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.
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.”
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).