So far we’ve put the Spotlight on FortuneBuilders Inc. because of their innovation in the real estate industry, and Ludus Sports for their ceaseless passion and commitment to providing a community-based model for customer service. This week we are shining the CalMU Business Spotlight on the Karl Strauss Brewing Company for two major reasons: vision and innovation.
I’m not going to go over the history of their rise to the top of the San Diego brewing scene, as you can find that on their website or Wikipedia, but I will tell you this: entrepreneurial-spirited founders Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner started with a very unique and maybe even “crazy” idea; did their homework and spent countless hours turning back the hands of time in the 1980s to fight Prohibition-era liquor laws; and eventually risked everything they had to turn their initial idea into a profound vision.
You see, when they started in the late 1980s, San Diego County was still entrenched in a Prohibition mindset when it came to beer. Their vision was to create a completely new beer culture in San Diego and open a microbrewery that specialized in local handcrafted beer. (They also enlisted the help of Chris’ cousin and master brewer with over 50 years experience, none other than… you guessed it… Karl M. Strauss.) When they opened up shop on February 1, 1989, they had absolutely no idea how San Diegans would receive their innovative concept. They had invested so much time, money and effort into this vision they had that their microbrewery’s ‘Opening Day’ was essentially a make-or-break deal. But on that fateful day when they opened their doors (*cue inspirational music*), they found locals already lined up to get the first taste of their original 3 beers.
It has now been 23 years since their founding and their business has skyrocketed. Starting with just three beers, they now offer 10x that at 30, including a 6 year-round beers and a variety of highly reputed seasonals and specialties. In 2010 Draft Magazine voted the Karl Strauss Endless Summer Light brew as the best light craft beer in the US. Later in the year their Red Trolley Ale, an Irish red ale, received gold medals in said category at both the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival. They also received a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their winter seasonal Two Tortugas Belgian Quad in the Belgian-style Abbey category.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company provides their beloved brews to over 2,500 liquor stores, grocery stores, bars and restaurants in California and now has 6 prime locations across Southern California. (And when I say prime, I mean PRIME… Downtown San Diego, La Jolla, Sorrento Mesa, Costa Mesa and the Universal CityWalk… try that for real estate.) Unlike other craft breweries across they nation, they have limited their scope and distribution to Southern California, but plan to slowly expanding both north and east.
The brewing company holds many events to benefit myriad charities and also strives to be eco-friendly by donating its used ethanol for fuel use. Management is committed to their employees with progressive benefits/compensation, bonuses for those who demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit that got them to where they are today and help the company grow, and a 401(k) plan. Karl Strauss brews over 30,000 barrels every year in their state-of-the-art 2-story main brewery, bottling 250 bottles every minute. They currently have over 400 employees working from them in their main office, brewery and microbrewery restaurants, and grosses over $20 million every year. They have also been ranked 40th on the list of Top US Craft Breweries.
So thank you Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and especially Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, for serving as the perfect example of how entrepreneurs can turn some “crazy” idea into a very successful operation. When you think about it, one of the key ingredients for success is being unique and adding a unique value proposition. If you stand out from the field, put in countless hours of hard work and cultivate your vision, you can really do great things in the world. And it doesn’t hurt when you’re brewing beer because, let’s face it, it never hurts to sip on a cold brewsky on a hot San Diego spring day.
So again, thank you gentlemen for teaching us all a lesson on how to build and grow a successful business; thank you for your vision and innovation in redefining the San Diego beer scene and reinventing local craft brews; thank you for inspiring our students in our on-campus, hybrid and online MBA programs; and thank you for giving me some ideas of things I need to try this weekend. We are honored to shine the CalMU Business Spotlight on you.