Reflections of Running a Brewpub: 2 Year Experience

Keith Gutierrez | September 1, 2019 | Binge Thinking

As we enter into year three, we reflect upon the experience of riding the business bi-polarcoaster here at 7 Hills Brewing Company.

So many peaks and valleys you would assume we lived in the mountains. As the owner/operator, I take personal accountability of all the achievements, and more importantly, all the snafus which hopefully make for good laughs after the fact.

Writing is therapeutic so if nothing else, thanks for providing me an outlet outside of the 16 ounce pint glass.

Knowledge Reigns Supreme

I preach transparency for too many reasons to name. The most important reason, though, is knowledge.

On a personal level, I love Indie hip hop and when I heard KRS-ONE rap about ‘Knowledge Reigns Supreme’ it struck a chord in my spinal column, and the music never turned off.

My eastern philosophy teacher at Loras College discussed ignorance as “diverting your attention from, not knowing.”

I always assumed ignorant meant stupid. Boy was I stupid. Ignorance is merely not having knowledge of something. Knowledge merely dispels ignorance. This simple idea is something I work hard to instill into everything I do, both at home with my children and here with my co-workers.

One of our business credos stems from a Reggae philosophy of ‘To each one teach one,’ meaning, if you know something that someone else doesn’t it is your responsibility to spread that knowledge, that truth, so people learn.

Only egos interfere with the learning process. Teaching and learning is a give and take process, and balance is the key factor in this law of nature. I have a lot to teach but even more to learn.

The Start of My Journey

By being transparent, I am vulnerable to all type of criticism by exposing my flaws, which can be very painful. Luckily, my against the grain nature has prepared me for such pain. I read once that life is painful, and suffering is optional.

When we ‘let go’ of control and accept things the way they are, we become adaptable to all of nature. We realize we are nature. There is no separation. Change becomes the only constant in our lives.

As a young child I was always different, highly imaginative, kind to strangers, and well, just plain weird. I was self-taught in many ways and raised in my basement on a staple diet of junk food, cartoons, music videos (man MTV was awesome before it wasn’t), and Blockbuster hits.

I was a hopeless romantic, having my first girlfriend from 1st to 4th grade. I played every sport that was accessible to help channel my ADHD. I grew up very fast in an even faster city (Chicago).

I called this the scientist years as I developed my logical, algorithmic personality. I moved out to Dubuque when I was 18 to enter college, and as I say, the dark side of my moon phase.

I went from social extrovert to hermit introvert, delving into every philosophy and psychology book I could get my hands on. I started writing poetry vigorously and experimenting with any new experience I could access.

I found Friedrich Nietzsche and said yes to life. I crossed over from my left to my right brain experiencing the artist inside of me.

So Now It Begins

Opening 7 Hills at the age of 36 afforded me the opportunity to find the balance of scientist and artist, bringing marriage to both sides of my persona. I had started the venture with 3 friends, all of whom are no longer with the company.

For better or worse, my goal was to try and make their dreams of opening up a brewpub possible. I realized, through the process, that I can only facilitate and not force someone to do something.

It was heartbreaking at first to see the chef leave, then the head brewer, and eventually the GM. Two of the 3 individuals went on to open their own businesses, so if nothing else, I feel I did help prompt them to take their leap of faith into job ownership, something they both wanted to do.

My intent was never, and will never be, to kill the spirit of entrepreneurship inside of any individual. We have an open door policy at our company. We truly believe in a free market economy, holding no one hostage.

It takes integrity to do what we consider ‘right,’ avoiding the temptation of short cuts to access our goals, whether it be money, sales, press, etc.

Tring to Find a Balance

We opened with a lot of artistic energy and hit the ground running. Our vibe was strong and high, and so were our expenses. From a marketing perspective it was an intangible investment that a financial P N L could not measure.

Essentially it was risky business. As we moved into year 2, our focus was on system implementation in order to sustain our growth and business model. In essence we had to science the $#it out of everything.

If art is play, then science is work. We feel a successful company needs the balance of both, the marriage of art and science, the left and the right brain. 7 Hills aims to be that omni-directional bridge, closing the gap between both worlds. We are too small to be big and too big to be small.

We sit in a grey space where Agnosticism lives. Knowing that we don’t know. Having faith in knowledge and knowledge in our faith, vowing to obey what we as a company, believe to be truth.

Truth, without deceit. That path to our truth can be viewed through our transparency.