John and Jenni Bourdon had not really planned to open a second tasting room besides the one at their Tenino area Sandstone Distillery.
They certainly did not plan to do it in the waning days of a pandemic or at the beginning of a possible economic downturn.
But for a chance to be on the busy thoroughfare of Sussex Avenue, they knew they had to take a leap of faith.
“It was an opportunity,” John Bourdon said. “Where else can you find a location like this? They really don’t exist.”
“I feel like it was a convergence of opportunity and timing,” Jenni Bourdon added.
The Bourdons opened Tenino’s Sandstone Distillery in 2014, becoming the first distillery licensed in Thurston County since prohibition. John Bourdon taught himself to make distilled spirits about 20 years ago. His trucking company had grown to the point that he no longer needed to drive. He found himself with some time on his hands and decided to take up distilling as a hobby. Eventually, his hobby grew to the point where the couple decided to start offering their spirits to the public.
Today, John works with their son, Justin, to make more than a dozen varieties of spirits including gin, vodka, whiskey (both aged and their award-winning unaged or “white” whiskey) and bourbon as well as a line of pre-mixed cocktails. They produce about 5,000 to 6,000 bottles per year.
“The whole thing has been built on failure,” John Bourdon said of how the family learned the business. “With Justin and I, our two favorite phrases are ‘hey, you know what we could do?’ and ‘hey, let’s not do that again.’”
Sandstone Distillery already had a tasting room at the distillery, which is about 12 miles away from downtown Tenino. The new downtown tasting room, which opened in July, is located right next door and in the same building as the storefront for the Bourdons’ other venture, Wild Heart sipping vinegar, which you can also purchase at the distillery tasting room.
The Bourdons said building owner Chris Hallett deserves a lot of the credit for making the downtown tasting room happen. It was something that Hallett had suggested to the Bourdons before and he helped support the work that needed to be done prior to opening the tasting room.
“A lot of the work to the building, he covered the cost,” John Bourdon said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”
The Sandstone Distillery downtown tasting room is open noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The tasting room at the original Sandstone Distillery location on Wright Road remains open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and on Sundays by appointment.
The idea of a second tasting room appealed to the Bourdons because they recognized the tremendous amount of traffic that travels down Sussex Avenue on a weekly basis. A storefront in this busy thoroughfare has the potential to attract folks who may want to sample their spirits but may not be interested in seeing the distillery itself.
The shop carries unique local gifts for visitors, who can taste the terroir of a product made with grains grown exclusively on the west side of Washington. The Bourdons also participate in Harvest Hosts, an overnight accommodation app where people can stay at locations of farms and other artisanal producers. Having a downtown shop allows them to steer their Harvest Host visitors toward the downtown corridor to sample not only their wares, but others’ as well.
“First and foremost, it’s location,” Jenni Bourdon said of what attracted them to the storefront. “It gives us a street presence and exposure we don’t have at our distillery because of how far out it is.”
For the Bourdons, their second location has also been a chance to connect with Tenino’s history, which has been a passion for both of them for many years. The distillery’s location is on part of sandstone carver Andrew Wilson’s farm and they have some of his original tools.
The new tasting room is located in a building whose footprint dates back to M.C. Cole’s billiards and saloon from 1902. In their remodel, the Bourdons uncovered original windows from 1914, some of which had been boarded over since the 1950s. They also exposed some of the original Tenino sandstone walls, but left some of the old lathe and plaster, especially boards that bear the name of Tacoma Mill Company, which John Bourdon said he believes closed in the 1930s. In refinishing the original floors, the duo also found a hidden hatch in the floor that leads to a basement area that they believe may be one of five known speakeasy rooms in downtown Tenino. They plan to keep it intact.
“We’re kind of history keepers,” John Bourdon said. “We like keep it and preserve it.”
The new downtown tasting room also offers Sandstone Distillery the opportunity to offer more events. They have been scheduling events every Saturday, including this week’s mini spa day. They also host paint and sip events as well as bunco and bingo nights. They are also looking into the possibility of offering performances by small musical numbers as well as offering music on the space’s 1924 player piano.
“It’s a combination of a retail storefront for us and also a community gathering place,” Jenni Bourdon said.
Sandstone Distillery Downtown Tasting Room
Location: 297 Sussex Ave., Tenino
Hours: Open Friday through Sunday noon to 6 p.m. (hours may change in winter)
Learn more: Sandstonedistillery.com or Sandstone Distillery on Facebook