08 Dec 2011 @ 5:23 PM 

This article is a followup to The Long Winding Path to Startup; call it part of the Mystery Brewing startup series, if you will.

So, here it comes. We’re entering the last month before we finally, finally, should be opening our doors. In the next 2 – 3 weeks, according to every vendor and government agent that I’ve spoken to, we’re going to see all of our equipment arrive AND our federal licensing. From there, I’m hoping that the rest of installation is a snap and that state and local licensing is a breeze. We’d like to have beer in tanks by Christmas, and we’d like to launch the New Year with some Mystery Brewing Company beer.

This is by no means a guarantee, but it’s what I sincerely and deeply hope will happen.

Let me share with you, like in the last article, the phrase that’s been driving me nuts, lately:

“While Mystery has yet to announce an opening date…”

It’s not a terrible phrase. It’s normally surrounded by other nice phrases and words like “highly anticipated” or “exciting.” But, deep inside it makes me feel like there’s somehow the suggestion that we’re being lazy about getting open or that we just don’t know, and it’s far from the case. If it was my choice, I would have been open months ago. Keeping a manufacturing business moving toward market without having the ability to create any sort of income is, to put it succinctly, terrifying. At the same time, as I said before, I’m sensitive to creating too much buzz before we know when things are going to shake out.

So, before I start cranking up the hype machine, let me share the continuing saga. When we left off back in July, I had just received word from the bank that, yes, indeed, they were going to be able to fund the equipment in the brewery. I was pretty excited, as was probably evident from that article, and hopeful that it meant that, given the 18 – 24 weeks that companies need to put equipment together and get it to you, that we’d be up and running in the fall. You can see now, in December, that it hasn’t happened quite like that.

Part of that is because we didn’t actually sign on that bank loan until October.

I’m not one for throwing out figures or naming names, but I will write this as a warning to other startups: I have spent tens of thousands of dollars waiting for banks and loan programs to get paperwork across their collective desks. My aggregate total waiting time for the SBA to turn me down (twice) has been 6 months. Had I known all of this, I would have asked the bank for money to cover the amount of capital that I spent just waiting. Now, it’s lost, unrecoverable, startup cost. It’s money that I can’t spend on equipment or upfit or other useful startup items. It’s money gone to lease, utilities, and enough money for me to pay my mortgage and eat while I was waiting for other people to shuffle papers across their collective desks. I’m not bitter (well, okay, a little), but it should be a warning: Calculate the amount of money you’ll need to not get anything done, because there will be a lot of not getting things done.

In the meantime, though, we tried to keep ourselves busy.

First of all, I say we because in September, when things were getting too busy for me to really handle on my own, I brought a friend on staff to help me. Chris and I met via Twitter, and he and his lovely wife Jen have been great friends ever since. It has been just an incredible boon to have him on my side and helping me out. In fact, I am sure that without him we would be much farther from opening than we are now.

So, together, Chris and I have worked toward getting Mystery going as best as we can without the ability to a) make any sort of large amount of beer (y’know – we can homebrew) and b) make any sort of income. We’ve been getting involved in events where we can, pouring casks when possible (so long as money doesn’t change hands), and trying to be as up front and visible as we can without building up too much insane hype ahead of schedule. We might have failed that last goal by pouring at the World Beer Festival in Durham this fall, where we had a line all day. It was pretty awesome to be there, but not so great to have to tell people that there was no place to find our beer. Soon, people! Soon!

Over the course of the fall I wrote a book and had the fantastic opportunity to visit almost every brewery in the state of North Carolina. Recently, as a companion business to Mystery and with the help of Derrick Smith of Hillsborough’s Wooden Nickel Pub, we opened Nash Street Homebrew, a homebrew shop that seeks to fill a niche in the Western Triangle and far Eastern Triad.

They’re both opportunities that sort of fell into my lap. The book – and I’ve mentioned this in another blog post months ago – came to me, rather than me looking for a place to publish, and while I’m glad I did it, I don’t think I could have chosen a worse time to attempt to write a book. Starting a brewery takes a lot of your time, even when there’s no brewery there. Throw a few dozen road trips and hours and hours and hours and hours of research, writing, and editing on top of that and.. well.. let’s just say that I haven’t slept much in the last few months. I had originally wanted to chronicle my entire trip via the blog, but it became apparent to me very quickly that I had enough writing to do to put the book together. Writing a second book online while I was doing the first was just foolhardy.

You can see a all of the photos that I took, many of which will be in the book (and don’t you dare re-use these without permission) over on Flickr.

The homebrew shop was very much the same way. Without getting into boring specifics, the opportunity and the idea were presented to me together and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. It helps that I have Derrick and Chris to help in the setup and management of the shop. All I basically need to do is manage the business end of things. It’s a great thing to have good partners.

All in all, things are coming together nicely and I’m optimistic for the future. We’ve had some rough times over the past few years, and the opportunity for rough times still exists. If we don’t see TTB licensing this month, things are going to get dodgy really fast, so we’re looking at a couple of ways to make it less dodgy for us as our final pre-opening month comes to a close.

I won’t go all NPR pledge drive on you (I’ve done that here on this post at Mystery), but this week we’ll be launching our Irregulars program, named after the Baker Street Irregulars of Sherlock Holmes fame.* It will be a comprehensive Mystery membership club that includes all kinds of fun swag (a membership kit!), opportunities to get unique Mystery beers, early admission into Mystery events, chances to brew with us at the brewery, and a way to always be a long term part of the brewery. I urge you to check it out, because I think it will be fun (and maybe even a great Christmas gift!), but it’s also a way for people to help Mystery make the final push over the finish line. We can make it at a sputter or we can take air and fly. With people behind us, we can soar into the New Year and bring all of our backers with us.

We’re also planning a New Years Eve soiree at the brewery; a way to see the new brewery first hand before the first beers even get released. What better place to spend New Years Eve than at a brewery? I’ll be there no matter what, party or no. Keep an eye out for more details on that within the next few days, and if you’re in Central North Carolina keep your New Years Eve open and available.

At the end of this all, I just want to take a moment to say thanks. People across the internet, from good friends here in North Carolina (and especially in the NC Craft Beer community), to people I’ve never met before across the country and around the world have been incredibly supportive of me and Mystery over the past year and a half while the entire startup process has been dragging on. This page – the full list of Kickstarters – just makes my jaw drop every time I look at it, and those are just the (awesome, amazing) Kickstarters. It doesn’t even list the dozens and dozens of people who have given of their time, intellect, and advice. I can’t wait to justify your trust and good will with great beer, and I sincerely hope to share a pint (or maybe a half-pint) with each and every one of you.


*The Baker Street Irregulars are a band of street urchins employed by Holmes to help him investigate crimes and track criminals. They first appeared in the first Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Dec 2011 @ 11:32 PM

Categories: op-ed


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