For A New Brewery, What Does It Take To Make It?

Novel Brewing owners Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello working the bar. (Shelby Pope)

It’s no secret that the Bay Area is a hard place to run a business. Sure--at least according to lofty Silicon Valley-speak--we might foster innovation. But we also have soaring rents, high taxes, and a labyrinthine collection of licenses and fees that pile up before you can open your doors.

Those challenges are especially acute for food businesses. If you’re a restaurant, margins are already razor thin, and once you’ve added up food and labor costs--higher now because of minimum wage increases--you’re facing a hard road. Just this spring, Eater reported that 39 restaurants closed around the Bay Area. Local food websites are filled with news of exciting openings--a new poke bowl place! Quinoa-making robots!--mixed in with news of yet another local institution’s demise from rising rents.

So how do you do it? How do you make in the cutthroat Bay Area food world without losing your life savings or your enthusiasm? We talked to Novel Brewing, a North Oakland brewery from husband and wife team Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello that opened earlier this summer, to discover one business’ plan for making it in both a changing Oakland and the increasingly crowded world of Bay Area breweries.

Novel Brewing is located in Oakland's Golden Gate neighborhood.
Novel Brewing is located in Oakland's Golden Gate neighborhood. (Shelby Pope)

Go Slow

Koloszyc’s interest in beer started when he was a college student in Burlington, Vermont, studying literature during the week and drinking beer--from the city’s fledgling craft beer scene--during the weekends. After school, he moved to Seattle and worked at a video game company. Every time they released a game, he and his co-workers celebrated with trips to a brewery where they could brew on-site. He then got into home brewing and on his second date with Tamburello they bought brewing equipment. In 2012, they started to seriously consider opening a brewery and he went back to Vermont for the American Brewer’s Guild’s brewing diploma program. That was followed by a 6-week internship at Pasa Robles’ Firestone Walker.

Once they decided to start moving forward with a brewery, Koloszyc drafted a business plan for a brewery with a book theme, since it was something they both had backgrounds in--Koloszyc studied literature in college, and Tamburello’s family ran a printing press. For two years, he tweaked the plan, obsessing over every possibility and potential for failure. They finally opened in early June, and despite the long, slow process, Koloszyc wouldn’t have it any other way: “We’re just taking baby steps, one step at a time,” he said. “Slow growth instead of quick growth.”

Novel Brewing owners Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello working the bar.
Novel Brewing owners Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello working the bar. (Shelby Pope)

Be Money Savvy

Before opening their doors, Koloszyc and Tamburello ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for their brewery. They raised almost $12,000. (That money went to the very glamorous task of replacing a broken sewer lateral). Aside from that money, the couple has funded the brewery entirely on their own, with no investors. That’s led to some cost-cutting compromises: their bar is built from typesetting drawers from the Tamburello family’s retired printing press. They couldn’t afford to build a kitchen, so they welcome outside food, providing a stack of takeout menus from local spots. They both work part time jobs, so the brewery isn’t open Monday or Tuesday. And because of the high cost of labor, they can’t afford to hire someone to work those days (they do have one part time employee who helps on weekends). “We’re working every part of every job because we can’t really afford employees right now,” Koloszyc said. “It makes it difficult, but we also know you need a living wage in the Bay Area.”

Be Willing to Adapt

Koloszyc makes good beer, but so do a lot of people. So while the Bay Area brewing scene is awash in extra hoppy IPAS, he’s doing something a little different by emphasizing a more global menu, including English style bitter ales, goses and German kolschs. (When I visited, my favorites were their Belgians, especially a carmely dubbel).

Sponsored

Koloszyc has a small brewing setup, which means he can’t produce a lot of beer. This would be a liability for a company focused on huge yields--one trying to distribute their beer to every bar and grocery store in the Bay Area--but since they’re focused on the pub, it means that he’s able to produce a ton of beer varieties. Currently, he’s putting new beers on the menu every week, and while they’ll eventually get a more consistent menu, he plans to keep producing new styles depending on what customers like.

A beer sampler in a hollowed-out book from Novel Brewing.
A beer sampler in a hollowed-out book from Novel Brewing. (Shelby Pope)

“My wife and I work behind the tasting room bar every night, so we have this direct connection: everyone who comes in, we ask them, ‘What are you looking for, What do you like?’ We get immediate feedback we can incorporate into our business,” he said. “I think that’s hugely important-- making that connection, [making] people feel like part of the process, part of the brewery. I think that’s what’s going to ultimately separate us in the end.”

Know Your Neighbors

Tamburello and Koloszyc aren’t trying to be the next Lagunitas or Drake’s--and they’re hoping that’ll be the key to their success. Sure, they’d love some local distribution, but their goal is to fill a niche they think the neighborhood needs. And while they want to be the best neighborhood brewery they can--Koloszyc talks dreamily of author events and trivia nights--they’re not trying to be anything more than that.They’re located in Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood--where they’ve lived for eight years--an area largely ignored by Oakland’s gentrification-fueled wave of craft cocktail bars.

Novel Brewing's husband and wife owners Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello.
Novel Brewing's husband and wife owners Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello. (Brian Koloszyc)

Their measure of success is if their neighbors like it, and while only time will tell if Novel Brewing succeeds, they’re already on the right track. On a recent Wednesday, the bar was packed, with couples on dates, and solo drinkers reading books from the couple’s collection scattered around the bar. A movie was playing, and a labrador was sprawled out on the floor. It’s been a two and a half months since the brewery opened, and the reception has been much better than they thought, Koloszyc said. “I didn’t realize how great the local neighborhood was going to be, how supportive and patient and instructive,” he said. “That was a huge relief and allowed us to relax a little bit.”

“We’re creating this environment for our local neighborhood because that’s who our customers are. In order to survive in this world, you need to know who your customers are and how to connect with them,” he said. “Those are the people who are going to be your foundation, the people who are going to support you through those lean times.”

Sponsored

Novel Brewing Company
6510 San Pablo Ave [Map]
Oakland, CA 94608
Ph: (510) 922-9974
Hours: Closed Mon and Tue; Wed-Fri, 4-10pm; Sat, 12-10pm; Sun, 12-8pm
Facebook: Novel Brewing Company
Twitter: @novelbrewing
Instagram: @novelbrewing
Price range: $ (Beers $6-$7)

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