ON THE AVENUES: Welcome to wherever we are.
By ROGER BAYLOR
I’ve never been very adept at working for someone else. Even before there was a viable option of self-employment, it was evident that my propensity for refusing the bridle would not mesh very well with the typical disciplinary constraints of corporate America.
These days, no matter how good, bad, ugly or just plain weird things sometimes get at work, it remains better than most of the alternatives. I’m the first to admit that after almost 20 years of self-employment, I’m otherwise unemployable, and so be it.
In a purely existential sense, it is my view that life’s all about fighting to the last gasp against the eternal void, and there’s no better way to pursue this mission than transforming work into a personal crusade on behalf of a better way – and against the laggardly forces of hidebound doltishness.
I am what I do, and this is okay by me, even if it unnerves random dullards.
A couple of years back, NABC’s three operating business partners agreed to stake their respective domestic ranches on craft beer’s glowing future. Consider today’s column a status report of sorts.
In early 2009, we opened Bank Street Brewhouse (a “gastrobrewpub”) in downtown New Albany, absorbing the myriad duties attendant to all newborns, human or business.
By summer of the same year, we were brewing on site, the distribution effort beginning with draft beer, augmented with 22-oz “bomber” bottles as of April, 2011. For the short term, our task is to use the bottles to expand our reach throughout Indiana and Kentucky, and to increase production to the point where a further brewing expansion is an option. Then, we’ll see what happens.
The front of the house at Bank Street started slowly. We were ambitious, perhaps overly so, but we kept at it, making small and coordinated changes in offerings, hours and procedures. Over time, traffic got steadily better, and I believe we’ve found the sweet spot where customer expectations and our ability to meet them are matching.
Any independent small business is only as good as the people working there, and NABC has been fortunate to have so many of them, but turnover is inevitable. As owners, there are times when we handle it well, although other times, not so much. At Bank Street Brewhouse, six of seven “key” people on duty in March, 2009, now have departed.
Indeed, trying to find that elusive “perfect chemistry” can be maddening. I try to keep it in perspective, and remember that somehow, the Yankees have survived and thrived as a baseball team even after Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson no longer played.
In 2011, Chef Josh Lehman moved on, as did other important employees, including Jared Williamson, brewer at the NABC Grant Line branch (R & D Brewery). A general manager change recently has been made at Bank Street Brewhouse. For the most part, we continue to try first to promote from within, and without exception, newly assigned employees have stepped up to the challenge.
All the while, we’ve tried to stay nimble and continue adapting as we go. I’m the very first to admit that Bank Street Brewhouse has survived so many egregious management errors (most of them mine) that I cringe when recalling them, but when asked recently what advice I’d give others about to dive into a brewing start-up, all I could say was this:
“Try to have a good attitude about the sheer (expletive) number of mistakes you’ll make, and don’t stew over them as long as you try to learn something from each one.”
And so, here we are, still standing. The anticipated daily trench warfare continues, with steady, incremental progress amid the personnel changes, vicious economic vicissitudes, and the natural ebbs and flows of downtown revitalization – the latter not peculiar to New Albany alone, but experienced anywhere in the country.
When I think about the many optimistic, forward-looking people in the food and drink business who have invested in downtown New Albany – the majority of whom are surviving, if not printing fresh greenbacks on a daily basis – it makes me proud of what my town has achieved, and not a little stubborn, too.
While NABC’s downtown experiment may have been occasionally inelegant in execution and stumbled, it was the right move for us to make, and at the right time.
In like fashion, the downtown New Albany food and drink contingent is here to stay, joining the assortment of retail and service businesses that previously outlasted the seismic changes of long decades separating New Albany’s post-war commercial acme and the present revival. Together, we’ll continue to fight, until the next wave of specialized retail and expanded housing takes shape.
But will some of the older dogs downtown be able to learn new tricks, and become part of the solution as we move the perimeter forward? I hope so. If not, I suppose they’ll be swept away by the cruel logic of the ever-mutating market.
Regrettably, NABC’s prolonged expansion grind has deprived me of the necessary time to write regularly about beer, apart from fulfilling my carnival barker’s duties to call attention to our own output. That’s too bad, because we’re living in a golden era, with the dizzying growth of craft brewing providing voluminous material for consideration.
In terms of beer writing, the biweekly LEO “Mug Shots” gig sufficed for a few years, until the unfortunate and unnecessary “don’t insult well-heeled mega-swill advertisers” imbroglio in June of 2010. Away went my soapbox, although sometimes standing up for a sacred principle does that.
On this front, there now is a comeback strategy: The embryonic LouisvilleBeer.com web site, founded by my friend John Campbell, which will provide me with a biweekly column format at a brand new cyber locale. Look for it at http://louisvillebeer.com, and expect an August 1 site launch.