Vancouver is a hub for many industries, including tech, film, and mining. But a more relatable ‘industry’ is the craft beer scene – no, craft beer isn’t just a ‘hipster’ thing. (Are hipsters even a thing anymore? I’m not a ‘hipster’, and Brit most certainly isn’t one.) In a city and province where ‘big beer’ has strong roots, craft beer has taken over with creative spins on classics, focus on flavour, and top-notch tasting rooms.
The Brit and I spent Thanksgiving long weekend on BC’s Sunshine Coast. While there, we had the opportunity to visit Powell River’s award-winning Townsite Brewing, and I was given the reins of their Instagram account. The opportunity for that and this interview came from me taking a chance to reach out and Townsite coming back to me with an open mind to try something new. It’s very similar to the Townsite Brewing story.
I sat down with Michelle Zutz (Townsite Brewing Co-Founder, Boss Lady, Director of Sales, Working Mum, and all-around Great Gal), both in person and electronically, to talk about how a perfect storm of events became a Sunshine Coast success story and what it’s like being female in a mostly male-dominated industry. Also, a fun giveaway for one lucky Vancouver beer lover!
WCCG: Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way. What is your favourite Townsite beer?
MZ: Gah!! That’s like asking which of my three children is my favourite! Well from our flagship lineup – I love our Tinhat IPA. But from our specialty lineup – the Assemblage Wild Blend. A mixture of vintages turns this lovely creation into a dry, effervescent wild ale with mineral-like qualities.
WCCG: How did Townsite Brewing come to be?
MZ: It was the “Perfect Storm”! People from all over and with all different backgrounds, strengths, and attitude coming together. From, truthfully, in the beginning calling a “for lease” number that was on our historic building about what the owner thought about starting a Craft Brewery. His response “Sounds like a great idea, do you need some seed capital, and help with a business plan?”…..UMMM YES! We, fortunately (hallelujah!) then found Cedric (Brewmaster) and Chloe (General Manager) to add to our team.
They came with a brewing business background and were attempting to start their own place in Saskatoon. They married up with our plan, which had the building and the capital – and of course, we all had the attitude! BAM. The Perfect Storm. Cedric then brewed an amazing Stout by the same name – which I understand you were quite fond of!
WCCG: Having met you in person, first of all, you have become a new role model for me; and second, you have a really positive “let’s do this!” energy and attitude. Do you find that energy is one of the keys to your success as a not only a female leader but an overall leader in a mostly male-dominated industry?
MZ: A role model – wow, thank you! That’s a humbling statement. For me, with so many balls in the air – the business, my family, the constant and chaotic lifestyle of my children and their activities – I would say my energy level is part magician, part circus act and part “we can do this” attitude, with a huge influx of caffeine driven stamina! You can look at a wall that is in front of you, and decide whether you should climb it, go around, turn around – or break it down! All but one is getting you to the other side and your goal. I am fortunate enough to be part of a business that allows my strengths to be appreciated and often exploited!
WCCG: What is your favourite part about running a business?
MZ: Constantly changing, and having no choice but to think on your feet and run with that ball when it gets dropped – or handed off. I have an amazing team that keeps evolving right along with our business. The perks of having a business in a small town where you live, play and spend your dollars is that you are just like Norm from Cheers: everywhere you go, everyone knows your name!
WCCG: What learning opportunities have you encountered since Townsite’s inception that have helped make positive strides at the brewery, and have helped you grow as a businesswoman?
MZ: Everything has been a learning curve for me with this endeavor. Early on when I would be asked for “budget” – I truly had no idea what was being asked of me. I would smile, and say “well, we don’t have much of one, but you have me! And maybe some coasters one day”. Many would keep asking for budget, and some would straight out ask me what the kickbacks would be for them bringing my beer on. To say that I was shocked is an understatement! Kickbacks?? I was offering them a superior craft product delivered to their door and created by a Belgian-born Brewing Engineer! Being the Director of Sales, but also an owner gave me the unique position of actually understanding both sides. The fact that kickbacks are illegal in our industry didn’t make it shocking that folks were asking; I was just surprised that they expected me to follow big beer’s awful tradition of paying for taps! So I have to say, naiveté of the industry at the beginning and fully learning from the ground up allowed me to be stronger in both my position of sales as well as a businesswoman.
I have created relationships with my customers that go far beyond my business. I am not only an ambassador of Townsite Brewingbut also to fellow BC craft breweries that share our philosophy of business, and to our region of the Sunshine Coast, with all that it brings. When folks say they don’t want to share another piece of the proverbial pie, we say loud and proud: “JUST MAKE THE PIE BIGGER!” There is definitely room for all of us.
WCCG: After spending time in the tasting room, the main vibe I got was community and comfort. The Brit and I didn’t want to leave! Everyone knew everyone and it was a really cozy space to be in. As you and I have chatted about, I’ve been digging into the Danish concept of hygge. To paraphrase your tagline, the tasting room seems to be where it’s at for being hyggelig. How did Townsite approach the design and feel when expanding the tasting room?
MZ: We absolutely felt that expanding the tasting room was going to give our regular patrons more elbow room (previously, there was only room for 10!) We didn’t envision it changing the patrons to our space as much– but it did! We always had tourists making their way in, and the local superfans,but the expansion created a space for more of Powell River to hang out. From various games and cards (and crib tourneys!) available, to retro video games, (Ms. Pacman anyone?) to locals sharing stories of what makes our region so magical with locals. All things that make people want to keep coming back! Townsite IS where it’s at, and we are excited to be a part of the resurgence of the area as a popular destination for people of all life experiences.
It’s a place to come as a group to make some memories and visit with our friendly and knowledgeable staff. You might want to just kick back on your own with a book and a creamy stout, or a bright and tart sour ale, or perhaps a rich Belgian Dubbel… Or if you aren’t a beer drinker, we have local Kombucha on tap from our community partner, Raincoast Kombucha.
WCCG: Thank you, again, for the opportunity to take over the Townsite Instagram account! It was a lot of fun and it was a great way to bridge our followers. Do you feel that social media has impacted the way craft brewers do business? Has it made everything more ‘local’ in your view?
MZ: I would not say it has impacted the way we do business, as our “head down, boots on” attitude is how we keep moving forward. However, social media was our one and only mode of advertising in the early years, and it worked. Now we need to utilize its strengths – but also use our own creativity to step outside the bounds of what is considered “the norm.” Which is why we were excited to have the Townsite Instagram takeover with your blog!
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And that’s a wrap from the beautiful historic Townsite building! A big thank you to the brewery for letting me take over their account this weekend. Make sure to keep following @townsitebrewing for all the great stuff they have going on, and me @westcoastcitygirl! We have a fun giveaway coming up soon, so stay tuned! Thanks for following along! Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! – @westcoastcitygirl
WCCG: You may have noticed that I like to end my blog posts with quotes. Do you have a favourite quote?
MZ: Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back!
WCCG: Thank you for taking time with me!
MZ: Thank you, thank you for your fabulous insight, your great photos, and your inspirational attitude!
WCCG: And I’m blushing.
Thanks so much to Michelle for taking time with me and to the Townsite Brewing family for making the Brit and I feel most welcome! Be sure to check out my guest post on the Townsite Brewing blog about their tasting room. Also, as promised…
As part of our recent collaboration, Michelle and Townsite have offered up a great giveaway prize for me to give to one lucky Vancouver beer lover: one of their stainless steel, double-walled growlers! Perfect for a refill of your craft beer or even as a thermos for soup. (I am very practical!) How to enter: *THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED*
Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back!