From Oregon Investment Guide 2024

From Beijing to Bend, an Angel Finds His ALTITUDE


Thomas Angel and his wife Laura Melgarejo-Silva are co-founders of Altitude Beverages LLC in Bend.
Photo courtesy of Altitude Beverages LLC


homas Angel took the road not taken, and his new path has produced unprecedented success for an upstart business.

Altitude Beverages LLC is the new venture. Thomas Angel, co-founder and president of this brewery that provides an alcohol alternative, says he and his wife Laura Melgarejo-Silva chose to build their business in Bend, Oregon, because of lifestyle factors associated with their brand.

Bend was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of the 50 fastest-growing cities in the nation. Bend is one of just four Pacific Northwest cities to make the list. The others are in Washington. Forbes notes that all four cities share these traits: fast-rising population, rapidly rising income, and solid business growth.

Bend, located in Central Oregon, saw its population grow 28% from 75,000 in 2011 to over 97,000 in 2021. Today, its population is estimated at 104,906. The entire Central Oregon area has about 250,000 people.

“We moved from Beijing to Bend to start this business in 2020,” says Angel. “I had been working for Boeing, and we got stuck in China in March 2020 when COVID-19 broke out. At my core, I am an entrepreneur. I was doing startups outside of class back in college. I took the job at Boeing to pay the bills and stayed there for 10 years, but I always wanted to start my own company.”

Saving up seed capital, Angel decided to branch out on his own when the world shut down. Another factor prompted his life and career change, he adds: “Our relationship with alcohol changed. We still wanted to enjoy our social life, but we decided that we wanted to enjoy it without alcohol. Back then, it was rare to find anything non-alcoholic at a bar. Together, we decided to create our own alternative beverage company.”

Born of this life change was Altitude Beverages LLC in Bend. “Our goal was to create a brand that aligns with feeling part of the scene and the social occasion,” Angel says. “But we also asked ourselves another question: Where do we want to start this company?”


If you are passionate about your idea, this community will support you. That is how we ended up in Bend.
Thomas Angel, co-founder and president, Altitude Beverages LLC


An aviation software developer by trade, Angel says that “we needed to go someplace where there is expertise for brewing. I had grown up in the Portland area, so I knew of Bend, which was known as a popular vacation destination. I also knew it as a brewery town. My brother moved here when I moved to China. He came here to work on a coffee startup.”

Angel and his wife took their time to pick a location. “We evaluated San Diego, Seattle and Bend,” he says. “We spent about a month in each place before we made our decision. We toured each city during the summer of 2020 during the lockdowns. Obviously, that was not an ideal time to do this.”

Each city had its selling points, he notes. “San Diego is a wonderful place, but we found it hard to tap into the beverage community there,” he says. “In Bend, within our first week of being here, we had met with multiple brewery owners. We quickly realized that this was a place that welcomed new ideas. If you are passionate about your idea, this community will support you. That is how we ended up in Bend.”

Lifestyle Brand Fits with Area Culture
As a business owner, Angel says several factors make Bend a natural choice for his company:

  • “It punches above its weight. It has only a little over 100,000 people, but it feels bigger than that. The community, from a business perspective, compensates for what it may otherwise lack due to its population size.”
  • “People pitch in and help each other here.”
  • “It is a higher-income location and a second-home destination. People who have higher incomes on the West Coast will buy a second home here. Because of the higher discretionary income in Bend, you don’t have to compete on the lowest price.”
  • “Oregon has wonderful agricultural resources that not every state has.”
  • “There is a priority placed on local brands. We are an active outdoor lifestyle brand, and that is a perfect fit in Bend.”

Angel adds that the Economic Development for Central Oregon organization has been a big help. “We have worked with both EDCO and Cultivate Bend, which is a natural products trade organization,” Angel says. “We have also met with the local reps of Business Oregon and with the state office in Salem.”

He admits that he had heard some stories about potential business climate issues in Oregon, but his experience so far, he says, has been positive. “What drew our business here was the entrepreneurial community,” he says. “My family moved here from Nashville when I was a kid. Rugged individualism is the ethos here, going back to the Oregon Trail and the first people who settled. Just like the settlers, we’re going to make the best possible opportunity out of this.”

After originally branching out nationally through Sprouts Farmers Markets in 2021, Altitude Beverages now has its sights set on becoming the top non-alcoholic beverage brand in the Pacific Northwest, says Angel. “Our consumer target is the active lifestyle enthusiast,” he says. “They hold their fitness and connection to the outdoors in high regard. These are your everyday people and weekend warriors. In short, the mindful consumer is our target demographic.”


Reasons Behind Bend’s Bust-Out
Economic Development for Central Oregon Bend Area Director Don Myll says there are multiple factors driving growth in Bend. “For 10 years, Bend has been one of the fastest-growing cities for technology in the country. We have been in the top five year after year. We have the first driver — the place, the outdoors, the weather. It is a good, dry place to live. Wind is not a big deal. We are close to the Cascades and the lakes. That is the fundamental driver.”

Myll adds that “Bend was a lumber town 40 years ago. They decided to diversify the economy. That’s why we recovered quickly from the pandemic. We have advanced manufacturing, high-tech, aviation, bioscience, etc. We have a broad economy. And even though people come here from all over to participate in outdoor recreation, tourism is just 15% of the economy.”

Indeed, many visitors choose to stay.

“People are coming from California, the valley near Portland, Eugene, Seattle, etc.,” says Myll. “Bend compares favorably to those areas. Plus, we are a high-tech community. You can have a remote technology job and work here. People choose to live in Bend and bring their technology skills with them. That creates a bank of knowledge that grows by itself.”

As that storehouse of knowledge has grown, so has industry. “Palo Alto companies and Seattle companies have employees who live and work here. That creates our tech bench, which is very deep,” Myll notes. “Also, the aviation history is rich in Oregon. We have several aviation manufacturers who build airplanes in Bend and in nearby Redmond. Composites parts for aviation are made at Composite Approach. They are in Redmond. People commute between the two cities a lot. We have a lot of solid industries here.”

Perhaps that is why Central Oregon’s motto is “Move, Start, Grow.”

“We help companies that are here to execute,” says Myll. “For the most part, the things that are attractive to growing companies are already here.”

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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