Brand Ambassador: Ian Clark – Building a Business From a Garage

Garage based businesses are a funny thing. I think, to anyone who dreams of starting their own business, this seems like a really romantic and easy way to start.

Story goes like this… Start your whatever widget company llc, then make whatever it is you make on the weekends, at your own leisure. Let the product stand for itself, watch the business and your reputation grow simply by word of mouth. In the very near future the demand for the product far out paces your production, which makes it so you can quit your day job, find funding easily and focus solely on your whatever widget company llc.

Sounds great right? If only it were that simple.

When I started BRU handbuilt ales that was the exact dream I had. Having been a chef for 19 years I figured I had seen hard work and nothing could be as arduous as working a hot line night after night. And, if I could succeed in one of the most difficult businesses, a restaurant, I could definitely succeed in making beer for the thirsty masses…right?

First came the licensing. This process, I soon realized was a roller coaster of emotions and an incredible amount of paperwork, not my strong suite. Apparently, producing alcohol is one of the most regulated industries we have in the country. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, in fact the 127 days it took for me to receive a response regarding my license was excruciating.  After much back and forth though I was luckily able to get everything approved, now the easy part, making and selling my passion, great beer.

I started with the restaurant group I was working for at the time by getting one draft line at my restaurant and one more at one of the sister restaurants. I quickly got to brewing beer, which started out just as I had wanted it to, at my pace. That, however, quickly ended. I soon realized that people really wanted to try my handbuilt ales and that once you acquire an account you need to work very hard to keep it. If you don’t, there is someone else who will work harder to get their product in your place. So, I started having to make beer when beer needed to be made as opposed to when I had the time to make it. That meant I was brewing beer 6-8 times a week (on average each brew took six hours, unless I double brewed which knocked it down to eight total hours for both brews).  All of this was on top of a 65 hour a week Executive Chef job. It also meant that on a Tuesday, after a 12 hour day, if a fermentor was open I had to brew. Regardless of the fact that I would finish at 3 in the morning and have to be back at my real job at 7am.

I was quickly realizing that my vision of how I wanted it to go and how it was going weren’t exactly aligning. I was also quickly realizing that my brewhouse was wildly undersized. So, after an “intervention” from my very patient wife, we made some changes. I purchased a system that was 10 times the size of the system and took my in-laws on as partners. The four of us worked non-stop to build and grow the company. We each had a unique skill set that helped progress the business. I was the person who made our beer, my wife was the person who marketed our beer, my father-in-law was the person who sold our beer, and my mother-in-law was the person who made sure our beer was making money.

From there we started really humming along. Taking on more accounts, bottling and widening our distribution. I was feeling good about where we were going, but knew that we had to eventually move the business to make it more sustainable. It was then, on a snowy November morning while bottling in the brewery (my garage) that my in-laws spoke up and said they wanted to invest more money and see this thing really take off. I was at a loss for words. My dreams were coming true, we were taking this from BRU handbuilt ales to BRU handbuilt ales & eats. The brewpub I always wanted that brought my passion for food together with my passion for beer.

After an exhaustive search for the right location, eight months of non-stop work building the restaurant (yes, we built pretty much everything by hand from tiling the kitchen to pouring the bar), and the most stressful moments of my life, we were able to open our doors.

Now it seems almost like a blink of an eye, but almost a year and a half later I often think about our origins. It’s a story that can’t be replicated. Our product had to not only be good, it had to be great.  Great enough to stand for itself. Without that there is no way we would be dreaming of our fourth expansion in three years of business. The product has to be great and even more so the drive has to be there to make it a success.

That is what I think about every time I come across a great product. What’s the back story, where did it come from, who made it and who is the person that followed their dream? After going through it all myself I now have a lot more appreciation for what goes into making something the right way. This holds true especially when I wear my Trask boots. The love and dedication that went into making each and every pair the hard way. The people who stood there and made sure that the standards were up to par, the dedication of every employee to make the greatest quality shoes and clothing they can, and excepting nothing but the best out of themselves and their co-workers. That’s something I can feel every time I put on my boots.
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So no matter what your dream is, I would encourage you to follow your passion, whether it be in a garage, or bigger. But, if, and only if you have the dedication to see it through and to make your product stand for what you believe in.

Cheers,
Ian Clark
BRU handbuilt ales & eats
Boulder, CO

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