When the Train Comes Off the Tracks

Sometimes life can feel like being the conductor on a train. These are very precious times. It takes a lot to derail a train. You’re driving full speed in the direction of your destination. Little bumps and pushes come and go, seemingly unfelt. Debris will fly in your way but you plow through. The train is practically invincible. It takes a force of nature to change its course.

That’s how Brendan and I felt in April of 2014 when we first began planning True Respite. We had a plan, we had a vision, we had a destination and we were plowing towards it, full speed ahead. Then in July of 2014 a true force of nature knocked that train over and we weren’t quite sure how we were going to get it back on track. I was pregnant.

We discovered the news four days after Brendan sat down with my family and explained that it was the worst possible time to have kids because we were opening a business. He calmly explained what we had already decided together: they would have to wait at least five years for grandkids. We wanted to give our all to both the brewery and our kids and therefore didn’t want to have any kids before the business took off and built momentum of its own. Little did we know that as he explained this, I was already 6 weeks pregnant.

Needless to say, the news came as quite a surprise. How would we make this work? How could we have a child while we’re trying to start a business? Can we manage the financial risk? What about the wellbeing of the child? What about our own wellbeing?

After much thought and toil, we decided not to let having a child stop us from pursuing our dreams of opening a brewery. Instead, we could keep pushing forward as if nothing had changed. So we did. (And as a personal side note, I will tell you that giving up beer for nearly 9 months is extra hard when almost all of your free time is spent planning to open a brewery!)

Then the most incredible thing in the world happened: Aidan William O’Leary was born on March 5, 2015, at 10:20 am, weighing 7 lbs, 2 oz and carrying the key to our hearts. There is nothing more exhilarating, more terrifying, or more beautiful than welcoming a child into this world. As of that moment, our entire view on life changed. Opening True Respite went from being our dream and passion to being a way to teach our son how to set goals, follow dreams, and nurture passions. Everything in life became more than it was before.

It all became far more difficult, too. Trying to care for a newborn was the hardest thing we have ever done. Brendan went back to work full time after one short week and I went back full time myself when Aidan was 12 weeks old. So there we were, both working full time as engineers, caring for a baby, and staying up late at night to write the business plan after Aidan went to sleep. It was tough. Sleep was a luxury we couldn’t afford if we were going to accomplish everything. We stayed up late to work on the brewery, woke up early to go work, and woke up multiple times a night for at least 6.5 months when Aidan needed us. It took a toll on us physically and emotionally, but we somehow found a way to power through. We wrote a full 140-page business plan, built and perfected our financial models, selected contractors, selected brew house equipment, met and secured our Brewmaster, and more. It’s amazing what you are capable of when you really, really want something.

This experience taught us so many things:

1) Having a kid and helping them grow is the most incredible thing we’ve experienced. Kids change everything but they are more than worth every hardship.

2) Motivation and drive is a powerful, powerful tool.

3) The train of your life really can’t be derailed unless you let it. Sure, powerful blows can become diversions on the track. They may take you to a new destination; sometimes close and sometimes very far from your original destination. But you always have the power to keep the train on the track.

It’s up to you, the conductor, to choose how you approach these diversions and how far you’re willing to travel “off course.” Sometimes the scenic route can be incredible. Other times, you just have to make sure you have your cattle guard installed.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Bright Light of Day

When we were younger, we used to tell a lot of scary stories. For the best effect, we’d tell them in the dark and be sure to include tales of vicious monsters and mysterious creatures of the night. There was always this sense of terror that something like ManWolf might one day snatch us from our tents and sneak us to his lair under the bushes. Fortunately, alongside that fear was the comforting notion that at least our parents might be able to protect or save us. They were practically super heros, after all!

Those stories don’t scare us so much anymore. Our reason tells us that ManWolf is no more real than vampires, goblins, or zombies. But as entrepreneurs, the terror never really left; it has only changed form. Here we stand just 16 days away from closing on the sale of our home in Denver, CO, to move out to Washington D.C. We are taking this huge leap of faith for one simple goal: The pursuit of our dreams. We’re leaving stable, lucrative jobs in a city we love to chase the dream of owning and operating a brewery without the promise of income or any other small measure of success.

This is true fear: We’re putting just about everything we own on the line with the belief that this venture will turn enough of a profit to enable us to provide a roof and food for our family. The idea of this is romanticized in Hollywood and rooted deeply in this concept that is the American Dream. Let us tell you from experience: It’s far more romantic in story books and movies than it is in real life.

As of May 26th, 2016, we will no longer be covered by employer sponsored health insurance. On May 31st, we will not have a permanent address. On June 3rd, our final paycheck will be deposited into our bank account. We have no jobs waiting for us. We have no promise of income or healthcare. All we’ll have is the generous offer to live rent free in Brendan’s parents’ house for a year while we sort this all out. There is something truly humbling about accepting that sort of gracious offer from one’s parents long after having moved out and built an independent life–especially when married with a child.

While it all sounds crazy, we believe in one simple thing: We will succeed. That doesn’t stop us from being absolutely terrified as we take these concrete steps to move forward without any real certainty on what the future holds. But through our work ethic, through our dedication, and through our willingness to sacrifice the comfort that so many hold dearly, we truly believe we will be successful. We will create a brewery that connects with our customers. We will create a brand that proudly displays our culture and our values. We will create a product that makes our customers proud to be regular patrons. We will create a business that is profitable, sustainable, and that fulfills our personal dreams. We will succeed.

You, as our customers, deserve it. We, as entrepreneurs, will earn it. Together, we believe that these sacrifices and this fear will not have been in vain. Together, we’ll create something much greater than ourselves. And for that, all of this fear and sacrifice is worth it.

UPDATE (5/24/2016): We recently got some great news that helps quell a small amount of the terror in this scary story–Bailey was offered a work-from-home position with her current company, allowing us to move to DC and keep our health insurance and her income while we continue to pursue our last investors! This takes a massive weight off of our shoulders and makes this adventure slightly less scary. It’s amazing how quickly change happens in this world of the unknown!

What’s In A Name?

We are True Respite Brewing Company. We weren’t always, though…

Way back when, we started with a whole lot of enthusiasm and a heck of a name: Rebellion Brewing Company. It was a strong word with historic ties to the region. It was symbolic in the fight against boring pale macrobrew. In a word, it was perfect. The vision for the brand was clear—we even had a pretty neat logo:

image

Sure, some brewery out in California had brewed a beer under that name a few times. But after all, it was just the name of one beer; not an entire brewery. We felt confident we’d be able to work out some sort of agreement with the owner and we’d both move on our happy ways. Boy, were we naïve. You may also have noticed that this crest proudly announces that we were established in Loudoun County, VA, in 2015. That, in and of itself, is a story for another day. In the end, the biggest hypothetical headline resulting from our first foray into branding was: “Rookie Entrepreneurs Burst Their Way into Multimillion Dollar Branding Hell.”

Before we get further into this story, we’d like to clarify that the following sequence of events was only what we understood from a couple verbal encounters with a primary stakeholder in this story. We have not verified the extent to which these storylines outside of our own team did or did not happen. We just know that we became very scared of stepping on some rather large toes…

Let’s start from the beginning. Long ago, Bear Republic Brewing Company began experimenting with various single hop IPAs under the name “Rebellion.” Under this name, they brewed IPAs where they kept the same malts but varied the hop varietal to showcase the different flavor and scent profiles of their various hops. What they didn’t do, originally, was trademark the name. It wasn’t until early 2014 that Bear Republic finally submitted the formal paperwork to take full ownership of their beer’s trade name.

Along came Boston Beer Co. (a.k.a. Sam Adams.) In a move of strength, Boston Beer flooded the market with a new beer called “Rebel IPA” without discussing with Bear Republic or filing for a trademark. Instead, using their new market share as evidence that the “Rebel” brand and trademark should rightfully belong to them, they brought suit against Bear Republic for trying to trademark the word “Rebellion.” Curious, is it not? “Rebellion” and “Rebel” are not even the same word. How far can a brand reach? Does trademarking the singular of a collective thereby trademark the collective as well? If I trademark “Zombie,” do I also have the right to “Horde?” And what about Bear Republic? They’d been using the name for years before Boston Beer flooded the market with their own version.

Meanwhile, Bear Republic had apparently been working some form of a branding or distribution deal with LucasArts via Disney. Obviously, as new owners of the Star Wars franchise, Disney had special interest in the word “Rebellion” specifically, and as such, may have been willing to back the legal efforts of Bear Republic to protect the trademark. What resulted was a multi-million dollar legal Mexican Standoff as we at True Respite more or less walked into the saloon with a loaded six-shooter and one really bad attitude.

The threats flowed like sweat and tequila and we ditched our request to share the word so fast our spurs left scorch marks under the swinging saloon doors. We imagine the faint smell of burnt hickory lingered for weeks. That wasn’t our fight.

It left us in a bit of a hole, though, as we realized we had not only lost our brand but that the availability of any name for a brewery or beer was now a possible source of litigation even if the exact word hadn’t been used before. As a fledgling startup with naught but an idea, we wouldn’t have one hundredth of the cash needed to protect ourselves in court. We had to find something that had never been done before in any form or fashion.

Foolishly, we first considered The Holiday Brewing Company. Sure, Christmas Ale was a seasonal style, but nobody can claim a trademark to a style, right? Well—except that time Lagunitas tried suing Sierra Nevada over their IPA lettering. Or the fact that Full Sail claims ownership of “Session” despite the popularity of “sessionable” styles in the craft scene. So we already recognized we were on potentially rocky ground. Then, almost prophetically, one gentleman in Pennsylvania stumbled across our information and informed us that he and his partner(s) had already intended to open Holiday Brewing Company in… where else… Hollidaysburg, PA. Although they were more friendly, in the end, we passed on that brand. It was clearly far too risky.

At this point, we were bitter. No—we were angry. How could our brewing brothers and sisters be so selfish and so shamelessly aggressive? Where was the camaraderie and the “us vs the big guys” mentality that we witnessed as customers to the craft beer industry? We took that disdain straight to brand town: Odium Brewing Company. To us, it sounded regal and epic. It had an old world feel to it, almost like a Roman colosseum. It felt big, bold, and dangerous. After all, it meant “extreme dislike or hatred as a result of someone’s actions.” It was retaliatory. It was deliciously disobedient. “No bullies allowed,” would be our defiant motto.

Our friends and family, however, overwhelmingly hated it and repeatedly told us, “that doesn’t fit you at all,” and, “it sounds like odious. Gross.” In the end, we decided they were right. We had let the negative nancies out there drive us into trying to be something we’re not. We love beer because of the culture of beer drinkers. We love beer because it lets us escape into a relaxing place where flavor profiles and ingredient origins are all that matter. Rather than letting the big bad guys win, we had to persevere and be true to ourselves. We knew we could breed the originality we needed to create a strong brand that truly represented us and our values. And finally, we did that:

image

True Respite is wholly ours. The word “Respite” doesn’t even exist elsewhere in the brewosphere. Somehow, we managed to put our heads together and collectively scour the English language for an available word that really captured our spirits and our vision for a communal tap room where the most pressing issue is what style to order next. The keyhole at the center of our brand represents the gateway to that relaxing environment. Now, we are the proud owners of the “True Respite” brand, and we are very excited to continue on our way as we bring you, Montgomery County, MD, another great chapter in the storied history of DC beer.

Cheers!!!