Mike Miller, The Moab Brewery’s general manager, shows off the restaurant’s new canning machine, which sends beer out to 220 locations across the country. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

The Moab Brewery is one of the most successful restaurants in Moab. Most of the year it seems like the parking lot outside of the brewery’s adobe façade is packed. One can often find a rainbow of license plates out front, or steam billowing from the kitchen’s vents.

But it wasn’t always this way. Like all good stories, in the beginning, the breweries success was not a sure thing.

“When they first built the place it was considered to be on the outskirts of town. No one thought they would make it,” said Mike Miller, The Moab Brewery’s current general manager.

That was back in 1996. Dave Sabey and John Borkoski, former river rats who used to come down to Moab in the summers, saw Moab’s rising popularity and decided to try their hand at running a restaurant.

The Moab Brewery is still in its original building, a space which Sabey and Borkoski bought from a cook-your-own-steak joint

Miller arrived in 2002, leaving behind a small restaurant he ran in Elko, Nevada. Since he arrived at the brewery he has seen nothing but growth: A trend that he believes is due to their focus on consistent quality in the food, good beer, and friendly atmosphere. But though the brewery has done very well, it has not been without its challenges.

Running a restaurant the size of The Moab Brewery is not cheap, and it is reliant on a large staff.

“Staffing can be a big challenge. During the peak season we have over 110 employees,” Miller said. “Moab has a laid back mentality so we have to try hard to equip our staff to deal with the high-volume, high-speed environment.”

And the beer that the brewery serves up is no small contributor to that volume.

At a current total of 17 different alcoholic beverages, The Moab Brewery has certainly earned its name. The principal man behind all those empty glasses (and now cans) is Jeff Van Horn.

Van Horn’s love affair with beer goes back a quarter century, to the days when he started home brewing with some friends in Salt Lake City.

“It was a complete accident, I never thought it would be something I’d get into as a job,” said Van Horn, who has also been a driving force in Moab’s recreational trail system, acting as the trail coordinator for Trail Mix for almost a decade

He got his start in commercial brewing in 1994, when he got work washing kegs at the Uinta Brewing Company. After working his way up through the brew house and eventually running the bottling line, Van Horn left Uinta in 2002 and, at the invitation of Borkoski, came to Moab.

Van Horn’s arrival dramatically increased the number of beers that the brewery serves, but he still holds true to his home brew roots.

“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the competition. We spend a lot of time talking with other brewers,” Van Horn said. “The knowledge should be spread and shared.”

His work, at least, is getting shared. With the addition of a 5,000-square-foot brewing and canning facility to the restaurant, The Moab Brewery now has the capacity to produce 10,000 barrels of beer a year, about eight-times the capacity they had in 2010. Though they still sell kegs, canning their beer has been a boon for the brewery, which now has its beer sold at around 220 locations across the country.

But while The Moab Brewery is rapidly going national, they have not forgotten about the core values, burgers, or chicken wings that made them famous, said Miller.

“We want a place that you can come in, get a beer and a burger, and not feel like you have to find the small loan department,” he said.

As for Van Horn, though he is unsure how The Moab Brewery may change in the years to come, he is sure of one thing: “I know that we will sell beer, no matter what the future holds.”