When one decides to open a small business, the assumption that the road ahead is a challenging yet worthy path to go down is likely noted. Most people who make this type of decision out of passion, loving what they do and wanting to share it with the world. They’ve probably weighed out the costs and rewards before deciding to take the initial plunge.
So, it came as no surprise to Marto Brewing owner, Erik Martin, that even though he knew his passion for brewing great beer would create a successful business, the road to get there would force him to learn a lot about business in the most unlikely of ways, keep him honest when it would have been easy to just walk away, and the practice of patience to cross the finish line.
SM: Tell our readers a little bit about Marto Brewing.
Marto Brewing Company is a brewery with a brewpub attached. We will seat about 100 people inside and over 40 people in our outdoor patio. Our beer will be brewed on a 10 bbl(barrel)/310 gallon brewing system. We have the capacity to brew over 1,000 barrels of beer per year. We will also have an open kitchen concept featuring a Marra Forni wood fired oven. Customers will be able to watch our staff craft their food and beer! We will also sell select guest beers from other breweries, a variety of wines, Stone Bru Nitro Coffee, Hardline french press coffee and soda.
SM: Becoming a business owner is not for everyone. Tell us about why you took the leap.
I first decided to write a business plan after my wife said, “You are spending all this time brewing and spending money on equipment, you should start a brewery.” It then grew from there. I became obsessed with making good beer and trying to perfect recipes. I taught myself by reading brewing textbooks, magazines, listening to brewing podcasts all the time (2-6 hours per day) and a lot of trial and error. One of my major drives in not wanting to live with regret. I would hate to look back and know I could have done it, but did not. I also know we have a good product and a concept that will be a unique experience for the area.
SM: What unique strengths do you bring into your business?
I think I have a pretty creative mind and I’m not afraid to take a risk that may produce something unique and push the envelope. I believe I know the customers well and we treat them like friends, because they are.
SM: How did you decide who would be good business partners, or who wouldn’t?
My wife was my first partner and supporter. She is always helping with events, marketing and has helped with any odds and ends throughout the years. The others just happened naturally. I became good friends with Jack Ehrich and Rod Wellman at a beer tasting event. We went from friends to business partners to great friends. They are very supportive and we complement each other well.
SM: How did you raise capital dollars? Walk us through that experience.
It was very hard to raise capital in the beginning. Each investor is different and has their own thoughts on a direction. I think the key is to be honest with them from the beginning and tell them about your vision. I ended up meeting my now investors by networking with people in the area. I’d recommend being involved in the local entrepreneur groups and events. You can meet many new people just by becoming friends with one new person. I also learned that’s how you will find the right people to invest and also, you will lose others that aren’t a good match. That’s ok. We could have been open a year or so earlier if I would have gave into a partnership that wouldn’t have been a good match. Having patience to wait for the right people is also a lesson I had to learn throughout this process.
SM: What experiences have you had that have made you a better business owner?
We have had many ups and downs. Many lessons learned. Things don’t always work like you plan. You adjust and do what you need to make it work. That has helped me learn a lot and made me more persistent. I remember making a few beers that ended up very bad. I was so discouraged that I wanted to quit brewing sometimes. But I kept working to figure out what caused the bad outcome and I changed my process to improve.
SM: It’s easy to lose motivation, especially when it became a hurry up and wait game or when things were moving forward sooo slowly. How do you get yourself back on track?
Having a good team and supporters helped a lot. To just visualize the end goal and to keep doing the things that will get you there was all we had some days. We could see it. We just had to push to make that happen. Being obsessed with your product or business helps you have the passion to not quit.
SM: Can you share a time when you just wanted to quit and give up? Share how you moved past this point.
We had many ups and downs trying to find a location while trying to raise money. It was a balancing act of, “Can I raise money without a building and a clear end goal… or can I find a spot without investors.” Not finding investors for a long time was very discouraging. I knew we had a great product and vision. But I needed to meet the right people.
SM: Is there any advice that you have received over the years that you think is worth passing along to others?
Let the haters be your motivation. Surround yourself with people that are good at things you are not the best at. Treat your customers like people. Be yourself. Early on, I was obsessed with being the best and learning more. When I wasn’t working my day job, I was learning more. Listening to other brewers talk, reading articles, listening to podcasts, and experimenting. I still do it today, I have just expanded beyond brewing. Topics like general business, marketing, restaurants and creating a great working culture are in my daily listening line-up.
SM: How has being a business owner changed you?
It has made me admire other business owners a lot more. It takes a lot of work to make a business operate. Big business owners often get bashed in the media and by the general public… but 99% of them have worked their ass off to get there. It has also made me realize that it is impossible to make a business run without a good team and other support.
SM: What is the best thing about being a business owner? What is the thing you are most excited about finally being open? The most exciting thing is creating a product or experience that others want and enjoy. I am excited to bring my product to customers and see them enjoy it.
SM: Tell us how you feel when you walk through the restaurant. Is it what you pictured in your head all these years? Everything has happened in stages and it has been a slow progression, so I don’t think it has quite hit me yet. It has been exciting to see the property transform from a dirt floor to an awesome restaurant and brewery.
It is pretty similar to what I have always visualized. Both the brewery and taproom have been thought out thoroughly. The decor is a bit more modern than I originally thought, but I love what it has transformed into. I don’t see it being a place to just eat and drink, but it’s an overall experience. World class craft beer, high quality wood fired food, an interactive open kitchen and great customer service.
SM: When you’re not brewing beer, what do you like to do?
Spend time with my wife and kids, going to concerts (usually country), and checking out other breweries. I also love being in the Loess Hills whenever I can. Anything from just a drive through the hills to hunting and fishing.
Byline: Erik Martin, partner and creator at Marto Brewing.