Southeast Ohio’s secret no more: Jackie O’s is headed for Columbus 

By Justin Thompson and Abby Ludwig

It’s nearly noon on a Tuesday and a charcoal-colored Toyota is humming west up Route 33. The stretch of road looks much like the last one, and almost identical to the next: flanked on either side by huge rock faces and deep wooded valleys.      

Inside, Art Oestrike keeps his eye on the road and his mind on business. He makes this roundtrip Athens-to-Columbus weekly, after all.     

On this day, the Jackie O’s owner recounts how he spearheaded the brewery’s massive growth, and muses about what its future might look like.       

And with every mile he puts behind him, he’s inching closer to Columbus—the next beer frontier he plans to conquer.      

“The hustle never stops,” Oestrike says. “It never stops!”      

Small Beginnings, Slow Growth and a Solid Plan

 And Oestrike knows a thing or two about hustle. In 2005 he bought O’Hooleys Irish Pub in Athens. The next year, Jackie O’s opened in its place. It had character and vigor, and most importantly, the new brewery concocted world class beer.       

The imprint Jackie O’s has made on Ohio’s beer scene in only 15 years is remarkable, especially given the crowded field.    

“When we started out, we were one of 23 breweries in the state,” Oestrike says. “Today, we’re three of the 360 breweries in the state.”       

As Oestrike acknowledges, that number is “crazy,” and it speaks to what really makes Jackie O’s such a singular operation: no move, no development, no pivot is done on a whim. Each decision regarding the brewery’s expansion fits into one of Oestrike’s one-, three-, or five year plans.       

“If you look at the series of five- year plans, a couple of them got done in 18 months, and a few of them are still unfinished 10, 15 years later,” he says. “That’s just the nature of looking at the business from that kind of perspective.”     

Perhaps a reason Jackie O’s has succeeded while other breweries have faltered is Oestrike’s mindful pace of expansion. He knows how to time major moves so that risk is minimized, and the company remains on solid financial ground.      

“A lot of breweries that were seeing massive growth and throwing a lot of money into production capabilities four or five years ago, a lot of them have closed,” Oestrike says.       

Oestrike’s latest move—one that’s been three years in the making—is expansion beyond the region.   

Photo by Meghan Rowe

Take 33 all the way to Columbus 

The brewery recently acquired 5,800 square feet of space on North 4th Street in Columbus, which was previously occupied by Elevator Brewing Co. The location is enviable, and the renderings are impressive.      

John Clift is another individual just as dedicated to the brewery’s spirit     

Some 14 years ago, Clift began bartending at Jackie O’s, and he imagined a world where both the brewery and his involvement increased exponentially. Now, Clift’s new title is General Manager at the new Columbus location.      

“We’ve got a huge fan base here,” Clift says about the state capital. “People are head over heels.”      

Clift says this new reality is one the early believers of Jackie O’s could never have conceived.      

“It was never the dream,” Clift says. “Art was just opening a bar that happened to have a brewery inside of it.”      

But, as word of this mystic brew spread outside of the small, brick-laden town of Athens, so did the demand.    

“Soon people everywhere [in Columbus] were asking me if I could get it for their bar,” Clift says. “It’s all been built on demand.”   The city seemed the perfect place to build another base.   

The scenic space is not only a tribute to the mood Jackie O’s has so expertly fostered in Athens, but also a tribute to the Southeast Ohio traditions of self-sustainment and interdependence. And the architect himself is a man of these roots. Jeff Keiter, the brains behind the beautiful layout, calls Albany his home, placing him right at the heart of the region’s spirit.      

“It’s a combination of virtue, fun and hard work,” Clift says when asked to describe that intangible spirit. “I grew up in Athens, and I’ve also grown up with Jackie O’s, and both those things are an extremely unique culture.”     

Same Vibe, Different Spot  

Clift is determined to make the new storefront one that embodies the original essence that he fell in love with many years ago.    

“We’re striving to recreate that feel of Athens, but in a place that has millions of people,” Oestrike says. “And we couldn’t be more excited about it.”      

Oestrike expects the new spot to grow slowly—he hopes to hire 30 new employees within the next few years—but Columbus is already Jackie O’s biggest urban market. The name carries weight there, and the city already has a taste for the beer.     

“There are more Ohio Bobcats living in Columbus than there are people of drinking age in Athens County,” Oestrike says. “So I feel pretty good about it.”      

Barring any more setbacks or restrictions, Oestrike envisions the patio being complete and buzzing by this summer. That’s music to the ears of the city’s thousands of Jackie O’s devotees, who have been clamoring for their favorite brewery to set up shop downtown for years. At long last, they’re finally getting their wish.