This letter has been a long time coming, figuratively and literally. I have had the document sitting on my desktop for a month, trying to find a moment to breathe and focus on what should be a really easy note to pen. This is the last thing I need to do before the new website launches, so you would think I would have taken care of it already, but nope. I am staring out the window here in Mount Laurel, and the nice, Spring-ish afternoon has turned to shit, as New Jersey is apt to do, with intermittent rain and a general blah cast to the yard. Yeah, Mount Laurel. I live there now, guessing you do not know. Or maybe you do. What I do know is that you left us on Christmas night, 2012, and I am only recently able to write those words without crying.
Mom is doing OK, still in the old house, and we are all trying to keep it from crumbling away to dust and splinters and about 50 pounds of holiday bows. Tamara took a new gig at a new hospital, and the boys are doing really great in their own distinct ways. Heather and I are running frantically around trying to keep up with the girls. Sofie is 5 and a pistol. Zoe is 2 and most definitely has her dad’s sense of humor. Heather is also providing moral support to me with this (most likely) “dumbest idea I ever had” – the brewery.
Jay and Bubba are doing well, the boys all well too. They are incredibly stressed like me, although Jay hides it way better than Bubba, and they both certainly hide it better than me. Jay basically gave up his entire life for the brewery, sold all his musical equipment, the studio, everything. Bubba took a whole new job to be closer to the new location. Both are hoping to come on full-time in the coming months. Joe left the business amicably to pursue a different job, his new wife, and most likely a level of sanity we will never find again. I find myself envious of his decision more and more these days.
I’ve never talked about this publicly, but I developed an amazing (not the good amazing) anxiety disorder since you left. I think it was smoldering there for a bit, but laying on the floor all those nights, unable to breathe properly, day job coming down on me, and the stress of opening the brewery, well that demon broke through. I refuse to medicate daily, so I end up being quite reactionary to “flare ups”. I tried Transcendental Meditation, but it did not work – I cannot make time for myself, one of the core tenets. A psychologist suggested I will have a stroke if I don’t calm down. Tell that to the day job, right? All I know is that I freak out when I hear beeping of any kind, and I cannot deal with fluorescent lighting any more.
All of that was somewhat manageable before, during opening, and into regular operation of the Bristol brewery. Sure, there were some “Mike is laying on the floor in the fetal position, someone go check on him” moments with Jay, but mostly we managed as a team. This new place and stress we are dealing with, well that is something wholly different. We’ve been delayed now 16 months, and the tally of lost capital and unrealized sales is about $800,000 on the low end. We have pretty much lost everything beyond our fan-base and our shirts, but our shirts are not looking so good these days. I won’t bore you with the full story as to why, but it comes down to firmly “out of our control”. An architect screwed up, something-something protected body of water, something-something plans, something-something water management, and boom – 16 months delayed. Hell, I cannot even begin to tell you story of our website development. You would probably say “that’s classic ‘Broken Goblet’ right there…”
This brewery business is tough in some other weird ways too. If getting open was the only problem we had, I think we’d be in a lot better place. No, there are issues we deal with on a weirder level. For instance, if I told you that there are people out there who are happiest when they are railing against your business, you would think I was crazy, right? Wrong. It’s pervasive. Think back to when you told me that, and I quote, “Sizzler is a low-grade Rustler Steak House”. I would not have known WTF you were talking about, only caring that I got a nice baked potato with my London Broil, and a couple dollars in quarters to go play Robotron in the front of the restaurant. Now imagine, after you announced this to the family in our Ford station wagon, you went home, and spent hours telling anyone who would listen in the neighborhood that they were idiots to go there, and then you went to 3 other adjacent neighborhoods, and then you put up signs on all the poles, and then you got a bull horn and drove around screaming that you hoped Sizzler would go out of business, and you stood at the entrance of Sizzler and told every person who walked in that they should turn around and go to Rustler Steak House.
All because you liked the steak at Rustler better. And, let’s face it – neither was exactly “high quality”.
Now, amplify that hasty metaphor x10000 with the internet. It is almost fascinating to watch, if it didn’t affect a business. All of our businesses. If I had known this before, hindsight and all, I may have decided that this business just isn’t for me. It is certainly a weakness I share alone (of the three owners), and it isn’t helping that anxiety demon. Fortunately, the bad is overwhelmingly overshadowed by the good.
There has been a metric ton of “good”. We’ve been open for just about 5 years now, and it has been an amazing ride. We started in this very small way and decided we would put customer service above all else, and it seems to have paid off. We have a fierce group of patrons (now friends) who seem like they would have our back through thick and thin. The beers have consistently improved, even on our little MacGyver-esque brew system, and now we are really excited to be running on a brand new system, a “big boy brew house” as we call it. The creative process of the brewery, that is the most fun part. There is no shortage of “ideas” to come up with and things to implement. From the simple stuff to the surreal stuff – Zombie Turkey Paintball…. I will have to tell you about this some day – the best part of my work day is brainstorming ideas. Honestly, it is what gives me life above all the other stuff. We are really good at throwing events, always punching above our weight, you know the deal, back from the band days. “Act like you are bigger than you are, be a professional”, those words have always stuck with me. So we do. Sometimes we screw it up, but mostly we pull it off, and it has helped us to grow into a new space. If we can just get that space open! It is going to be epic, and also might kill me in the process.
If there is one thing I would like to tell you , it’s that I am incredibly sad that you didn’t get to see the old brewery, and you are not going to see the new place. Well, two things – you would love your granddaughters. If possible, I would really appreciate you checking in periodically on both. Some good karma for the new brewery, and some mental fortitude for the girls, and Jay and Bub’s boys, as their dad’s continue to be absent because of work.
Thank you for being a great father, and thank you for instilling in me an unwillingness to quit even when the signs all point to doing so. I miss you.
(Thank you to my friend John W. for the suggestion)