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It’s Personal: The Business of Family-Run Breweries

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Live together, work together, drink together! Why family-run breweries choose a life of beer!

As the daughter of entrepreneurs, I am delighted every time Tavour signs a new craft brewery that’s run by families. My sisters, parents, and I all work for the family coffee shop, so I know how fulfilling -- and irritating -- a family-run enterprise can be. This is the introduction to the “It’s Personal” series of interviews with our family-run breweries -- The Good Beer Co., Common Roots, The Ale Apothecary, and Four Fathers. Even though the story behind each family-run place is special, I’ve noticed similarities between different family-run establishments. This article introduces you big ideas -- how a beer business can be family-based and why these breweries love keeping it personal. Look out for individual brewery interviews under the title, “It’s Personal,” on the Tavour Blog!

Like Father, like family
Many of the breweries I interviewed were inspired by generations past: great-grandfathers who owned medical shops, grandparents who ran grocery stores, parents who operated car dealerships, the list goes on. It’s no surprise, then, that their kids are taking interest, as Beth Lacny with Four Fathers describes: “They love this place. It’s a second home to them and they both show an interest in the brewing process and what mom and dad do.” As Paul Arney of The Ale Apothecary says, “[Being at festivals with my wife and daughters] shows, rather than tells, who we are. And that goes incredibly deep.”

Vertical, horizontal, multi-generational
I subconsciously expected breweries to be mostly husband/wife teams. What I found was a wide variety of operational models. Older brothers work with younger brothers, multiple husband/wife team duos work in one organization, fathers and sons leave their day jobs to start a new place together, and little sisters manage Instagram. Most brewers with young kids mentioned that their kids and regulars’ get along like peas in a pod -- or hops in a good brew.

Mom knows best
So many breweries described Mom as having “the final say” on their business development, especially at inception. Even if she wasn’t directly involved in the brewery, she was the secret Executive Branch. Kevin Golden at The Good Beer Co. offers an example: “I asked her if we could move home to Southern California [to open the brewery with his brother]. When she agreed, I happily took the job.”

Family to the rescue
As he explained above, Kevin Golden didn’t expect to be working with beer and/or alongside his brother and sister-in-law. But when the couple’s business started booming and they scrambled to keep up with day-to-day activities, he gladly picked up the slack. Although most breweries started as one person’s vision, their multi-faceted business complexities -- and sheer volume of work required -- drew other family members into the mix. For example, The Ale Apothecary’s multi-family model began when someone’s spouse stepped in to tie string when they got bogged down on a big run of bottles closures finished with a champagne knot. Thankfully, syas Paul Arney, her job role has now expanded.

Balancing act
When asked what the biggest challenge was in running a family-run craft beer brewery, more than one person replied, “balance.” While family members love interacting with one another at “work,” they crave leisure time as a family and with friends. Beth Lacny at Four Fathers explains: “[It is] even more difficult to spend time with other family or friends, but we do what we can when we can -- even if it means we do it at the brewery!” A second oft-uttered challenge was “not to get too big too soon,” as Bert Weber with Common Roots said. Brewers love that their family members are brave enough to tell them when they’re foolish. On the flip side, a family-run space can lead to a false sense of confidence that makes brewers want to go big -- they’re already home! When the entire family is involved in a single operation, the pitfalls of risk-taking can be, well, sobering.

Showing love
“There is a difference between your friend or family member giving you props and your manager giving you props.” Paul Arney at The Ale Apothecary says in describing the third challenge, and sense of fulfillment, expressed by nearly all breweries I spoke to: expressing appreciation for other family members. One of the biggest benefits to family-run work is that you don’t have to worry about your tone of voice, or your communication style, or your personality quirks the way you would in other businesses. The downside is that many brewers forget to be nice. Maybe that’s why my interviewees jumped on the opportunity to talk about their family members. Each one humbly touted their family’s amazing strength and skill, again and again.

Wouldn’t have it any other way
This is exactly what Beth Lacny at Four Fathers said, just after she admitted that, “there are many subtleties that we never expected. We are continuing to grow and learn about them the longer we are in business.” Family-run breweries enjoy unique assistance from their local communities. “Once word got out that the Webers were pursuing a dream and opening a brewery, we started to see friends and family members showing up to help us build it, giving freely of their time and talent,” says Bert Weber at Common Roots. Entrepreneurs don’t enjoy the normal protections of standard office employees. That’s okay when they have compassionate family members to help, as Kevin Golden explains: “It is great to not only have people with the same values to work with, but also those who are willing to pick up if you have to take time for family.”


Written by Emily Stewart

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