When Golden Road Brewing co-founders Meg Gill and Tony Yanow wrote their first business plan, initial forecasts called for 60,000 barrels of beer by year five.
Now, midway through its fourth full year, the brewery is on pace to sell 45,000 barrels, and it will likely exceed the 60,000 barrel threshold in 2016, Gill told Brewbound. So, with the expiration date on its first five-year plan just 18 months away, we checked in on the company’s plans for the next phase of growth.
Earlier this year, Golden Road announced it had purchased a 56,000 sq. ft. location for a brewery and restaurant in Anaheim, about 40 miles south of its current production facility. The space, which is still being designed, will eventually include a large restaurant and retail outpost – a piece of the Golden Road business that Gill explained would be a critical component the company’s future endeavors.
“It’s the reason why we’re able to hire more people to sell more wholesale beer,” she said.
Golden Road already operates a 600-seat pub at its Los Angeles location, and it’s also planning to open a small 20-tap growler station inside of downtown L.A.’s “Grand Central Market” later this summer. And in 2016, a fourth retail location – a Golden Road-branded brewpub at Los Angeles International Airport, which is part of a licensing arrangement with HMSHost — will open its doors.
“We are continuing to reinvest in capex and we are taking on debt partners – Bank of America is our equipment and real estate financier – to grow our wholesale business,” she said. “But the restaurant side is what is really helping us to achieve the next phase of our capital projects.”
Meanwhile, in Anaheim, a small tasting room is scheduled to open later this year and the company hopes to begin brewing smaller-batch specialty offerings on its original 15-barrel brewing system, which has been moved to the new location, before 2016. Production of Golden Road’s core offerings like Point the Way IPA and Hefeweizen will remain at its L.A. facility, however, where the addition of two new 800-barrel outdoor fermentation tanks will enable the company grow that location’s capacity beyond 100,000 barrels in 2016.
At each of the new retail projects – especially the new venture at LAX, which is already the company’s highest volume account – ‘brand awareness’ remains a constant focus.
“It’s not always just about volume, but also about brand awareness,” said Gill. “This pub in the airport could sell more than our 600-seat pub in L.A., but we are more interested in the long-term recognition. Restaurant and retail helps brand awareness as well as cash flow.”
Nevertheless, the company is also working to improve the way it goes to market with wholesale product.
“We’re more focused on winning over the independent accounts and our rate of sale is higher that what we would have expected based on how much new distribution we are getting,” she said. “That’s because we’re doing the right things in the right accounts.”
The company, which already employs 170 across its taproom and package businesses, will look to hire five additional sales representatives to better support the business in California. Gill said that 80 percent of Golden Road beer – which is also distributed in Arizona as well as a handful of airports around the country — is still being sold in metro-L.A., Gill said.
Keeping a majority of the beer close to home improves the company’s effectiveness and increases its chances of success, she believes, but even Gill admits that the first five years have been harder than she thought they would be.
“I wish, at the time we wrote our first plan, there was someone to ask ‘what happens after five years?’” Gill joked. “You don’t just die after five years. You have to keep growing and it gets more expensive.”
And with craft beer powerhouse Lagunitas already building its third brewing facility about 25 miles away from both of Golden Road’s locations, staying on top as L.A.’s dominant local craft player will likely get more challenging and, ultimately, more expensive. That’s why Gill is beefing up her local sales force, which could prove to be a pivotal maneuver when Lagunitas finally opens its doors in 2017.
“A big strong craft brewery that is doing all of the right things is coming to town,” she said. “I think it is good to have another strong local competitor. They are smart and they are only going to make us smarter.”
After watching the Petaluma, Calif.-headquartered craft brewery build its second brewery in Chicago, Gill said she expects the entire L.A. craft beer scene to benefit from a well-resourced player like Lagunitas coming in.
“I feel that a company like Revolution [in Chicago] probably benefited from Lagunitas coming in to carve out more retail space and build more programs for local beer,” she said. “Lagunitas is seeing the opportunity that exists in L.A. right now. It was so underdeveloped. Chicago is a few years ahead of L.A., but those are the last frontiers for craft land grabs.”
In the meantime, Gill is simply excited that she no longer needs to fly to Chicago to get her hands on her “favorite” style of beer – a wheat beer dry-hopped with Citra hops — that she associates with Midwest breweries like 3 Floyds and New Glarus. The company yesterday canned packages of Citra Bend, a hoppy one-off brewed with five different fruit-forward hop varieties.
“Beer needs to be consumed fresh and the two biggest ingredients that fall apart with time and travel are wheat and hops,” she said. “What better way to spread the message of drinking fresh local beer than by combining them?”