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23rd Ave Brewery opens, bringing its owners back home to the Central District

Three men stand behind a black counter with a POS system. From left to right is James Dixon in a black shirt, David Dixon in a red shirt and black hat, and Mario Savage in a black shirt with a black hat. Customers are in the forefront of the frame.
Grace Madigan
After growing up together in the Central District, James Dixon, David Dixon and Mario Savage started brewing in 2018. Now they have returned to the neighborhood as business owners.

Brothers David and James Dixon and Mario Savage are childhood friends. They grew up in Seattle's Central District in the ‘90s, just blocks away from their brand new brewery which sits at 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street.

The locals called that block the “Promenade.” David Dixon said it used to be the place people went for all their errands, from getting groceries to getting their hair cut.

"This block was just completely different. I remember when the Starbucks was new, there was a flower shop where Catfish Corner is right now, there were tons of barber shops all down the row," he said.  

Before there was a seven story apartment complex with an Amazon Fresh, this block was full of Black and minority-owned businesses. 50 years ago, 70% of Central District residents were Black. Now, less than one in five people living here is Black.

Savage and the Dixon brothers had all moved away from the Central District years earlier when they started to brew beer together in 2018. Still, when they decided to turn their hobby into a business, they wanted a name that represented where they’re from. So they settled on “23rd Ave Brewery." But Savage said they assumed there was no way they’d find a space actually on the avenue that they could afford.

"We were just like we'll come back in, like, 'X' amount of years," Savage said. "We were really looking on like the outskirts of Seattle."

In Seattle, a city with more than 70 breweries, 23rd Ave Brewery is one of only two that’s Black-owned.

Then they saw a 500-square-foot micro unit available outside that new apartment complex. Right there at 23rd Ave and Jackson. Where the Promenade used to be.

"I mean that's like literally like that s— was written in the stars. Like that was some, you know, like it was meant to be type s—," Savage said.

When Vulcan Real Estate announced they were planning to redevelop the block in 2016, there was public backlash. The Central District community saw it as another sign of the gentrification they’d been fighting.

In response to that feedback, Vulcan decided to add three micro retail spaces. All three are occupied by Black-owned businesses — a flower shop, a skin care shop, and now the brewery.

James Dixon says they were able to open for around $20,000, a fraction of the typical cost.

"This micro unit really gave us the opportunity to try to utilize some of our money in a different way because it was so cheap."

In Seattle, a city with more than 70 breweries, 23rd Ave Brewery is one of only two that’s Black-owned.

A six pack of cans labeled "23rd Ave Brewery Basement Stout" sit on a counter.
Grace Madigan
When Savage and the Dixon brothers decided to turn their hobby into a business, they chose the name "23rd Ave Brewery" to represent where they’re from.

At the grand opening in June, Terrell Jackson greeted the Dixon brothers and Savage with hushpuppies and catfish. Jackson is the owner of Catfish Corner, the southern comfort food restaurant across the street.

"Welcoming them to the neighborhood because it feels good now to have people — my peers — actually opening their doors and getting revenue in their doors to take care of their family," Jackson said.

Catfish Corner had been an institution in the Central District since the ‘80s until 2014 when they were forced to close due to unpaid rent and taxes. It was only last year when they were able to come back.

"It feels good to have these guys open up today.  It’s good that these guys are being part of the solution," Jackson said.

The Dixon brothers and Savage greeted a steady stream of family and friends, and also strangers. Imani Sims couldn’t contain her excitement at seeing another Black-owned business open in the neighborhood, where she grew up and was eventually priced out.

"I'm hoping it'll be a beacon and everyone's like, yes, oh, I'm going to go back to my hometown neighborhood and hang out," Sims said.

For the Dixon brothers and Savage, the grand opening of their brewery was more than just a celebration — it was a homecoming.

"We're here, right? So we better make some good beer, right?" David said.

The opening celebration was supposed to last four hours, but it only took an hour before they completely sold out of 100 gallons of beer.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.