Bullfrog Brewery celebrates 25 years
By MIKE REUTHER
Most small businesses eventually fail, with one in three not making it to the 10-year mark, according to the Small Business Administration.
Then there are those such as the Bullfrog Brewery, a downtown Williamsport restaurant and brewpub, which recently celebrated its silver anniversary.
Ask Bob Koch or his son, Steve and wife, Alicia, the reason for its staying power, and they will list a number of factors that can be attributed to business success.
There’s the unique ambiance of the restaurant housed in a historic building with its brick and brass features and the brewing vats looming in the bar and dining areas.
The location in downtown Williamsport is certainly a plus.
And, the Bullfrog’s reputation for putting out award-winning beers.
“As much emphasis as we place on beer, we do much more business with our food,” Bob said.
People do flock to the Bullfrog to sample their unique variety of beers, including such longtime favorites as The Billtown Blonde, but lunches and dinners bring most of the customers.
Steve lists the burgers, crab dip, and fish and chips, and grilled chicken as some of the more popular menu items.
Wild salmon caught in Alaska is also popular among diners.
Satisfying the customer, as with any business, is the key to success, Steve noted.
“We want to foster a friendly environment, a place where people connect,” he said.
The Bullfrog, unlike many popular restaurants, doesn’t have television screens throughout the place blaring sports or news, and that’s part of its uniqueness, its charm.
Bob gives his son credit for coming up with the idea of opening a restaurant.
While a college student in the Seattle area in the 1990s, he fell in love with the brew pubs opening there.
“He just fell in love with that scene,” Bob said.
After moving back to the local area, the idea of opening up a place percolated in his brain as he worked in a local restaurant.
As Bob recalled with a smile, “He worked on my wife and I.”
Once the two were both serious about actually opening up a place, they began stalking out possible locations.
The building at 229 W. Fourth St. seemed like a good spot.
And that’s where The Bullfrog has been for the past 25 years.
“This was popular right away,” Steve said as he sat at a table in the rear of the restaurant.
Bob noted the Bullfrog’s strategic location across from the street from the Community Arts Center.
Steve and his father noted that downtown Williamsport was much different back in the 90s.
“Downtown was pretty much a ghost town,” Steve said. “It functions more as a downtown now.”
The Bullfrog, they feel, was just the beginning of what became a kind of boon for center city.
In ensuing years, popular events such as Mardis Gras opened up The Bullfrog and other downtown restaurants to more people.
Bob said he got the idea for a local Mardis Gras from trips he took to New Orleans.
“”I got other restaurants in town to participate,” he said. “We got busloads of people from out of town. They thought the downtown was a great area.”
The local Mardis Gras is an event of the past, but The Bullfrog continues producing traditional ales and lagers as well as wild ales/sours and ciders.
The Bullfrog has been ranked by RateBeer.com as among the Top 100 Brewers in the World. In addition, seven of the Top 25 beers brewed in the state are from The Bullfrog.
In addition, TheCultureTrip.com listed Bullfrog Brewery as one of the Top 10 Craft Breweries in the state.
Not to be forgotten is The Bullfrog’s Le Roar Grrz Wild Ale, ranked as the Number 6 Geueze in the world by BeerAdvocate.com.
“We were one of the first to reproduce Belgian-style beer,” Steve said.
He recalled people coming from all over to sample the beer when it was introduced.
The accolades, perhaps as much as anything else, have helped put the business on the map.
Steve recalled being in Costa Rica and spotting someone with a Bullfrog t-shirt.
Bob said there are people who think of Williamsport not only as the home of Little League Baseball but as the site of The Bullfrog.
“A lot of people say they had their first date at The Bullfrog,” Alicia said.
She and Steve noted that what helps make the place successful are its hardworking and dedicated employees as well as its ability to adapt to business and changing economic conditions.
In 2013, a brewing production facility was opened a few blocks away to make Bullfrog beers available to business establishments.