June 17 2016 03:37 PM

Beerpreneurs talk growth, wages and their approach to business

    Photo by Beth Demmon
    Douglas Constantiner, Jim Crute, Jacob McKean, Curtis Hawes and moderator Omar Passons

    Starting a craft brewery in San Diego is practically a rite of passage for homebrewers and entrepreneurs nowadays. But the reality of launching a new business in such a crowded marketplace comes with a hefty price tag—often with a few more zeros than aspiring owners might expect.

    Opportunities to glean knowledge from those who've successfully opened craft breweries are sporadic at best, but if you have any interest in becoming San Diego's Next Big Craft Brewery, you needed to have been at SILO at Makers Quarter on June 14 for "Brewery start-ups: A real conversation about costs, wages, and growth," where panelists Douglas Constantiner (Societe Brewing), Jim Crute (Lightning Brewery), Jacob McKean (Modern Times Beer) and Curtis Hawes (Second Chance Beer Co.) discussed their individual philosophies on wages, the effect of Proposition I, the illegality of unpaid internships and much more.

    If you didn't attend, don't sweat it. San Diego State University's Business of Craft Beer program recorded the roughly two-hour event, which will be made available online (follow @omarpassons on Twitter for details).

    While the small crowd seemed to be a Who's Who in the San Diego craft beer scene, the panelists themselves represented a diverse swath of the industry—from less than a year in business to over a decade, and from six employees to 85 and counting.

    This diversity was intentional, according to the moderator/host/craft beer enthusiast Omar Passons. "I thought about the brewery owners that I knew and then said 'Could I get a few slices of the startup world in the context of labor, wages, costs and growth?'" says Passons. "This is an opportunity for them to engage the brewing community, the investment community and what I call the craft community at large (fans, bloggers, people who really like independent craft beer) in a good, healthy conversation about how costs work."

    Unlike March 6's emotionally charged forum at Mission Brewery, this panel's structure allowed the discussion to be refreshingly respectful of all opinions and free from long-winded audience rants. Consensus reigned when McKean declared, "There's no right way to run a brewery," and when Constantiner noted that "it's not about 'small is better'. It's just what works for us right now."

    Sidestepping standard benefits like paid time off, healthcare and retirement—described as "moral imperatives" by McKean—incentives range from Lightning offering equity at the one- year employment mark, to Societe providing each employee with $100 every month to try beer from other craft breweries, to Second Chance's eventual goal of becoming employee-owned. It's these increasingly normal (and increasingly expected) perks that bolstered panelists' confidence when asked about potential staff losses due to the competitive nature of Portland and other beer meccas. "I'm not concerned about losing folks," said McKean.

    Passons sums it up with, "You're not a big bad business owner if you want to make a profit. You're not a greedy employee because you want more money on your paycheck. But you should have the right to have a voice. I'm hoping to create a space for that. It'll hopefully be important for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and so on, and I hope to do one small piece to help San Diego lead on beer in another way."

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