A Lot Has Been Happening!

Greetings, my ManyFriends! I know it’s cliche for the blogger to apologize for not keeping up with the blog, but we’ve been legitimately busy! At any rate, there is much to tell, and I hope to cover most of it here, now.

TL;DR: we’re making solid progress on opening a craft brewery & tasting room, likely sometime this spring.

Ok, where to begin? Hmmm; let’s start with The Original Plan (TOP) and work forward from that. As you know, we’ve had a tiny little nano-brewery — I call it “my practice brewery” — up here in the Santa Cruz mountains for a few years now. Making batches a half-bbl at a time — with a total fermenting capacity of 2.5bbl with our current equipment — it was never going to be profitable. But we got to learn all the parts of running a wholesale brewery: making beer in quantity — which includes ordering grain by the sack, hops by the many-pounds, high capacity wort-chilling, fermentation chilling (glycol), etc. — kegging beer, cleaning kegs, dismantling, inspecting & reassembling kegs, making sales calls, learning about what makes things easier for the customer, delivering beer, invoicing, collecting, depositing & tracking sales, all the various government forms to track how much beer we made, how much we spilled on the floor, how much we took for ourselves, how much for “research & product development”, how much we sold, how much we dumped down the drain as not-sellable, etc. and all the other various things that go into running a brewery. We got to do it all at a fairly laid back pace, which fit nicely with my working 80% time (4 day weeks) at Google. TOP has always been to get good at doing all of these things, perfect our craft and, maybe, some day in the future, scale things up to a profitable business.

Then 2020 happened. Honestly, 2020 was pretty gentle to me and my family. Sure, there were disruptions, but I had just returned from my childhood-dream of a trip to Japan, work from home wasn’t significantly different either from working in the office or from the many times I’ve been self employed (I’ll tell you what: I sure missed having regular lunch with the gang, though!) and, yeah, that toilet-paper shortage thing got a bit scary for a while but, over all, a lot of other people had things a lot worse and I’d feel guilty genuinely trying to complain about how inconvenient things were for us (though I often do so in jest, because I find that sort of thing entertaining. 😀 )

However, about mid-way through the year, I began to realize that Google — wonderful place that it can be — was not really where I wanted to spend the next several years. At about that same time, a lot of places started going out of business and, seeing as how one of the next steps in TOP was to go look at commercial real estate and learn about the process of obtaining a space, we began to start driving around and noticing available locations and talking/thinking about their various pros & cons. Then we had to think about how much space we needed. And how much we might be able to afford. And what facilities/access we needed. And what our power requirements were. And whether we wanted to take-on having a kitchen as well as a tasting room. Etc. There was lots of learning to do — this could take years! But that was pretty much according to TOP, so it seemed a good thing to start learning, and a nice diversion from being otherwise stuck at home.

Then we found a spot that seemed to meet all of our criteria: it was backed against extensive neighborhoods, but on a busy commercial thoroughfare (Bascom Ave, near The Pruneyard). It was near several small restaurants that might carry our kegged beer and also provide some foot traffic. It was a short drive from a big company (eBay) that might provide additional traffic. The neighborhood was “nice”, but provided ample opportunities for us to integrate, participate, and help contribute to uplifting the area — a big part of The ManyFriends Thing. So we called the agent, arranged a meeting, walked-through the place with our G.C., drew plans, checked budgets, etc.

In the end, that place didn’t pan out, but we learned a ton about the process, and it provided a starting point from which we were able to more intelligently screen other places. We looked at a few others and then, in October, we found what appeared to be The Perfect Place.

We called the agent. We toured the premises. We called our agent. We crafted an LOI*. We sent it to the landlord. He replied with counter-offers. We counter-countered. Things went back & forth for a while but, eventually, we agreed to terms. They sent over a lease. We commented. They adjusted. We went back and forth a few rounds then, in mid-November, we signed and, on November 18, we took possession of an absolutely wonderful space in beautiful Historic Saratoga Village. And then the fun really began!

*LOI = letter of intent. It’s a pre-lease document that one sends to say, in brief “we’d love to rent this space from you under the following terms…” Commercial leases are long and a little complex, so this sort-of pre-lease thing helps everybody get all the big items sorted out before investing a ton of energy. From our perspective, it felt like a ton of energy to do the LOI back & forth but, looking back — now that we’re post-lease — it’s easy to see what a time-saver that was.

Since then, we’ve been talking to the GC, talking to architects, preparing architectural drawings for the city permits, ordering large* stainless steel tanks and brewhouses, getting insurance, getting power, water, internet, etc., planning installation of large brewing & chilling equipment, and waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting. Gah! Waiting is hard!!! Still, it’s very exciting, and we’re absolutely thrilled about our location. It will take a little work to get it set up and, by the time we open, the decor won’t really be complete — I have this idea to get it to “good enough”, then work in the space for 6-12 months and chat with customers about their ideas and then do our big decoration upgrade, hopefully with funds from the brewery — but it’s a great space in a great location and the neighbors and community are absolutely wonderful! Everyone is very welcoming and super-excited about having a premium craft brewery and it’s just been a tremendous experience, all around.

*”Large” for us. This will be a 3.5bbl system, with 5** fermentation tanks — total fermentation capacity: 17.5bbl (just short of 550 gallons). To 90%+ of the craft breweries you may have visited, that’s still a teeny-tiny system, and puts us squarely in the “nano brewery” category. Many small craft breweries are running 10bbl at a time, and some of the bigger ones have 20, 30, 50 bbl or bigger systems. Some of those keep a 3.5bbl system around for doing test-batches. Still, ours look big compared to what we’re used to. 🙂
** We originally planned for 6 tanks, but that would’ve been a very tight squeeze in our space. After we’ve been there a while, we may rearrange things and add #6. Or maybe not.

I’ll post updates as we get closer, but the current plan is:

* Get the drawings finalized.
* Obtain city building permits.
* Get the place built. (And order all the equipment, get that installed, positioned, etc.)
* Have a couple of private parties to practice the part about having “customers”, selling beer, working a cash register (I’ve never had a cash-register job!), etc.
* Open a couple of days/week to perfect our processes.
* Grand-opening “for realz”. We’re hoping sometime this Spring.

Say friendly, my thirsts!

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