This year marked the 7th anniversary of New Republic Brewing—the company that had been percolating (brewing? Would that be a better term for this particular business?) in the back of Dean’s mind for a very, very long time. Over the past few months Dean and I have been asked over and over again what is going on with NRB, and what is going on with us. I’ve been giving the politic answer most of the time—we still have good friends at the brewery, and I didn’t want to jeopardize them or anything Dean might be doing next; there are times I don’t censor myself when I really should (I don’t know exactly *when* those times are, but it usually involves someone crying at the end, so you know).
Anyhow, I figured it was time to tell our side of the story, because I’m becoming less and less careful with my words. Might as well spell check along the way, I say! So, for those of you who have been asking, here’s the story of how we started and then left New Republic Brewing Co.
You’ve Been Warned!
Mandatory disclaimer: I’m going to be writing the version of events from my perspective (a super-informed perspective, containing only the correct facts and opinions based on reality, of course. I do observe and report facts for a living, after all). You can ask Dean about his. You can also ask anyone else involved in the brewery…that should be fun for them. Anyway, here we go
Setting the scene:
There’s a special type of anger that comes with watching your favorite person on earth cry—especially when those tears are caused by someone being a right asshole. And ESPECIALLY when the person experiencing the pain is Dean; even tempered, fantastically wonderful, perfectly loving to all, Dean. I’ve never been great at hiding my anger (some people say that comes with being a red head, I say that comes from dealing with stupid people). This is one of the reasons I find Dean so amazing—he has near alien (at least to me) ability to control his emotions, and has on many occasions kept me out of prison by preventing certain murder. So when this man is overcome with sadness at the loss of a business, one he built from the ground up, one we sacrificed everything for, I get angry.
The phrase “it’s not personal, it’s just business” is one I have never agreed with.I have found those who use that phrase are invariably attempting to screw someone over, and are trying to distance themselves from their actions. I have learned to take this as a warning about their character in general—how can you think a business someone built isn’t personal? You can’t get more personal than that.
Over a year ago Dean left New Republic Brewing, the brewery he and I started back in 2010 (although we tend to count from 2011 when we were all official and made our first sale). We’ve been asked many times what happened, and Dean, in his calm and collected way simply says “I moved on.” I’m not so gracious…see that paragraph about my angry side. It’s taken me awhile to think about what to say about this chapter of our lives coming to a close, and this is it.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Way back in 2000 I was a master’s student at San Jose State, Dean and I were newly married, and a professor of microbiology was giving a talk on home brewing for the weekly seminar. Dean came with me to that talk and sat entranced. He had just started exploring the world of beer, having spent most of his life not drinking alcohol at all (for those of you that know Dean now…crazy, right?!? But he didn’t even drink on his 21st birthday, so there’s that). Anyhow, between the lecture on beer making and mentioning this possible new hobby to our families, Dean acquired a nice set of home brewing equipment and a passion for the craft. We were lucky enough to live in an area where home brewing was especially common and almost immediately found a group of like-minded individuals who shared the hobby. Ask us sometime about beer camping and how we came up with Coco Puff Porter—that beer club was the best.
Fast forward to 2008. I had graduated and accepted a position at TAMU. Dean packed up his brewing equipment (along with the rest of the house) and we moved to Texas. This same year Dean purchased his first real brewing sculpture—a monstrosity of chrome and fire that launched him from making mediocre home brew to brewing consistently good beer. He also built a fermentation chamber that took up most of our living room for a bit…have I mentioned my endless patience yet? It should be obvious.
Hurricane season gave Dean some time to brew while we were stuck at home experiencing our first real Texas storm.Thus Rye of the Hurricane was born, and you could practically see the idea of an actual brewery grow in Dean’s head. Over the next year or so, Dean did a lot of fun beer-related things: he started the home brew club (Texas Aggieland Brew Club, or TABC) so we could have brew-ins with other beer lovers; he gave talks on brewing; he was interviewed by the local news on home brewing as a money saving measure (it was a recession, after all); and he was asked by restaurants to do special beer-food pairings.
That voice in his head got louder, and his recipes got better. There came a point where we had a “so, do you want to start a brewery or what?” talk. With that out in the universe, Dean began making beer and taking it to local businesses,asking if they would sell it. The wonderful staff at Village Cafe was the first support this crazy-ass dream, going so far as to sign an agreement stating they would carry our beer.
This was to be our first real business (apart from dabbling in some web hosting and other online ventures—but then it was the 90s and who wasn’t doing online stuff then?!?) and we knew we needed not only money, but help.
A bit about Dean
One thing I have learned about Dean throughout the years is that he is able to do absolutely anything, mostly because he’s willing to admit what he doesn’t know and will get help when he needs it. This quality came in to play here, and we started looking for partners in the brewery who had business experience—someone who knew the things we didn’t know. We actually ended subtly “interviewing” several potential partners (there was one disastrous road trip that ended with an angry Adrienne in the back seat vowing to murder these people if we went into business with them. That was a fun day).
Let’s get this thing started!
Dean was asked to give a talk at Christopher’s World Grill for their Oktoberfest—he consulted on the types of beer to pair with various dishes, and spoke to a gathered group of foodies between each course. It was during this dinner that we met our eventual brewery partners—let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Thing #1 (in deference to sweetie, I am doing the bare minimum to keep them anonymous. Luckily, anyone who knows us will know the names. Did I mention I’m not great at hiding my anger?) This couple had business experience, wanted to open a brewery, and seemed like the perfect fit. We went out several times, I never once wanted to kill them, they knew about the business side of things, and all seemed well. On one warm evening we sat on the deck at Ozonas and signed a contract to open the brewery, toasting with margaritas (there wasn’t much good beer on tap at the time, hence the need for a new brewery!)
Things moved pretty quickly after that. We worked up a business plan with Dean and Mr. Thing #1 taking the lead, while Mrs. Thing #1 and I stayed doing our respective careers (mine was grad school, so I guess “career” should be in quotes at that moment), and worked with the boys in the evenings and on weekends.
The boys spent a lot of time running numbers, meeting with business consultants, talking to lawyers, being all official and stuff. After a few months we boiled it down to two major needs:
- We needed money. We decided to start very small, building a “proof of concept” brewery of sorts, and then use that to get bigger investments.
- We needed recipes.
The money part was actually not that bad. We decided on starting with the paltry sum of $30,000 (if you were to ask us now, we would say never, never, never start a brewery with $30,000…it’s a nightmare of duct tape and expanda-foam, but we were young and naive then). Dean, as he always does, put set his mind to this goal, and got it done in a matter of weeks. Most of the money came from our friends and family.
(I want to take a moment and thank all these people that believed in this crazy brewery idea from the beginning. Dean made phone calls, and would almost immediately get a “where do I send the check?” As an answer. This amount of support is amazing, and it means we are never alone in the world. You know what that feels like? That feels like we can do anything. It feels perfect. Thank you for that. Know we love you all).
OK, back to the long-winded story. Dean raised $30,000 from friends and family who wanted to support us. (Dare I say that Thing #1 didn’t contribute anything to this part? Yep, I’m gonna say it. Call me bitter if you want, but whatever. Sweetie did the work, sweetie had the contacts, sweetie is the best. Fight me). With this money and that fancy brew sculpture and fermentation chamber (yay for getting it out of my living room!) we went on the hunt for a brew space. Eventually, after many false starts, we landed in an empty warehouse space just outside of College Station.
Once we got that warehouse space is when we could apply for the various permits it takes to brew beer for production in Texas. Fun game: ask any brewer about the TABC and current permits, and watch them quietly cry into their inevitable beer. Yeah, it’s bad. In order to apply for permits, we had to have our brewing space and equipment all ready to go, but we couldn’t actually *brew* in that space. Fun times.
Brewing at Home
So, we moved to our house. For MONTHS the boys worked on recipes. Once they got to a point where they liked the brew, they wanted people to try it. And thus was born the Wednesday Night Drinking at the Brundage’s tradition. Every Wednesday evening, we would open up our courtyard and our guest bathroom to whomever wished to come by. We had the brew sculpture out front, brewed some new recipes, and served free beer to our friends and neighbors. This became a rather popular event, with 30 or 40 people cramming into our front yard on busy nights and giving us feedback on the beer.
(Quick aside, this all happened during the fall semester I was studying for and sitting for my oral and written exams for my PhD. It was a blessing and a curse to come home from 12 hours of study or exams to a houseful of people. Some days it was a great break. Other days, it was more of me bitching that someone had taken my parking space and a swear to god if anyone talks to me on the way in the house I’m gonna scream. I apologize to anyone who got caught in the wake of that time. I don’t recommend it).
These months allowed us to really refine our recipes through good, honest, slightly drunk feedback. Like that time we were working on the coffee beer, and someone told us the buzz from the coffee was fighting with the high alcohol, and he felt weird and wanted to go for a run but also sleep. Ah, the wonders of chemistry.
During this time, Dean still had his other job—he worked remotely for a large computer company, and was doing all of this stuff while keeping us afloat. I’m not sure when he remembered to sleep, but it wasn’t often. It was also pretty hard trying to talk about the brewery without alerting his bosses that he *might* have a side gig that just *might* become a full time thing eventually. That’s a thin line to walk.
The Brewery Begins!
Eventually (after approximately one million years) our permits came through, and we could move to the brewery proper. Have I mentioned how much of the equipment was stored at our house?!? It was like getting two new rooms once we were able to move. Complete spacious joy!
On the down side, that Christmas Dean got laid off from his job. He had the opportunity to apply for other positions in the company, but decided to freelance while he got the brewery up and running. I can’t tell you how brave he was for doing that, how scary it was to think about, and how little money we made that year. I was still a graduate student, getting paid the tiniest stipend (and I ended up losing that when I went to work for Baylor for a semester, because I was given an ultimatum. I don’t do well with ultimatums).
(Ok, another aside: I REALLY don’t do well with ultimatums. You tell me that I better not do something I want to do or else something bad is going to happen? I will choose that bad thing EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. There comes a point I don’t give a shit about what happens to me, just as long as you don’t get your way because of an ultimatum. Some say it’s a flaw. I say it’s the perfect way to deal with that bullshit. Also, if you want me to do something, this is the perfect way—just give me the ultimatum not to do it, and it’s pretty much guaranteed. The more you know. Don’t worry, this will come into play later).
Anyhow, I was given the ultimate to not teach at Baylor for a semester or else I would lose my stipend, I worked at Baylor. Dean worked to get freelance jobs. We earned right around $12,000 that year. That sucked.
However! It did give Dean the time and focus he needed to start the brewery proper. He was working many, many hours a day getting this set and going, and go they did. It was nerve wracking for a bit (actually, it was nerve wracking a lot of the time, but whatever), and we didn’t end up getting our license to sell beer until just a day or so before our first big planned event. Exiting! (I lie—it’s was terrifying).
But we did it, and things started moving. We had what we like to call a nano brewery, and we started to get a really great following. We started with that hard core group that came every week to our yard to try new beers, and now came every weekend to our taproom. That’s a good crew to have on your side.
Moving on up
After a few years of a million hour a week work (with the ladies in the couples helping out on evenings and weekends again), we realized we needed to expand and get some help. We started with interns.
Interns are the best, and we really couldn’t have grown the brewery without money without these heroes. Ask any one of them what it was like sitting in the cold box, shaking kegs for a prescribed amount of time (we didn’t have a carbonation set up, you see, so to get the kegs carbonated, we had to attach them to a CO2 line and shake them for a long time. Seriously. Interns are heroes).
We also relied on the kindness of our very own MacGyver—Mr. Ryan Passarelli. Let me tell you about Ryan. He’s one of those guys that can look at a problem, and come back within a day with a solution using only bubblegum and floss. He used to visit the young brewery a few times a week, and just stare at things that needed to be fixed. I remember him returning one day with a contraption made of pallets and the motor from a windshield wiper that would shake the kegs for us so our interns could do other work. He also fixed more things with duct tape and a surprising number of salad bowls. He’s a wizard, I tell you.
Anyhow, through a group of really talented, really dedicated, and all around beautiful people, we kept the brewery going. It came to the point where we needed to expand, and we needed money to do so. This was going to take more than just a friends and family this time—we needed to reach out.
Our goal was $300,000. Big, yes, but we had the beer and the data to back it up. Again, it didn’t take long. We had people coming out of the woodwork to invest. It was fantastic. We made the jump to a bigger facility next door, and started making even more beer. We went back and forth between if we should go with a distributor or not, how we should organize our team, who we should hire, all that jazz. Eventually, things got on solid ground.
Let me take a moment, here, and discuss working with partners. Having a business partner is very much like being married. You are going to spend countless hours with someone who has different views, different opinions, a different background, and different life experiences from you.
This will inform their choices and responses to everything that happens in that business, and this can cause some friction. Let me tell you, friction was there from the beginning between Dean and Mr. Thing #1.
However, some friction is good. When you have two people with different views, this means that each side has to argue for what they think is right; they have to articulate their reasoning, they have to understand why they think the way they do, and they have to communicate well. This inevitably results in a better company, and a pair of people willing to work together towards a common goal. This was something Dean kept in mind the whole time working at the brewery, because man, there was some friction.
Story time again! The first real big blow up between the partners happened one night before tap room. Apparently the boys were disagreeing on some future direction for the brewery, and it came to a head. Each of the boys has very VERY different communication styles, and each was taking the other’s communication style in the wrong way. It’s like those first few years of marriage, where the honeymoon period has worn off and now you have permission to fight. And fight they did.
Anyhow, this one evening, I walk into the taproom to see the interns in various clusters around the brewery, all talking urgently. Dean was no where to be seen. Mr. Thing #1 was in the backyard puttering about. I was mobbed by our interns the second I walked in, and got a frantic and garbled version of the days events. Apparently, Dean and YELLED at Mr. Thing, and Mr. Thing had YELLED back. It was over! Everything was awful! Also, if you know Dean, he’s not a yeller. This was definitely strange.
What happened was problems in communication. Mr. Thing #1 is a lot like me—he processed stuff by talking it out. Dean was his partner in the business and therefore the best sounding board for this type of processing. Dean, on the other hand, processes things by getting very quiet and thinking it through. He doesn’t talk about the subject until he has thoroughly digested it, and is ready to state his solution.
Dean was taking Mr. Thing’s talking as if it were Mr. Thing’s final stance on the issue after long rumination. Mr. Thing was taking Dean’s silence as not caring about the issue at all. See the problem?
Well, they blew up at each other, had a screaming fight in the brewery, and then went off to calm down alone, leaving the interns to wonder “why are dad and dad fighting?!?” When I got there, it was kind of like “mom! Dads are fighting!! Are we getting divorced?” It was adorable. That evening was a long discussion with me and Mrs. Thing #1 as mediators, explaining to the boys how our respective husbands communicated, and the boys coming to an understanding. They decided that they needed to check in with each other at least once a week, away from the brewery, to figure out what was happening. A business date night, if you will. This worked beautifully, as you might imagine. Happy days for all!
Communication at its Finest
Going forward, there was lots of tension over how to run things, but the partners were pretty good at talking it all out. Compromises had to be made, but that’s the nature of working with a partner. The big thing they had was trust–trust that each would listen to the other, trust that they could say what they thought and know they were safe with each other. They both trusted that the other had the business’s best interest at heart, and they were in it together until the end.
The boys learned how to communicate better, with only one or two major blow ups happening.
One notable fight involved the communication issue again. Dean and Mr. Thing were stuck on a major decision, and each had very, very different ideologies. Mr. Thing, in his typical fashion, used Dean as a sounding board to air out his thought process. One of those thoughts was “well, if you don’t like it, we will buy you and Adrienne out!” Ah, ultimatums. You remember how I respond to those? Welp, apparently Dean has the same reaction, but not as sever.
When Mr. Thing said those words, Dean stopped and very quietly said “If you ever say that to me again, I will take you up on that offer. Don’t put the words out there if you don’t mean them.” Dean’s a little scary when he gets that serious that fast.
The second notable fight was about the same basic idea. The brewery wasn’t making enough money fast enough, and we needed to grow. In arguing on how to handle this problem, Mr. Thing one said that maybe we should sell the brewery. Again, scary quiet Dean answered with “the next time you say that, we will buy you out.” I guess you shouldn’t threaten this brewery with sweetie around!
It keeps going….
Dean put everything into this brewery. He spent all of his nights and weekends there. Once we expanded, we negotiated taking a salary so he could actually get *paid* for the 100 hour work weeks. (Of course, that only lasted 18 months, and then after that no more salary. We put the money into hiring more people. Good times). We spent most of our free time doing brewery stuff.
There was that time that he called me in a panic because the barcodes on the beer labels weren’t scanning, and we had a delivery set for early the next morning. Dean refused to let the delivery driver help fix this, since delivering to Houston was a HUGE job and this guy got paid next to nothing. So there we were, Dean and I, printing new barcodes and hand labeling cans at 1 am on a work night, just so the rest of the staff could go home. That cold box is cold! At least we were laughing.
There was that time that we got an infection in the beer, and Dean and Mr. Thing couldn’t quite figure out where it was coming from. I got to help by designing a very, very cheap testing protocol and running it (the upside of microbiology training!). This had to happen on the day when a university group was touring the brewery…so Dean was giving a talk, while keeping one worried eye on me while I tried to find the infection. He’s damn good at multitasking.
There was that time that, after many rounds of cleaning and an implemented testing protocol, Dean found evidence of a bacterium in the beer. He wouldn’t stop talking about it during date night, so on the way home from a late-night party, we stopped at the brewery to run some tests and see if we could find the infection. (Spoiler alert—the testing equipment was contaminated).
There was that time that instead of an anniversary present, Dean asked that I research how to make the hefeweizen yeast produce more of the banana flavors desirable for the beer in order to make Skylight better. I basically gave him a PowerPoint presentation as a gift. He loved it.
Some More About Dean (aka Sweetie)
Dean lived that brewery. He loved that brewery. Watching him work at this labor of love, I learned a whole lot about my husband (go go gadget bullet point mode!)
- Dean really, really cares about people. He spent a lot of time worrying about keeping the staff happy. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, we couldn’t pay high salaries (even once we stopped taking a salary for ourselves). Dean tried to compensate by doing things like handing over the beer pilot program to the employees, encouraging them to create their own beers, taking them to networking events, teaching them how to judge beer, and being sad yet supportive if they decided to get a job elsewhere.
- Dean is a damn good brewer. I watched him spend HOURS tweaking a recipe until it was just right. He refused to put out a beer that he didn’t enjoy, and would happily dump a beer (and whatever profits) to ensure the highest quality of product got sent to our retailers. Dean’s got this special smile for good beer. Watch him the next time he takes his first swig of a really good brew…it’s like he holds it in his mouth for a moment, and does this pursed-lipped, joyful smile. He eyes crinkle up all cute, and then he just whispers “damn, that’s good.” Happens every time.
- Dean put everything he has into his work. He was once told “it’s not personal, it’s only business” and he retreated into his mind for a good few hours until I could get out of him what was wrong. He then said “But, it is personal. It’s MY business.” That is how he sees what he does. He put his all into what he does, and that comes with some personal risk. It also comes with great reward, so it’s worth it.
- Dean is a damn good boss. He worries about his employees. He wants the best for the business and his people. He willing to reprimand when necessary, willing to complement and reward when deserved. If he doesn’t know how to handle something he will work to find the best way. He can take an angry employee in stride and protect everyone else. He’s happy to have someone hate him if it’s the right thing to do. That’s hard. Dean makes it look easy.
- Dean doesn’t scare easily, nor does he anger easily. He can take on the world, and do it in a quiet, and even tempered way. He does this thing where if something bad happens at work he responds with “Well, let’s not have that happen again.” When something good happens, he says “Well, let’s do that again.” He’s measured and calm and thoughtful in the face of extreme stress. I want whatever he’s got going on in his brain.
- Dean is extremely giving. In the business world, it’s very easy to fall prey to having it out for the competition. I’ve seen other business owners be down right rude when talking to someone who *might* be a competitor, let alone someone who is in direct competition. Dean is just the opposite. He did everything in his power to ensure that the brewing business was welcoming. We had an untold number of potential brewers come into the brewery just to see how it all worked. (Southern Star Brewery did the same for us…they are rock stars!). Dean spent hours talking to people who wanted to open breweries in town, giving them advice, helping them learn the ropes, and letting them practice in our space. He hates the animosity that competition brings out, and refuses to participate.
- I love him.
The part where Adrienne gets rude
Welp, things went on. Now, I’m going to get a bit rude here—fair warning. Keep in mind I was watching from the outside (or partially inside when needed). Here is where I’m going to admit I don’t know the whole story. Remember how I told you that Dean tends to keep things to himself? This holds true for us as a couple. I ask him everyday “Anything good happen today? Anything bad happen today?” And invariably his answer to both questions is “Nope.” Come to find out he had oral surgery, got three new accounts, a plane crashed into the parking lot, and he got interviewed by the press. He just doesn’t consider those “day-to-day” things important enough to talk about.
So, this information is what I got from him at moments when I pried it out of him. Also remember that Dean sees the best in everyone and everything, so his version of events tends to err on the side of positive. I, on the other hand, am going to go on a bit of a rant that’s been building up for years. You’ve been warned.
Look! A List!
Here are problems I noticed with the brewery partnership from the beginning. Let’s get into bullet format again, shall we?
- Mr. Thing #1 believed “it’s not personal, it’s only business.” Dean is the exact opposite. While differences of opinion are good (great at times, even) this fundamental view informs EVERYTHING, and caused a lot of problems.
- Mr. Thing wasn’t great with people who thought/felt different than himself. Dean spent a lot of time working through this and being frustrated by it, but eventually coming to terms. Other people, like our vendors, were not so understanding. It came to the point Mr. Thing was not allowed to talk to our designers because he had no clue how and artist’s mind works, and was so rude to them they almost quit.
- Mr. Thing could not brew well. When we were trying to figure out how to break up the duties at the brewery, some brew days fell to Dean, the others to Mr. Thing. Every time Mr. Thing brewed, he just couldn’t hit the correct numbers. The volume was off. The sugars were off. Everything was off. It got so bad, that Dean refused to let Mr. Thing brew any more.
- The books were a right mess. Dean had very little accounting experience, which he readily admitted at the beginning of this whole venture. This is why we needed someone else. Little did we know that Mr. Thing was someone who would say he knew how to do something, then go fake it until he makes it. That works for some stuff, but books? And taxes? And legal forms? Not so much.
- When you have investors, every year you have to send certain tax documents to those investors by a certain date so they can get their taxes ready to go. Remember that our early investors were friends and family. Mr. Thing would spend months not doing the books correctly and not getting the tax forms out. Then Dean and I would start to get angry phone calls from various family members and close friends, complaining that Mr. Thing was ignoring their calls. That was not awesome.
- Mr. Thing was very, very debt adverse, even when it came to getting lines of credit for the business. While having someone who doesn’t want to overspend is fantastic in a business, there’s also concessions that sometimes need to be made.
- Mr. Thing was easily swayed by people he thought of as knowledgeable. If he heard a podcast or audio book that sounded plausible, there was no changing his mind about it (until the next podcast/audio book with a charismatic speaker came along). I used to joke that if I wanted him to do something, I’d just have to have a strong-voiced guy record a podcast, and boom! Mr. Thing would be doing the thing. The down side of this was that there was no critical thinking to go along with this belief system, so whatever the last strong idea given to him was what Mr. Thing went with. Again, not awesome.
- Deliveries are a problem with a brewery. We were burning out our delivery person. Mr. Thing was against going with a distributor for various reasons, some of which we agreed with (like we wanted to keep ownership of our territory, and often time distributors didn’t give the little breweries a lot of attention). Dean felt the upsides out weighed the downsides. Mr. Thing thought the opposite, and just would not budge. Our delivery person became angrier and angrier. It was awful.
- This is a personal one: Mr. Thing had a VERY hard time believing facts that I would state. I can’t tell you how many times I had to say “Do you want me to show you my PhD in THIS EXACT SUBJECT?” This sort of thing pisses me off. I gotta take a walk. I’ll be back in a minute.
- Mr. Thing had a lot of stuff that would take him away from the brewery. I understand that life happens, and you need to have a work-life balance. However, when starting a business, there’s an important trade off that needs to happen at the beginning. You don’t get to come in at 9 and leave at 5. You don’t get weekends. You work yourself to death for a bit with the idea that you will create something that eventually won’t need you. At least, that’s my take on it. Mr. Thing has kids, and is constantly sick, and has various other issues. I understand when kids need to be picked up and dropped off. I understand when you have a sinus infection. What I don’t understand is when these things happen so often that my husband has to work twice as much and twice as hard to make everything up, all without a salary.
- Mr. Thing decided we shouldn’t get paid, because we didn’t have enough money. Dean had different ideas on how to overcome this. It ended up we only took a salary for 18 months or so. I worked two or three jobs. Dean works the equivalent of three jobs. I’m a little bitter.
- Dean only took one vacation a year: Christmas time. The week between Christmas and New Years was dead for the business anyhow, so we usually shut down and opened again in January. Again, this was the ONLY time Dean took time off (he doesn’t have kids to take care of, he doesn’t get sick, he never left the brewery). Mr. Thing HATED it when Dean would leave for vacation in December. We always went to visit family, and Mr. Thing felt that Dean was leaving all the work to Mr. Thing (forgetting, of course, the many, many, MANY times Dean took over everything during the year). This pisses me off to do this day.
OK, that’s enough ranting. There were a lot of other things, but this has gone on long enough, I think. Let’s get on to the next bit.
2016: The beginning of the end
The brewery was growing. It was always on the verge of breaking through. What we needed was an influx of cash to make it to that next step. During 2016 that became our mission: more money for the brewery.
The year began with a possible new partner—let’s call him Mr. New. Mr. New had wanted to start his own brewery, but that didn’t work out. He opted for buying into ours. Fantastic! More money, another partner mean more people to help out, Mrs. New was super helpful, it was great. Mr. New took on the books (he had massive experience in accounting, and worked to get our accounting mess in order. This is when I learned exactly how bad it was, and how long it had been since we had pay our taxes. This was news to both me and Dean, and did not go over well. Mr. Thing was in lots of trouble, and we took that duty away from him). Now we have a new partner, doing the books, working around the brewery, and it was great.
After a few months, however, things went to shit. Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. New had an agreement that Mr. New had a certain amount of time to start his brewery and get paid before he had to get a real job. Mr. New did not tell us that he was on his last 6 months of this agreed time. When it came out that we were not getting paid, and probably wouldn’t until we could get the new system purchased and online, and lots of new accounts set up, Mr. New decided to take his money and walk. On his way out, Mr. New STRONGLY suggested that we not let Mr. Thing touch the books again. We were just getting out of the taxes debt we had incurred, and we didn’t want to go down that road again. Dean took over the books. Great.
At this same time, we lost our Houston sales rep. He went on to greener pastures where money was better. We supported him in his decision, but this left us without anyone selling beer in Houston, a very big market.
We didn’t have a lot of money to hire a new sales person, so discussions began. In our stupid wisdom, we decided to go with Mr. Things plan: Dean would become the Houston sales rep, Mr. Thing would become the local sales rep, and our current, tired delivery person would continue delivering to Houston while Mr. Thing would deliver locally. Fine.
Now let’s recap: this leaves Dean as the only person at the brewery actually making the beer. Dean was also driving to Houston three days a week to sell beer and keep our accounts happy. Dean is also in charge of ordering supplies (a job he tried to give to several of our employees, but still had to manage over all). Finally, Dean was in charge of accounting. In my mind, what was there left to running a brewery? Dean was doing EVERYTHING, while Mr. Thing was simply wandering around the local town selling beer and calling in sick once a week. I was angry.
Dean, on the other hand, defended Mr. Thing to the hilt (because Dean is the best person on earth). Dean believed he and Mr. Thing had a fantastic partnership; Mr. Thing deserved the sick time and needed to be with his family; Mr. Thing was a great worker and was an asset to the brewery; Mr. Thing was a great friend and Dean trusted him totally and completely. That’s Dean for ya—he’ll see the best in you no matter what.
Well, there we were, still out money, and a couple of employees down. We spent the summer entertaining an offer of partnership from an outside group that Dean and Mr. Thing eventually decided wasn’t a good fit—they wanted to own a controlling interest, and given the amount of work both dean and Mr. Thing put into the brewery, no one was going to get a controlling partnership but us, dammit!
By the end of the summer, we were pretty desperate. Dean and Mr. Thing were hardly in the same room at the same time, and tensions were growing. Remember how they promised to check in together at least once a week? With the crazy schedules that became impossible, and a lot of festering anger was bubbling to the surface. But they kept on working…you know how it is.
Someone Steps In
At the end of the summer one of our early supporters, a regular at the tap room, and a guy we felt was a pretty good friend came to us saying he had the money and wanted to buy into the brewery. I’m going to call him Thing #2, just for the bare minimum of anonymity. It was amazing! Having been burned in the past by Mr. New, we jumped at this opportunity and got the papers signed with Thing #2 in record time.
Those first few weeks were FANTASTIC! We bought stuff that we needed! We looked into hiring new people! We planned to build a stage for the tap room! We got new tables! It was glorious. I bet you can guess where this is going, though, right?
A month or so into our blissful new partnership, Dean and Mr. Thing #1 were still on the road a lot, and there was still some tension there, but we saw things getting better. We started doing these movie nights at the brewery, and they were doing great. Thing #1 and Thing #2 REALLY wanted to put money into the taproom, and that’s exactly what we were doing.
ONe evening at a movie I was sitting with Thing #2, and I got my first taste of something not so great. Remember what I said about ultimatums earlier? Well, Thing #2 didn’t like one of our bartenders. Let me be clear—we didn’t have the money to pay our bartenders very much, so we did everything we could to make their employment worthwhile. This often meant hiring get people with little to no experience and giving them lost of training. It was the least we could do, after all, but it meant we couldn’t attract the best of the best—we had to get them there ourselves.
Thing #2 really didn’t like one of our workers. He had had a few drinks, and told me straight up we needed to fire this particular person. I said that I liked the bartender as a person, they tried really hard, and while they were not the perfect bartender yet, they were learning. When they made a mistake, we would correct them and they would do better next time. Besides, we were paying them next-to-nothing, yet this bartender was still very, very loyal to the brewery and to us, and that’s not something you can teach.
Thing #2 responded with “No. If we don’t fire the bartender, I’m going to take my money and leave.” Now, let’s think about this for a moment. This new partner, who wanted to be a part of an active brewery, one that was working so well people loved it, this partner was willing to burn those bridges over a part time bartender? And willing to give one of the original owners an ultimatum to that effect? Well, OK. That told me a whole *hell* of a lot about this new partner.
On the way home that evening I was FUMING. I told Dean about it, and said that there was no way in hell we were going to bend to this type of ultimatum, and that we needed a meeting with all the partners to figure out some things. Dean, in his characteristic way, went quiet and started ruminating on the problem. I started ranting about the problem. During the (mostly one sided) conversation, I said that I would rather burn the brewery to the ground that bend to this stupid request. Dean quietly asked that I not burn his brewery down, please. Fine. I won’t. This time. Dean spent the rest of the evening wondering on how to deal with this.
Two days later I find out that we fired the bartender. Thing #1 agreed with Thing #2, and overruled Dean. We lost a potentially great worker and burned a bridge with a really great person for no real reason I can see. It sucked.
After that, things got worse. We started getting lots of reports that Thing #2 was drinking a lot at taproom. On evenings we were there, we spent quite a bit of time talking to irate customers who had been insulted by Thing #2. Those weekends we gave away a lot of free beer, just to keep our customers happy, and hope that they would return despite the bad experience. Given Dean’s love of people, it was rough to watch him have to do this.
Dean kept trying to catch Thing #2 at the brewery to talk about this pattern, but Thing #2 never seemed to be around when Dean was there. Thing #1 was even making himself scarce, so the problem seemed to get worse and worse. Eventually Dean implemented a “no drinking when working the bar” rule that we didn’t have before, just to stop Thing #2 from pissing off our paying customers.
This continued until our annual vacation. This year we were visiting my family in California, and we were going to go for a full two weeks. It would be great! Dean, however, with his overload of work, decided it would be the perfect time to analyze the books. He’d been keeping up with the accounting during the year, but hadn’t had the chance to really delve into the data and see where we could grow.
While visiting my family, Dean spent a good 8 hours a day or so working on accounting. He decided that evenings would be free for vacation, but that this work needed to be finished if the brewery was going to move forward. I’m damn proud of him for that.
His work yielded some very interesting results. He found that our sales had been flat for a good 18 months or so, despite our best efforts. He brainstormed some ideas, ran some numbers, and came up with a solution: we needed to be a brewpub for a bit.
Let me explain. In Texas, there are two classifications for breweries: production brewery and brewpub. Production breweries produce beer to be sold at retailers. In the past few years the laws changed a bit to allow for sales at an on site tap room, but these sales are only by the pint—production breweries cannot sell to go (in cans, growers, or bottles); everything has to be consumed on the premises. The upside of a production brewery is high limit of beer that can be sold into the market, which is why we went with it at the beginning. So we were a production brewery with a taproom that could sell for on site consumption.
A brewpub has a much smaller limit of beer that it can sell into the market. However, it can sell to go from the taproom, so you can fill up a growler or get a 6 pack of cans and take them off premises. A few years ago the laws changed to allow brewpubs to sell more beer into the market…still less than a production brewery, but way more than a tiny brewery makes in a year.
Back to the Story
Now that you know the background, back to the story.
Dean found that New Republic was not producing anywhere near the production limit for production breweries; we weren’t even producing near the limit for brewpubs. He also discovered that every time we got a new influx of money, we would pour it into the taproom, since that is what was keeping the lights on and paying the rent in lean months. It made sense.
Remember that we didn’t have a distributor—we had decided to self distribute to keep more ownership. The problem was we weren’t putting any money into our self distribution set up. We had one decrepit van, one delivery person, and that’s it. It was doomed to fail.
Dean had an idea—every few years we have to renew our license anyhow, and we were up for renewal in a few months. Since we were putting all our money into the taproom anyhow, why didn’t we change from a production brewery to a brewpub? It would be at least two years before we reached the production limits of the brewpub, and in the meantime we could sell to go from the tap room. According to his numbers, this would give us enough cushion to work on our distribution, hire some sales reps, and get the taproom all beautiful. He projected that our sales numbers would begin to rise again, and all would be well.
He floated this idea in a group chat with Thing #1 and Thing #2. It did not go well. Thing #2 said that we promised we were a production brewery, and that if we changed he would take his money and leave (it was his go to threat). Thing #1 was apparently totally scared of Thing #2 and just did what he wanted.
Dean and his long time partner got into a huge fight. Dean called Thing #1 to talk about Thing #2’s tactics, and instead ended up airing out a huge number of issues that had been bubbling below the surface for both of them. It was like that first major fight years before, except this time we were in California and couldn’t smooth things over as easily. It also came out that Thing #1 was pretty pissed that Dean had decided to go on vacation. Don’t get me started on that.
Now, I new little about this at the time. Remember that Dean doesn’t speak until he has really thought something through, so he spent a day or so in near silent contemplation. I got a little out of him, but not much. Later I learned that he spent one sleepless night considering what it would be like to have to leave the brewery. That must have sucked, and I wish I had known. My poor sweetie.
At the end of our vacation, we return to Texas. This is a Thursday afternoon. Dean decides to not go into the brewery that day (looking back, this should have been a big red flag for me, but I didn’t yet know the extent of the fight he and Thing #1 had had).
Dean heads to work at his normal early hour the next day, and then came home at 10 am. That was weird. I’m surprised to see him, and when he walks in he says “well, Thing #1 asked to buy us out of the brewery. What do you think?”
Should we leave?
I was stunned. I had no idea what to think about this. Dean and I spent the rest of the day talking, and he gave me the whole story of what happened over vacation. I was LIVID, but Dean’s damn good at keeping me calm. In our minds we had two options: either take the pay out and walk away, or assume this was just another empty offer from Thing #1 like before. Remember when Dean told Thing #1 that if he ever offered that again, he better mean it? Yep, we did, too.
However, we didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, and decided that Dean should call the original investors, those friends and family that had supported us all those years ago, and see what they thought. Dean took the weekend and made the calls. He spoke to everyone who had given us money to chase this crazy dream, and told them the story. That must have been the hardest thing he had to do. Every single person told Dean that they invested in him, not the brewery, and that if he needed to leave, he should leave.
Looking back, I know Dean’s mind was made up after that sleepless night in California. You can only push him so far, and he will only get angry so many times. Dean had a sound financial plan, backed with data, and a way to move this business he loved forward. He was being thwarted for no apparent reason other than the partner just didn’t want to. You simply don’t do that. Not to Dean.
Dean walked into the brewery that Monday morning and took the buy out. I have no idea if this is what Thing #1 & #2 were expecting or not—I kind of hope this hit them where it hurt.
That afternoon, my husband of 17 years came home and cried, just for a minute, on my shoulder. He had just signed away a huge part of his life, a part that he loved, and a part he was really, really going to miss. Did I mention how much I will hate you if you make the love of my life cry? I’m looking at you Thing #1 and Thing #2.
Over the next few weeks there were a lot of papers to sign, and a lot of things to process. We got the first of the payout right away, with a promise for the rest in July. We met with lawyers, we had thing notarized, we signed stacks of forms, and we got our first check. That part was kind of great. We paid off my student loans, we paid off the debt we had accrued through this whole adventure, and we bought some nice things for ourselves (Dean got a great watch and I got a lap harp. Awesome things for awesome times).
Suddenly, Dean had a lot of time on his hands. He decided to take some much needed time off, regroup, and figure out where to go next. This was wonderful for him—he deserved it more than anything. He started discovering hobbies again, he did projects around the house, he cooked. It was great.
The downside was Dean had had his trust broken. He had spent the majority of a decade working ridiculous hours with Thing #1. They were close…we jokingly called them “Hetero-life-partners” simply because of the amount of time they spent together and how much they loved each other. They really were great friends, despite all the disagreements. We had dinners together a lot; we talked about traveling together; we knew each others’ families. We were all pretty great friends. This is the man that told Dean to leave his own brewery, without discussion, without a thought for the partnership.
What’s Happening Now
Dean still isn’t over this, and I don’t think he will be for a long time. Leaving a business like that is harder than it seems. The old employees still depended on Dean. One asked that Dean come to the next New Republic Anniversary party, because this employee had designed a beer that he was really proud of. We went. I spent the time at the winery next door. Dean went around and greeted all his old friends. We left early.
If you ask Dean what he thinks about it now, he will tell you that he hopes the brewery thrives. He started this company, and a big part of him is still there. He doesn’t want to see that die. That’s a hard place to be.
In the months after this business divorce, we started new ventures. I’m sure you’ve heard us talking about Blake’s Steaks, our new restaurant. We took the rest of the buy out funds and gave it to our friend Blake to open his dream business. This has been going great. But that’s another blog post for another time.
Every once in a while I will still see Dean get melancholy about the brewery. He still cares for the people there, and I think the betrayal of a trusted friend is something that he will carry for a very, very long time. I don’t blame him. Dean gives all of himself to his relationships. If you are lucky enough to be one of his friends, you know this. He expects nothing but mutual trust in return. It hurts when that trust is broken.
So, that’s the story. It’s a long one, and now you know my many opinions on the thing. I am angry on Dean’s behalf, and there are days I hope Thing #1 and Thing #2 die in a fire (now, don’t get pissed—you know this is mostly hyperbole, and I usually calm down after a bit, but still).
Bottom line, though, is I’m really glad we did it. We’ve made some amazing friends, and become a part of an amazing community all because of the brewery. Even though it ended pretty badly, the time we had together through this I wouldn’t change for the world.
It’s been over a year now since this happened, and I guess I just need the information out there. I hope this answers everyone’s questions! Good on you for sticking with me to the end…I know I can go on a bit, especially when it comes to sweetie. But here we are, moving forward, as per usual. I’m glad you’re here with us.