Monthly Archives: December 2014

Is this the end or just the beginning?

We did it!  With the help of countless individuals, family, friends, and our construction crew, we have successfully opened a craft brewery in Vancouver.  On Wednesday 17th, we had a non-posted (soft)opening and it was a huge success.  None of our systems crashed, our beer poured like it should, and we were able to see some close friends and family share in the room we created.  We opened for the weekend, and it went really well.  All our staff showed up for their shift, we didn’t piss anyone off, and our beer poured without any serious problems.

This is also the end of our journey in starting a craft brewery.  I do plan on continuing to blog about running a craft brewery, and what is happening at Strange Fellows, but how that looks and what that means is something that I am not quite sure of yet.  Without a doubt I will miss writing this blog. It gave me a chance to add to this amazing community of craft beer in BC, Canada and the world.  To know that we may have helped someone else avoid the errors and mistakes in starting a craft brewery is a very cool thought.  The blog also allowed me to express my feelings, so when I would have a bad day, have really great news or really bad news, I could blog about it and I would immediately feel better.

Opening a brewery of this size takes the effort and support of hundreds of individuals.  It would be impossible for us to name everyone that was involved in this process, but let me take a stab at it.

  • Disher Construction:  Graham, Jim, Darryl, Seamus, Shawn, Joey, Ed and the other helpers who were here day in and day out.  You are all amazing and have earned our praise on your efforts.
  • Simcic and Uhrich Architects:  Marko, Bill and the crew for pulling everything together and pulling strings when they needed to be tugged.
  • Meridian Plumbing:  Nathan and his amazing crew, your mechanical sub-trade was out of this world.
  • Clear Energy Electrical:  Matt, Will, Jordan, Adam and the rest of your crew.  You guys did a huge amount of work throughout the entire process and we are grateful.
  • Broadway Welding:  Nedda, Kyler and your crew.  Amazing work in the front of the house and back of house.  Amazing metal work that we love.
  • Cove Concrete:   Excellent job pouring all the floors and making things slope the correct way.
  • Amec Contracting:  Chris and the crew, outstanding work.
  • Luca Campagna and Crew:  Your structural welding was a huge part of getting our permits and approvals in a timely manner
  • Specialty Coatings:  Our floors work and look amazing thanks to you.
  • PS Drywall:  Thanks for finishing all our important spaces to glass like finish.
  • Roofing Matters:  Thanks for fixing our leaks and taking care of things as quickly as you did.
  • West Coast Slab Jacking:  Thanks for helping shore up the slab that made us so crazy for so long
  • Olnor Investments:  The best landlord we could ever ask for.
  • Jeff Lo (RBC Banker):  Without your help and guidance, we would have been up shit creek more than once
  • Jonathan Ronkai (Sun Ronkai Chartered Accountants):  You are the best … period.  If anyone is starting a brewery, they NEED to work with you.
  • BTM Lawyers:  Grant, Sam, Michael and the rest of the group, you guys are amazing.  Thanks for helping us set-up a company that we don’t have to worry about the back-end side of.
  • Bay City Brokers:  Manny was amazing at helping to bring in all our goods from outside Canada.
  • Coquitlam Concrete:  Thanks for bringing in all the crete for us on this job.
  • Greg Ven Huizen:  You are a most excellent Geotechnical Engineer.
  • Opal Engineering:  From the get-go you were responsive and accountable, which we really appreciate more than you know.
  • Fraser Valley Refrigeration:  We are thankful to you for keeping things cold that needed to be.
  • Structural Solutions:  Andrew it was an absolute blessing to have found you and work with you.  A million thank you’s from us.
  • Sterling Cooper Consultants:  You were so important to us figuring out what to put where in our space, and we are forever thankful to the great decisions you helped us make.
  • Superior Signs and Graphics:  So glad that the exterior sign finally came together.  Thanks for helping to make it so perfect.
  • Affordable Security:  Stuart, you and your crew helped us after our break-in, and have helped prevent it from happening again.
  • Dan Jonckheere, Michael Keffer, Tyler-Andrew Milne, Peter Thiersch, Ryan Bennett, Hill family kids, Jonckheere family kids, and a few others, you helped to do the small things that we really couldn’t get done on our own.
  • Adam Berson:  Thanks for your continued dropping in and finally helping us get all the moving parts together for creating our amazing tap handles.
  • Brody Stonehouse:  Not only a great insurance agent, but also our first ever paying customer.  You are definitely going to be remembered forever.
  • All the City of Vancouver workers who helped us get our permits and navigate the bureaucracy that is our local government.
  • Anchor Glass:  Thanks for making an amazing window for everyone to see into our brewhouse, and of course those double entry doors.
  • Ripley Stainless:  You helped us more than just with your brewhouse, but also with installation of other equipment.
  • Richard Cole:  Amazing work on finishing the drywall in the tasting room.  We look forward to your first show in the art gallery.
  • Dr John-Luke Edwards:  Helping us remove the evils spirits and protect ourselves for the future was an amazing thing.
  • Lawrence:  Your amazing mill and hard work exemplify the Canadian spirit
  • Nick Black and Kayin Fields:  Thanks for helping at the end of our build, and with the starting of our tasting room.  Being able to push all the work associated with running the front of house was so incredible, especially to you guys.  Would not be here without you!

I know there are people and companies I have forgotten, but just know that you are always welcome at our business to come by for a beer and share a moment reliving the amazing experience that was this brewery.

There are 3 other people that I want to mention, as without their support, effort and passion, this project would not have come together.

My wife Deanne:  Allowing me to get up early, stay up late, not clean, cook or take care of my obligations around the house, all allowing me to focus my time and energy on the brewery is something that you did selflessly and I will always be thankful.  You are truly an amazing partner and an amazing mother, and it was so much fun sharing this experience with you.

My partners wife Christine:  Thank goodness you were part of this process.  The way you took the personalities of Iain and I, merged them into a brand is nothing short of amazing.  Working with you was an absolute pleasure, and your care and attention to the details never ceased to amaze me.  You were able to juggle 3 kids and our brand, which is nothing short of amazing.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make our dreams a reality.

My partner, Iain Hill: What can I say about someone who I see more than my own family and friends.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with you, and I respect and admire you more than you could ever imagine.  I have learned more from you, and gained a skill set I would not otherwise have, if we didn’t walk down this road together.  The next few years might be just as much work, but I think they will be just as much fun.

During the hard times and hard days, I always dreamed about writing this last blog post, and now that I am here, it is a very bittersweet moment.  While this is really the beginning, it is also the end.  And while i am optimistic about the future, I am also sad about the process of getting here being over.  People ask me what it was like to start a brewery, and honestly, it is impossible to sum up in a sentence or two, and for that reason I am thankful I have this blog to remind me of all the highs and lows of that process.

In the end, the journey of starting a brewery is completely worth all the sacrifices you make.  There are days that you want to quit, and days that you feel like you can do no wrong.  When I dreamed of starting a brewery, I selfishly thought of the day we would sell our beer and be open to the public.  I never realized how thoroughly the process of getting to that first day would change me and make me the person that I now am.  I don’t know if I would ever do this again, but I am so thankful that I did this in the first place.

So thats it for this blog and starting a brewery. I am sure I missed a bunch of things throughout the process, but in the end, no matter how much I write about it, most people just need to experience it for themselves.  Good luck on whatever path you decide to take, and no matter what you do, remember these 2 sayings:  Go confidently in the direction of your dreams & life is a journey not a destination.  Much love and respect to everyone.

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This could be on of the last posts on starting a brewery ….

Let me start by saying sorry for not posting more over the past few weeks.  We have been incredibly busy, and I just couldn’t find the effort or time to make repeated entries into this blog.  I have been taking notes, and hopefully one day we can update the entire process with the relevant information.

Most of the process has been really enjoyable as there are days with immense highs, and others will deep lows.  Overall the project has been one of the most satisfying things in my professional career filled with a plethora of incredible memories.  However, the last 2 weeks of the project has been a bit of grind.  Never do I believe in fast forwarding through life, as the details and minutiae are really important to developing the experience and perspective that age can bring. But this is one time that I kind of do wish I could have at least run in fast motion.

First let me start with some general news for other would-be craft brewery entrepreneurs.

  • Don’t forget about your business licence from the City you operate in and also an occupancy permit
  • Be prepared to work 7 days per week and every available hour during the last month.  It is non-stop and the list of things to do still doesn’t seem to be shortening
  • Encourage trades and contractors to spend extra time to get the project another finished task towards completion
  • Hiring staff is hugely important and can take a lot of time, so prepare for it
  • You will find yourself dusting the same thing over and over as the construction dust settles
  • Make sure all your marketing and advertising is ready, which will mean that it needs a lot of your attention and time to make sure it is print ready
  • Take help whenever you can get it.  If someone says they can come by the brewery and just chat, take them up on it, and when they arrive, hand them a broom or rag and have a working discussion
  • Delegate as much as you can.  Luckily for us, we hired some excellent staff that are willing to help us a little everyday, enabling us to focus on another fire requiring our attention
  • Working with the LDB, LCLB, Federal government, Provincial government, Municipal government, Coastal Health, Liquor inspectors, Permitting departments and others is a task for someone who is detail oriented, so make sure they are the ones dealing with it from the start
  • Failing an inspection is ok and not the end of the world.  Trust us on this one.  Expect this to happen and make sure you quickly remedy the situation as needed and get the inspector back in as soon as possible.  We have firmly believed it is better to get inspections early and fail, giving you time to complete the updates rather than waiting until you think everything is done, only to fail anyway
  • Don’t forget inquiring about whether its necessary or not to get an exterior sign permit.  In some cases you can’t put up and exterior sign without one
  • Don’t forget about getting your plans stamped by the Fire Department for occupancy load and location of fire extinguishers, etc
  • Estimate about $650 per month in costs for the following:  Weekly cleaning of your tasting room by a professional cleaning company, bar towels including cleaning, floor mats, glass washer chemicals, toilet paper, paper towels, soap for dispensers, and a few other things
  • Don’t forget about your signage around the brewery and tasting room
  • Keep on top of your financials if you are cutting things close like we are.  Running out of money is not an option, so knowing where you stand and how your invoices coming and outstanding are looking is hugely important

At this time as well, and I seem to keep writing about it, your family and friends become a distant memory.  Both Iain and I are doing our best to keep up with things on the home front, but really, it is impossible to do this.  We are having some issues at home as our kids are acting out a little bit, and its hard to imagine that its any reason other than my lack of attention.  Moreover, the burden of just about everything has fallen with my partner, and she has certainly come to the end of her rope with me a couple times.

So hopefully we are less than a week, though I feel like we have been saying this for some time now.  There are 5 big outstanding issues for us:

  • We need final our inspection and we need to pass it
  • We need our lounge endorsement from the LCLB
  • We need our architect to sign-off on everything we have done
  • We need our liquor inspector to approve everything
  • We need our products officially listed with the LDB

Once we get these 5 things completed, we can open our doors.  That means we have passed about 6 other inspections and completed a mountain of paperwork to get to this point.  Our final inspection happens on Friday, and if we get through that hurdle, the rest of the items will hopefully fall into place.

As such, we are hoping to be open about the middle of next week, but that really depends on so many things.  It is still an estimate and it is entirely possible that instead of being the last brewery to open in 2014, we might be the first brewery to open in 2015.  Gotta run, we need to keep painting today.