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Jewish background part of mix for pub owner, manager

Firefighter and co-owner of Sentinel Peak Brewing Company, left, with Samantha Berkson, Sentinel Peak general manager (Courtesy Sentinel Peak Brewing Company)

Quite a few firefighters open restaurants. But how many can say they’ve also celebrated a bar mitzvah at the Kotel?

Matt Gordon of Sentinel Peak Brewing Company can.

Gordon is a Tucson native who graduated from Catalina Foothills High School in 2001 and joined the Golder Ranch Fire District in 2003. He currently works as an engineer on the special operations team out of station 377 in Oro Valley. In 2004, Gordon and two fellow firefighters, Jeremy Hilderbrand and Taylor Carter, opened Sentinel Peak Brewing Company.

Gordon celebrated his bar mitzvah while on a birthright Israel trip in 2009.

“I grew up in a household that was dual religion, Methodist and Jewish. My parents were divorced when I was young and religion was one of the things that was just too big of a hurdle for them to agree upon a way to raise me, so I was raised mostly without any serious religious connection. We would celebrate all the holidays, the Jewish ones with my Jewish grandparents and the Christian ones with my Methodist grandparents, but that was about the extent of my connection to either community,” says Gordon.

“When I decided to explore my heritage more and embark on the birthright experience, it opened my eyes to a beautiful community, a heritage rich in tradition and connection to the past that I had not expected. Being able to have a bar mitzvah at the base of the Kotel was a powerful and memorable feeling that will live with me all my life,” he says.

These days, Gordon is spending a lot of time helping to build Sentinel Peak’s new taproom on Toole Avenue. As with the Grant Road location, he’s investing his own sweat and tears in the project, he says.

Being a partner in a brewpub gives him a chance to explore new beers and food — although his favorite brew remains Sentinel Peak’s Salida Del Sol, a Mexican-style amber. He also likes that it gives him the opportunity to exercise his creative muscle.

And Gordon is passionate about supporting local businesses.

“I feel that Tucson is a unique city and community that has held strong to being true to its past. Local business is what keeps the heritage of Tucson alive and thriving. By supporting local I feel like I am doing my small part to keep the heritage and tradition alive, as well as keeping my money here within our community to continue our growth and prosperity. I feel like many cities have already lost or are losing their unique identity when every corner is big box stores and national chain restaurants.”

He also loves helping people in need, whether as part of the fellowship of firefighters, or as a business owner.

When not working at the fire department or the brewpub, Gordon spends time with his wife, Tyanie, and their children, Asher, age 5, and Addison, age 3.

Another Tucson native and member of the Jewish community, Samantha Berkson, is part of the Sentinel Peak Brewing Company crew. Berkson, who graduated from Sabino High School and attended the University of Arizona, was involved with the local BBYO Jewish youth group for years and served as the teen/BBYO director at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in the mid-2000s.

In 2006, she also went on a birthright Israel trip, and was a staff member on the March of the Living trip to Poland and Israel that same year for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

After working in the nonprofit arena for years, Berkson branched out into the hospitality industry.  Over the last 15 years, she’s opened and operated several Tucson restaurants and started her own restaurant consulting company. In 2016, she joined Sentinel Peak Brewing Company, where she is the general manager of the brewery and a partner in its catering company, Rusty Truck BBQ.

“I love that we are community oriented,” she says. “We donate to many charities,” including Gabriel’s Angels, which provides pet therapy for at-risk children, and the Tucson Museum of Art.

On a personal level, she says, “I love Tucson — its culture, restaurants, people and pace.”

In her spare time, Berkson travels and spends time with family and friends and her two puggles.