Bear Republic Brewing Co. is a family owned business founded in 1995. Rich and Tami Norgrove have been working alongside Sandy and Richard Norgrove Sr. since even before that first day. The family visited every brewery from Canada to Mexico along the west coast, visited trade shows, and scouted potential sites for their brewery together. The family dinner table at which the business plan was written over twenty years ago now serves as the meeting table in the conference room of their 152 employee business.
Brew Master Rich had apprenticed at Marin Brewing Company to learn the trade. He was originally heading down a path as a graphic designer. In the beginning, he was the only full time employee doing both the brewing and the marketing while everyone else kept their day jobs. Tami had a non-profit and environmental career, and Richard Sr. had worked in logistics for Optical Coating Laboratory, Inc. and was a Navy veteran.
Since the soft opening of the brewery and restaurant in Healdsburg in January of 1996 the business has experienced extremely positive feedback from the community. The restaurant was profitable right away.
While the Norgroves had invested their own savings in the business, they knew that wasn’t going to be quite enough to make the business a success. After being turned down by a few lenders, they found a good match with Truckee River Bank who was willing to lend them just over a quarter million dollars as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) guaranty loan program.
For the first couple of years all four Norgroves were working over 100 hours a week between their day jobs and their new business. Richard Sr. personally handled distribution, shipping kegs to Southern California and doing the deliveries and collections himself from a rental van.
However, soon Bear Republic Brewing Co. started to reap the benefits of their high quality product and location in the heart of Wine Country. Liquor distributors were in Healdsburg anyway to pick up wine, and when they’d stop in to the brewery for a meal, they couldn’t help but become enamored with the beer too. Distributors demanded the right to take Bear Republic’s IPAs, Stouts and Ales far and wide.
Bear Republic Brewing Co. has had offers to be acquired by much larger beverage brands, but they’re not interested in selling the business.
As they began to expand further, the Norgroves looked to community lenders and the SBA for help again. In 2006, First Community Bank and Bay Area Development Company worked together to provide a 504 Certified Development Company loan to Bear Republic Brewing Co. to buy part of an industrial office space in Cloverdale. The company has since expanded to take over not only the entire office park, but also the adjoining lot, giving them further room to expand and even potentially double operations.
There is very little turnover in the staff. Employees enjoy full medical and dental benefits, a 401k program, and key employee profit-sharing. Employees are treated like family.
In addition to being the Office Manager, Sandy also handles the ten to fifteen donation requests received each day for cash donations, beer for charity events, or event space for fundraisers.
Rich Jr. donates his time to aspiring brew masters, answering questions about brewing as well as branding. Many apprentices and employees of Rich’s have gone on to start their own breweries. The company does hold some information close, such as a few of their patent pending processes, and they have had to defend their brand in court. But in general, all four founders agree that they are in a fun industry.
Bear Republic’s contributions to the community go beyond their charitable work to the fundamentals of their business plan. Richard Sr. said, “We believe that sustainability, beer quality and financial responsibility go hand in hand. Investment in extensive solar arrays and a state of the art wastewater pretreatment system help us to further reduce our impact on the environment. Spent grain from our brewing process is donated to a cattle rancher who provides wholesome meat to low-income families via the local ‘Range to Table’ program and spent hops are composted by farmers to keep it out of landfills.”
In addition to their iconic Racer 5 IPA, Bear Republic Brewing Co. provides seven other year round ales and lagers as well as seasonal beers, draft specialties, and barrel-aged and limited edition brews.
Bear Republic Brewing Co. is enjoying an increase in demand from of-age-millennials who were raised with fresh and local foods, who now expect nothing less from their beer. In the future, Bear Republic Brewing Co. hopes to open a tasting room and expand their brewing and packaging capacity in Cloverdale.