About Alumni

Crafting a Niche

Sarah and Zach Millar recently opened the Dram Shop in downtown Missoula.

Sarah Millar ’00, M.Ed. ’04, and Zach Millar ’99, Missoula, opened the Dram Shop in downtown Missoula in March. The first growler fill station in the state, the Dram Shop has more than thirty beers, as well as wine and nonalcoholic beverages, on tap. Patrons can settle in to enjoy a pint or glass of wine, stop by to fill a growler with brews from across Montana, the region, and the world—or both.

“We try to offer something for everyone,” says Zach. “Breweries are popular places to go right now, so it’s important we have that laid-back taproom vibe.”

The Millars, who met as students at UM and married in 2004, developed the idea for the Dram Shop after noticing how popular growler fill stations were becoming across the West. They drew inspiration from similar setups in cities like Seattle, Portland, and Bend, Ore., then adapted their business plan to accommodate Montana laws.

Zach, who during eleven years worked his way up to become distribution manager for Big Sky Brewing, already knew the ins and outs of the craft beer industry. Sarah had some entrepreneurial experience as the managing editor of Mamalode, a local media startup, but neither had launched their own business before.

So the couple took advantage of the free resources offered by UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad, a campus program that helps students, alumni, faculty, and staff turn their ideas, skills, and passions into real-world businesses and nonprofit organizations.

“As alumni, it was a no-brainer to go right to them and pitch our idea to see what they could do for us,” Zach says.

Sarah reached out to LaunchPad Director Paul Gladen, whom she had connected with at Mamalode. During the next several months, Gladen worked with the couple to refine their business plan and help them establish what they’d need to garner financing. He introduced them to bankers, accountants, lawyers, and other VIPs they would not have had access to otherwise.

“We try to get the word out about Blackstone as much as possible,” says Sarah. “As alumni, having that for free saved us from making a lot of costly mistakes. It made us bankable. People took us seriously.”

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