For many craft brewers, making beer is a labour of love. There’s long hours, loads of stress, and it can take years to recoup the massive start-up costs associated with opening a brewery. Having your family by your side, supporting you every step of the way can often mean the difference between failure and success.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that so many breweries in this province are family-run businesses. But while working with family has its advantages, it also comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Building a legacy
It was on a visit back to his native Colombia that Andres Amaya received the advice that would change his family’s lives.
Despite Andres’ successful career in hotel management, his father clutched his arm and implored him and his brother Nicolas to strike out on their own and start their own business. “And do it by the time you’re 50.”
You need stability late in life, he told Andres. If you lose your job, no one will hire you if you’re an old man. And work together, because you can trust family. Blood is thicker than water.
Andres took his father’s advice to heart, and when he returned to Canada, he and Nicolas began brainstorming ideas for businesses. At first they considered buying a franchise, perhaps a Tim Hortons. But one afternoon, as they were drinking craft beer in Nicolas’s basement, Nicolas had an idea. They both loved craft beer, so why not do something they love, and open a brewery?
That was five years ago, and this past February the idea became a reality with the opening of Andina Brewing Co. on Powell Street in Vancouver. It would not have been possible were it not for the efforts of their entire family.
Their wives, Claudia and Rocío Lievano-Amaya, who are both sisters, handle the brewery’s marketing and accounting, respectively. Andres and Rocío’s son Santiago is the brewery’s assistant manager, and their daughter Daniella is currently studying business management with an eye to join the family business as well. Even Nicolas and Claudia’s nine-year-old son Esteban helps out by bussing tables when it’s busy.
“I love that I get to drink beer and work with my family,” says Andres. “I feel a little more free.”
Part of their motivation to build a business together, Nicolas says, is that they want to create something they can leave to their children.
“We know we’re working together for the same goal,” he says. “So we have that trust. That’s one of the best things about working with family, the level of trust we have.”
Understandably, Andina has become the centre of the Amayas lives. They’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries here. There was even a wedding proposal. They hope to extend that familial feeling to everyone who visits their brewery.
“Everyone’s an Amaya at Andina,” says Andres. “You come as guests, stay as friends, and leave as family.”
When Four Winds co-founder and brewmaster Brent Mills decided to start his own brewery, there was never any doubt that his business would be a family venture.
Brent’s grandfather founded Mills Paint, where it became a family tradition for everyone to work at the paint shop. Today, if you work at Four Winds, there’s about a one in five chance your last name is Mills.
While Brent takes care of everything beer-related, his father Greg helps manage the business side of things, his brother Adam handles the sales and marketing, his other brother Sean works in packaging, cousin Nick is the brewery’s jack-of-all-trades, and uncle John is the sales rep for the B.C. Interior.
Brent’s sister Brooke doesn’t currently work for the brewery, but he says he’d like to change that and bring her into the fold as well.
“Working with family isn’t a new thing to us,” says Greg. “Not every family should run a family business, but they all get along so it works out quite well.”
That said, working with family does have its challenges.
“There’s definitely an unspoken level of communication where we just understand each other,” says Adam. But that can create difficulties. For one thing, their employees don’t posses the Mills family ESP. “There’s 30 other people involved now, so we know we have to work on our communication skills, to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
They all admit that as much as they think of their employees as family, the staff does get treated differently. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“If we make a mistake, we yell at each other, and no one takes it personal because we’ve been yelling at each other since we were born,” Brent says. “But you’d never do that to staff.”
He also admits that he tends to prioritize his staff’s wellbeing over that of his relatives.
“If it’s a family member at work, it’s whatever, but if it’s staff, they’re going to get attention,” says Brent. “I don’t know if I care about my brothers’ enjoyment of work as much as someone who’s not related to me.”
Circle and square
Cédric Dauchot and Chloe Smith of Townsite Brewing in Powell River first met in Montreal 11 years ago while working together at the French brewpub chain Les 3 Brasseurs. In June 2011, with their newborn daughter in tow, Cedric and Chloe took the leap of a lifetime to open a brewery of their own and moved to a town that Chloe had only visited once when she was 13 years old. Cédric, who grew up in Belgium, had never been to Powell River at all.
But they were determined and they had each other, and soon they had a success on their hands.
“It was very exciting to build [Townsite] from nothing,” says Cédric. “Everything came together perfectly.”
For Cédric and Chloe, because they met on the job, they’ve always had a working relationship, so those roles were already defined when they started their own brewery.
While the two have very different personalities, those differences compliment each other, they say. It’s evident they share a great deal of mutual respect for each other—a vital ingredient in both a successful business relationship and a marriage.
“I think it works because Chloe is very circle and I am very square,” says Cédric. “She has the creativity and inspiration, and I’m more of an engineer. In some ways, we’re opposites, but it works out.”
That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and lollipops. The workload can be overwhelming at times, especially in the summer months when the brewery is operating at full clip. Thankfully, they manage to keep things in perspective.
“I think any business owner has times where they think, ‘Fuck this! This is way too much work!’ I think everybody struggles with that,” says Chloe. “Luckily, we make beer for a living.”
Cédric and Chloe have two children now, both of whom are growing up in the brewery. They each have their own broom to help out with the sweeping, and love spending time in the brewery’s family-friendly tasting room, creating chalk art all over the walls. It’s a comfort to have the kids so close, says Chloe.
“They seem to really like it here,” she says. “It’s never an issue getting them to come down.”
Despite spending nearly every moment of every day together, the couple says they don’t tire of each other’s company. They may be circle and square, but they have a lot in common. Namely, beer.
“At the end of the day, we’re just big craft beer geeks, so talking about beer 24 hours a day is what we actually want to do,” says Chloe.