This article is sponsored by Sacramento Craft Beer Industry Night with the Sacramento River Cats on July 21st.
June 28, 2015
By Rebekah Scoville
I walked in the door of Device Brewing Company to meet Melissa, co-owner with her husband, Ken. The whole family was there to greet me as I walked in. Melissa was in the lobby of the small taproom with their 3-year old son sitting on a bar stool beside her and their baby girl in the stroller on the opposite side. Ken was behind the counter, doing what he does best: brewing. The whole family was there, and to me, it was the epitome of a family run business. I love it! I love seeing families all together: working together, playing together, and brewing beer together. Ken and Melissa live and breathe this brewery and they make it not just work, but thrive with their kids right along side them.
Melissa and I snuck to the back room, because if you are a parent, you know that if your little one can see you, they are going to need you. So Ken took over kid duty on top of the brewing he was already immersed in, so Melissa and I could chat.
Melissa and Ken both grew up in Salinas and got married when they were 21 and 22 years old. They moved to Sacramento and attended community college for two years, before both transferring to UC San Diego. Ken studied structural engineering and Melissa studied human development. They lived down in San Diego for seven years, but once little Mateo came into their world, they realized how much they wanted to live close to their family, and inevitably decided to move back to Sacramento in 2011. At that time, Ken was working as an engineer, while maintaining his passion for home brewing, and Melissa was holding down the home front with Mateo. From those early years of marriage, Ken and Melissa dreamed of owning their own business. And while that was always a goal of theirs, they were unsure of how that dream would become a reality. As Ken grew more and more passionate about home brewing and started talking to Melissa about his dream to open up his own brewery, Melissa initially thought he was crazy. He had just undergone years of burning the candles at both ends, studying and cramming for test after test. But Melissa knows Ken, and when Ken puts his mind to something, there is no stopping him. Once she understood how passionate and serious he was, she knew that together they could make that happen, and Melissa fully supported them moving forward to make this dream a reality. Melissa said, “It was a big leap of faith. No doubt about it.” But even if it failed, they would just be right back where they started.
They officially opened their taproom for business on Black Friday of 2012, starting to brew on a one-barrel system, which they just recently expanded to a 7-barrel system. They sold their first kegs of beer to The Shack in East Sacramento in September of 2012 before their taproom was even open. And if you ask Melissa about the Grand Opening, she would describe it as, “Nerve-wracking, successful, and packed.” She remembers wondering nervously if anyone would show up. They had family members and a friend helping out that day, and at the end of the night everyone felt like it was a huge success.
Melissa remembers those early days of the brewery life, bringing little Mateo and setting up the pack n’ play for him to play in, while Ken would brew. Melissa did the inventory and as she stated, “whatever needed to be done”. She remembers painting the bathrooms while Mateo played with his toys in the other room. She also worked the taproom on weekends for the first six months. Her favorite thing during those early days of brewery life was working behind the counter in the taproom. She loved seeing who came in to drink their beer, and hearing their stories and learning their names. Their customer base is not who she originally thought it would be. The age range is much wider, more women than she expected and a lot of families. She loves seeing how the craft beer movement has moved beyond just the 20-something male demographic.
During those early days Melissa said that Ken and herself were “just trying to survive” and keep up with demand as much as possible.
Just over a year ago they hired their first employee, a second brewer. That hire was “life changing” for them, as Ken was working long, tireless days, often times brewing double batches just to keep up with demand. That hire gave Ken time to focus on different aspects of the business and be home a little bit more. Since then they have been able to hire employees to work the taproom as well. During those early days Melissa said that Ken and herself were “just trying to survive” and keep up with demand as much as possible. But now that they have employees who they trust and rely on, they can focus on growing and moving the business forward.
Now she is the one that schedules the food trucks, manages employees, writes employee schedules, updates the website, pays the bills, and as she says, “whatever I can do while the kids are napping”. At times, like any mother, who is a full-time mom, as well as keeping a foot firmly planted in the workplace, she feels limited in what she can do.
With two kids now, Melissa isn’t able to be there on the back end and be involved in the brewing of the beer, but she is that strong support and voice of reason. She is the one that Ken bounces ideas off of, and finds strength and inspiration. When I asked Ken how he felt about owning this brewery with Melissa, he said, "It's great when your business partner is the one person in the world you trust more than anyone else.” I think that pretty much sums up the relationship that the two of them have. Trust, commitment and hard work are some words I would use to describe them both.
Melissa ended our conversation by saying, “I still can’t believe that we’re business owners. I can’t believe we own this, that this is what we do. It still blows my mind.” I couldn’t help but leave there inspired by Ken and Melissa. It takes courage to leave your job and pour your life into a business that you have no assurances of it becoming a success. It takes courage to whole-heartedly support your husband’s vision when you have doubts about whether or not this vision is possible. It takes courage to dive into the business side of things with your toddler in the pack n’ play next to you. It takes courage to pursue a business, when some think you are crazy. It takes courage to step away from that business and spend more time at home being Mom, because Dad has to be away working and managing a business that is a 7-days a week job. I want to take more steps at being courageous in my own life. Melissa, thanks for inspiring me not to hold back in life but to be courageous and move forward. Device Brewing Company, you are definitely moving forward… maybe it’s the courage you have, maybe it’s the damn good beer, or maybe a little bit of both!