Chris and Katy Creech started The Glass Jug, a craft beer bar and bottle shop in South Durham, just over three years ago. From Katy’s perspective, it was an opportunity to have a successful business for herself and a means to achieve her overarching goal of building community while spreading joy in the lives of others.
“In addition to being purposeful in building a community in and around the store, we’ve also had to be purposeful in preserving our family – the two of us and our dog,” Katy said. “A lot of marriages fail when couples open businesses together. My parents own a business together, and that was the biggest concern they had when we said we wanted to start a business. They didn’t say we were crazy or scoff at how much money we needed to invest into it. They said, ‘Is this going to be good for you as a couple?’ They’ve given us good advice in terms of making sure we are meeting our life goals, not just business goals. We have instituted new rules because of it—date night once a week and a weekly professional meeting. Questions during the meeting are with our business partner. Questions during date night are with our life partner.”
Chris explains, “When we first started The Glass Jug, I was still working a full-time job. This was my hobby, but what Katy had been thinking, worrying, and frustrated about all day. When I would ask her for an update, because I was excited, Katy felt like she was being interrogated in her off hours when she was trying to relax at the end of a long day.”
Back then the goal was to replace Katy’s income at her last job. They would have called that success. However, the community in South Durham has been so supportive that after three years, The Glass Jug is going through a metamorphosis into The Glass Jug Beer Lab. The new space will have an outdoor biergarten, as well as a three-barrel brewery in addition to the existing growler fillers, beer taps, and packaged beer to-go. The need for more seating both indoors and outdoors has forced the Creeches to grow a little larger than they originally planned.
Katy stated, “It bothers me when we’re really busy and people walk in and right back out, because they can’t find a seat or get to the shelves to buy a beer.” They are also adding a brewery. “We needed to hire someone to brew the beer, and I didn’t really want to hire someone else to do my dream job, so we hired me,” Chris said. He left his full time job in July to focus on the plans for the brewery build out. Now that Katy and Chris will be working with each other full time, the rules and structures for themselves are even more important.
“People keep asking what it will be like now that we’re working together all the time. We’re both excited that the new space will afford us a real office with two desks, as opposed to the world’s tiniest desk in a room the size of a janitor’s closet. All I can think of is that if I can replace the mop sink in my office with Chris, that feels like winning.”
“I think it’s important to point out that our roles are very different; we will each be in different spaces,” Chris adds. “I’ll be in the brewery and Katy will be busy with the day-to-day management.” He goes on to admit that he’s a little nervous to enter the brewing business in North Carolina where so many great beers are being made. As a home brewer, Chris is confident. He’s won a number of awards and best in shows in home brew competitions. Sharing his beers with the general public next to excellent, commercially produced beers is a whole new level of competition. He’s committed to only serving beers that are on par with the local market. “The scary part is that what is average keeps moving up, and over the next couple of years, we’re only going to see the bar rise in North Carolina.”
Fortunately, Chis and Katy have a lot of friends in the beer industry to call on. Most of the friends Chris made through home brewing have all become professional brewers or opened breweries. “That’s one of the reasons we chose craft beer as opposed to other industries,” Katy says. “We saw the comradery between breweries and bottle shops. I worked with a few software startups right after college. They were sort of fake-nice to each other. There is definitely a friendly climate [in beer]. I genuinely want the other shops to do well. I want everyone to be successful.” Chris and Katy both feel their colleagues are more like family than competitors. They’ve even taken that familial approach into their management style.
“Building relationships with our employees and fostering relationships between employees has been intentional. It’s one of the hardest parts of the job for me, but I take to heart that my staff have a job they enjoy coming to. It’s also a little selfish. If there is conflict between employees, then I feel it in my whole life. My customers pick up on it, and they aren’t happy. When customers aren’t happy, then it affects me personally, and I end up bringing it home with me.” Katy says that for The Glass Jug Beer Lab to be successful, they need a variety of personalities behind the bar. That can make her job even more complicated. To bring everyone together, they have forced their employees to communicate. “One of the things that we’ve started doing in the last year is to schedule more frequent check-ins with our employees. Having more conversations with them, one-on-one, has made us feel more approachable and has empowered them to work out issues on their own.”
“We also empower them to use the skills they have, do the things that they are good at, and find the right niche for them,” Chris points out. “We started using an app for scheduling that puts the control in their hands. If they need to swap a shift, they can use the app to find a substitute, and that has helped to foster relationships. Now they are relying on one another.” The Creeches also close shop twice a year to treat their staff to a day of fun where everyone gets together outside of work. Katy says that even though these outings are costly, it’s important to make the rest of the year run smoothly. Fostering relationships with and amongst the staff is priceless.
Anita Riley is the Cellar Tech and Assistant Brewer at Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh and serves as Co-Chapter Leader of The Pink Boots Society’s Eastern NC Chapter. Her book, Brewing Ambition, available at Lulu.com, benefits The Pink Boots Society’s Scholarship Fund, which encourages, inspires, and assists women beer professionals through education. She is a Certified Beer Server Cicerone and studied Brewing, Distillation, and Fermentation at AB Tech in Asheville and Rockingham Community College in Reidsville, NC. You can find her blog Brewing Up a Storm, which focuses on women in the beer industry, at www.metrowinesasheville.com/brew-blog. Anita is a native to North Carolina.