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Opening a Brewery #3: Small Business and Self-Doubt

This is a series of articles about opening a small brewery in Hyattsville, a stone’s throw from DC. If you’d like me to answer a specific question about opening a small brewery, tweet @JonCetrano or shoot me an email at jon@streetcar82.com and I’ll do my best to write about it.

Somewhere in the middle of a paragraph about iso-alphas and humulones and humulenes, I’m suddenly stricken by an overwhelming feeling of complete panic. “What the FUCK am I doing? I know absolutely nothing about beer, never mind running a damn business.” I had that bodily reaction you get when you jump into a pool of unexpectedly cold water and your neck muscles jam up and your back stiffens so fast it hurts. I talk myself down: “No, Jon…you got this…water + grains + hops + yeast = beer. If you build it, they will come. I got this.” After my little mental lamaze exercise, I’m back to normal again.

Every so often this happens. I feel like an impostor. My whole career has been in education or mental health. I never took a business or beer class. This building a brewery thing is a complete leap of faith. While I am confident that I’m doing the right thing, at the right place, with the right partners, and that this whole idea will become a reality, nobody told me that as a small business owner, I’d be hit by crippling self-doubt every so often. This is what is different from all of my other jobs. I never had this feeling as a teacher, program manager, or even as a student. The difference between those jobs and opening a brewery is that the expectations in those jobs are clear. You know what you need to do. Opening a brewery, the expectations are not so clear.

There is no step-by-step process for opening a brewery. There is no “Opening a Brewery for Dummies” (I looked!) for a reason. You find out about the rules and regulations during your research (or when the inspector says, “By the way, you forgot to fill out this obscure but critical form that nobody else knows about except for me”). The water company permits, the gas company permits, the federal licensing, state licensing, county licensing, are all disaggregated. You need to do the legwork, find out what those expectations are, and do it yourself. I thank God for Google and the kindness of strangers. If it weren’t for Google and nice strangers, our opening date would probably be sometime in the year 2020.

The range of responsibilities that I’m going through now is so varied, and there are so many possibilities of missing something critical that sometimes it feels overwhelming. However, I’ve learned so much along this journey. I actually did my own legal work in incorporating my business in the state of Maryland (a lawyer was too expensive), and I’ve done all of our paperwork for federal, state, and county licensing. I’ve learned quite a bit about construction and plumbing even though I’m no handyman. I learned how to read a blueprint. I’m working with my partners to make our beer better and learning more every time we make another test batch.

You’d think that going through all this would make me feel even more confident. But that not-so-little baseball bat of “You know nothing, Jon!” still slams into my forehead every so often. I’ve learned the important thing is to do a little mental lamaze, breathe it down, and get back to work making beer and growing a business. “Yeah… I got this.”

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