BABE #267: KELLY PICKARD - Owner, Alewife Craft Beer Bottle Shop
Kelly is the owner and operator at Alewife Craft Beer Bottle Shop, a craft beer retail shop and taproom in Jacksonville’s Historic 5 Points, where she handles everything from product selection to day-to-day bar oversight to finances, HR, marketing and even janitorial duties. By curating an inviting space, hosting a successful beer school and partnering with local organizations, Kelly and her partner have created a place for her community to gather, connect and become educated about Alewife’s carefully curated collection of over 200+ American craft beers.
Hometown: I moved around a lot as a kid. I grew up in Winter Park, Fla.; Houston; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and then back to Florida courtesy of St. Augustine. So, if I had to pick, I’d say St. Augustine.
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Florida Southern College
Degree: B.A., Communications; Concentration in Journalism
Very first job: Working at the one and only TCBY
Hustle: Owner/Operator, Alewife Craft Beer Bottle Shop
Babe you admire and why?
I think the older I get, the more I come to admire my grandmother and wish I had been given more time with her. She had such an adventurous and giving spirit, all while raising five kids and multiple grandchildren. Whether it was in Minnesota, Virginia, Maryland or when my grandfather’s work took them to Iran and Thailand, she always found a way to have a positive impact on her community. She had a strong sense of service to others that I deeply admire. Professionally speaking, I look up to people in the industry who take it upon themselves to learn more and push their own boundaries of knowledge. I’m in awe of New Belgium’s Lauren Salazar. She essentially created New Belgium's sensory lab from scratch, learning the ropes as she went along. Every single job she’s ever had at New Belgium didn’t exist before her and she may very well have a better understanding of sensory science than anyone else in the game. More importantly (to me), she uses that passion and knowledge to create education and mentoring programs for others in the industry.
How do you spend your free time?
Any true free time is usually spent in my backyard with my family and friends. Bonus points when there is a fire, a bottle of rye whiskey and good conversation involved.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
It would probably be some kind of pasta with creamy or cheesy sauce, since I never get to eat it. I’d have it with the house salad my dad makes. I know it seems lame, but trust me on this—it’s one of my favorite things in the world.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Honestly, probably my grandfather. He died when I was in my early twenties and I really wish I could’ve had the chance to have real conversations with him as an adult. He was such a progressive in his time. When I came out to my parents, they struggled with it (as many parents do). It was my grandfather of all people who was the first to directly talk to me about it in an affirming way. He wrote me a letter in which he not only expressed his unwavering love and support, but shared with me a list of influential and successful gay Americans. He wanted me to know I could live out and be successful. He said what I needed to hear when my parents couldn’t. I was really fortunate to have that experience and it had a lasting impact. I’d love to be able to tell him that and hear what he has to say about the current state of affairs in the world today.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I was a Peace Corps volunteer when I was younger. After college, I spent a little over two years as a health education volunteer in Mali, West Africa. It was a deeply impactful time in my life and it forever changed how I see and experience life, even to this day. Those years rooted a deeper sense of empathy, compassion and humility while teaching me a lot about my own privilege.
Tell us about your hustle.
When you’re a small business owner, you’re a little bit of everything. You’re CEO and CFO. You’re HR and marketing. You’re general manager. Most often, you’re janitorial services. Along with my partner, I create the vibe of the space and keep the space functioning. I oversee the development of our beer program and curate our selection of products. I develop our beer school. I maintain the relationships we have with distributors and reps. I work 40-plus hours behind the bar and another 20-plus hours behind a computer or in meetings. I wash a lot of glasses and clean a lot of bathrooms.
What does your typical workday look like?
My day usually starts around 7:30 a.m. with an immediate cup of coffee. My mornings are spent at my home office prepping orders, creating and promoting events, developing our beer school classes and making sure I stay on top of my own beer study. It’s a lot of reading, emailing, social media posting and overall planning. I’m trying to get better about making sure to carve out some time for my physical health and prioritizing getting a workout in, but if I feel overwhelmed or behind, that’s usually what goes on the backburner. Then, my actual work day gets started. I get in to the store around 11 a.m. and most of my day is spent cleaning, receiving orders, stocking product, meeting with distributor and brewery reps and working behind the bar. I work the store by myself until 5 p.m. and then hand the bar over to one of my fantastic bartenders. My evenings can be a mix of more admin work, meetings and just serving as overall support to whoever is behind the bar. I usually get home around 10:30 p.m. during the week and 12:30 a.m. on the weekends.
How and when did your love of beer come to be?
It started shortly after I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2003. That was really my first exposure to the breadth of craft beer available. I had a coworker who hosted a beer club once a month where we’d each bring a six pack of something we’d never had before. That’s how I came to experience a number of styles I was completely unfamiliar with at the time. That eventually turned into just picking one style we would focus on and then we’d get a six pack of different versions of that style. We would taste them and research more about the style, the history of its development, style parameters, etc. As I was beginning to get seriously interested in beer, I was fortunate to have really educated bartenders at my neighborhood bar when I lived in D.C. The beer director/bartender was a Certified Cicerone (the first time I had ever heard the term) and genuinely enjoyed answering my questions and encouraging my curiosity. My obvious interest in everything related to craft beer led to me taking a part-time job as a barback at their sister bar, even though I had a full-time office job. That gig is where I first started to learn the ins and outs of the service side of craft beer: how to properly pour beer, the importance of “beer clean” glassware, changing kegs, cleaning draft lines, etc. This bar set a really high standard, even having all the staff go through a six-part training in all things beer: history, styles, off flavors, proper service, etc. It set the standard for how I would eventually go on and train my own staff and was the inspiration for our beer school program we offer monthly to both the public and service-industry professionals.
What inspired Alewife?
To be honest, I was never really the business-minded one. My partner has always been the one with the entrepreneurial spirit. It started as a casual conversation during which my partner asked me what kind of business I would open if I could. I had recently gotten back from a work trip in San Francisco and had visited a great little spot there called City Beer Store. It was the first time I had ever seen a great bottle shop that was also a bar, and I fell in love with the vibe. That was the initial inspiration. From there, it almost became a fun project we would work on in our spare time. We would go visit beers towns and go into taprooms, breweries and stores, and keep notes on what we liked about them and what we would do differently. We took notes on everything: layout and design of spaces, service, glassware, how product was organized, merchandise. By the time we started to seriously put together a business plan, we had such a solid sense of how we wanted our business to look, feel and operate. One thing that was important for me from the beginning was the design of the space. Every other craft beer store and bar combo I visited felt like a store first and the bar always felt like an afterthought. Most of them had fluorescent lights, dropped ceilings, linoleum tile floors—they felt like a grocery store in which you could drink. Perhaps my years working in the architecture realm left a mark, because I wanted a space where people wanted to stay. It was really important to me that the space feel more like a taproom that also had a great selection of package beer rather than a store where you could also drink. We wanted to create an atmosphere that would be immediately welcoming and comfortable to anyone who might walk in.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Aside from actually opening the business, I would have to say it was passing the Certified Cicerone exam on my first attempt. I worked so hard to be prepared for that test and I felt it was really important for me in order to take Alewife in the direction I wanted. I love teaching and the beer school classes are my favorite part of what we do at Alewife. ...Earning Certified Cicerone status provided a sense of validation of the knowledge I have attained and would afford me the trust with customers to continue to develop more education classes.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
My experience as a woman in this industry may be different, because as the owner, I am in a position of power. It hasn’t significantly impacted my day-to-day experience. However, outside of my personal experience, it’s certainly an issue being addressed within the industry as a whole. There’s a larger conversation about what the experience is for women both as beer consumers and those working in the industry. In the last couple of years, there’s been a national discussion in the industry about hyper-sexualized beer names: Panty-Dropper, Leg-Spreader, Raging Bitch, Happy Ending. It’s just so tired, disrespectful, juvenile and it alienates half of your potential customer base. In the beer industry, we need a cultural shift that sees women as a potential customer rather than as a way to sell beer to men. We’re getting there. The conversations are happening and the landscape is shifting. Bringing more women into the industry, both as customers and employees, [is an important part of changing the culture]. It’s going to be easier to shift norms if women are present and involved in decision-making. As an owner, it’s about creating a welcoming environment for men and women alike. That was a huge focus of our business plan as we were creating Alewife. It’s also about getting rid of assumptions about beverage choices. Even as someone who has made a point to focus on that very thing, I have been guilty. I had an experience in which a gentleman set two drinks on the bar he had picked out for him and his wife. I opened them, poured them into the proper glass and then set the drinks in front of them: the stout in front of him and the passionfruit cider in front of her. And then, I had to watch as they quietly switched drinks. It was the worst and I was so upset with myself. My actions had reinforced the assumption that men drink beer and women drink cider.
Are there any female-specific challenges you face in your work?
The type of challenges I see most often in our industry are the more subtle assumptions and discriminations imbedded in the subconscious. It’s the assumption that, because I am a female, I’m not the decision maker or person in charge. I’ve had reps come in and, if I have a male bartender onsite, automatically approach him to talk because they assume he’s the person in charge. I’m not sure whether it is real or just my internalized insecurity, but as a woman, I sometimes feel like I have to prove myself more. I enjoy the expression on some people’s faces when I start talking about beer and answering their questions. I think often they aren’t expecting the woman behind the bar to have a depth of knowledge on beer. It’s understandable though, because for so long the image of craft beer was big dudes with burly beard in work shirts. I see it as an opportunity to change people’s assumptions.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Despite women still being the minority when it comes to craft beer drinkers (I believe it hovers around 30 percent or so depending on the study you see), women actually have better representation in the brewing industry than you might think. There was a study out of Stanford in 2014 that surveyed more than 2,500 breweries and found that 21 percent had at least one woman in a top role, including CEO, head brewer and brewmaster. According to the Brewers Association, that number is actually relatively high compared to similar industries. I think both of those numbers will continue to grow. The more women become visible in the industry, [the more they are] going to attract more women into the craft beer scene. While it’s true that craft beer is still overwhelmingly white and male, I think it’s only going to continue to evolve to better become the inclusive community it strives to be most of the time.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
I think anytime you work in the beverage industry, probably the biggest misconception is that it’s all fun and games all the time. Particularly with alcohol often being a central aspect of socializing, it can seem from the outside that your job is easy and fun all the time. People probably also underestimate how damn exhausting it is being behind the bar all day, both physically and mentally. You can’t have an off day. To do your job well, you have to be open and social and talkative to the people who come into your establishment. It can be particularly tough for folks like me who are naturally more introverted. It can take a lot out of you to make yourself that available. Also, owning your own business is not as glamorous as people think. It’s literally 80 percent janitorial work.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
If you want something, go for it. We were business professionals for over 10 years and decided to quit our jobs to follow our passion. We didn’t go to business school. We didn’t have an MBA. If you are willing to put in the work and willing to sacrifice the comfort that comes with certainty and security, you can do it. Don’t expect the small biz life to bring you riches or financial security, but if you are truly passionate about what you are doing, it’s worth it.