | November 12, 2023 12:00 AM
In the past five years, Sunrift Beer Company has become a fixture in Kalispell and soon, it will open its second location in Whitefish.
Located at 6185 U.S. 93 South, the unassuming brown building just south of the Glacier Bank was, most recently, the site of a boat dealership. After extensive renovation, the building now provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere to have a beer, meet up with friends or watch a game on TV.
Craig and Megan Koontz, and brothers Jerry and Dave Stevens, are the owners of SunRift Beer Company. The fun, bright name comes from the SunRift Gorge in Glacier National Park and Craig said the brand brings some happiness and joy in every pint.
“Whitefish is a great, thriving community,” Koontz said. “We felt like this south side of Whitefish was begging for something down here.”
He said the goal is to create a neighborhood gathering space.
The pub offers SunRift’s flagship beers along with wine, cider, spritzers and non-alcoholic offerings. Koontz said they will have great staple beers along with some good seasonals and a few whims, like a new concoction by head brewer Justin Olson that features white tea.
The Whitefish location has a kitchen and will offer a menu much like the one in the Kalispell location, that features wings, nachos, sandwiches and wraps. To the north of the building is a grassy beer garden and inside, there’s an upstairs seating area.
“We’re surrounded by good people and a big part of our philosophy is people, pints and possibilities, and it starts with great people and I think that we can do that, not only with our staff but also our community that comes and joins us here,” Koontz said. “We hope to have a really good family environment – a positive-only vibes kind of space.”
The SunRift team acknowledges that there is already an established beer community in Whitefish, including the Bonsai Brewing Project and Jeremiah Johnson Brewing Co.
“We just want to join that craft beer community,” he said. “We don’t want to step on any toes, we just want to be another door to knock on.”
General Manager Mandy Ralston and SunRift brewery manager Luther Manasco said the whole crew is excited to start a new community and build another family at the new location. They say the new community gathering space on the south side of town will be a good neighbor to the community.
“Trying to contribute to that community rather than compete,” Manasco said. “[This is an] opportunity for people to come and gather and drink and watch some sports or whatever people decide to make of it for themselves, without having to go downtown and try to find a parking space.”
Although Koontz may be the boss, he is a team player who appreciates the “fantastic” team he has assembled to help get the new pub off the ground.
“I’m an old brewer, a knucklehead, so I appreciate these people," Koontz said as he gestured to Ralston and Manasco. “[It’s] fun to have great people that take adventurous steps and ambitious steps that can drive us and take us further.”
He said he would like folks to come to SunRift to relax and enjoy the beautiful beer garden and lots of drink rail space.
SunRift will have a “soft and quiet” opening, according to Koontz, perhaps serving only beer at first, then slowly progressing to dinner only, before opening completely.
The SunRift Beer Company owners renovated a 100-year-old building just north of the Kalispell Center Mall and transformed it into an industrial-style pub-like restaurant. The space has red brick walls and hardwood floors.
“We brought it back from the depths of the petroleum industry,” Koontz said, adding that the renovation work required the removal of oil and gas in the ground beneath the site. They installed new plumbing and new floors. Koontz describes the vibe there as “hip and cool.”
The downtown Parkline Trail runs nearby, bringing customers with it. Koontz encourages people to visit the SunRift Beer Company in Kalispell to see where the company’s roots are and enjoy the changes that downtown Kalispell has undergone.
Koontz said the Whitefish location will have a different personality but the same genuine sense of community and camaraderie.