A cidery conjures up specific imagery in my mind. The cool, reflective glow of stainless steel fermentation tanks. The sweet smell of fresh cider mixed with the hint of bread from activated yeast. The echoing clink of glasses and laughter of easy conversation over a drink.
Very soon, that image will become our reality. In June, we signed a lease for our cidery and tasting room at 613 S. 7th Street in Bella Vista. But the path from a 500-square-foot apartment—where I first started making cider—to the dream of opening a cidery is not for the faint of heart.
This is the part where we leave behind the exhilaration of making and sharing cider. Where we push to the side, just for a little bit, what made us start in the first place. And we put all of our energy into the logistics of starting a business.
It helps to have a partner to share those tasks with—or, if I’m being honest, to take on a lot of them. Risa McKenzie, Hale & True’s co-founder and my wife, is a trained cider maker, as am I. But we decided early on that I would focus on production, and she would handle the business side.
That decision was based on a few things, but it really came down to identifying our strengths and weaknesses. Risa is far more organized than I am, and she is especially talented at inspiring others to work hard and to their fullest potential. Also, she’s not a fan of cleaning, and making cider is 90 percent cleaning.
I, on the other hand, don’t mind cleaning, and whenever I do something, I take the time to do it carefully and meticulously. I can also repeat that process over and over. It’s meditative, in a way.
Those decisions—and all of the logistics of starting a business—are not always fun or exciting, but they are what set you up for success. Hale & True was founded back in 2015, and by “founded,” I mean we filed as an LLC and got a trademark on our name. After that, our eye turned to creating a brand.
Risa currently works as the director of operations at the local creative agency Cohere. Naturally, we worked with Cohere’s creative director and our good friend, Dylan Garner, who turned our vision into a brand. (Fun fact: the three stars that often appear over the Hale & True logo represent me, Risa and our 20-pound terrier, Cody.)
A strong brand and good marketing is an important, but often overlooked, aspect in a business’ beginning stages. However, branding does not make a business, and early on we knew that we needed to write out our business plan. I remember during a particularly cold winter day, Risa and I were holed up in our local coffee shop, typing away at a template business plan. Looking back, those early versions of the plan were pretty far from where we are now, but it helped shape the direction where we wanted to head. Over the years, we’ve refined and revised the plan countless times.
So finally, there we were with a brand and a business plan, but no place to call home. In September 2016, we reached out to MSC Retail and Vincent Stipo, a restaurant broker and hospitality consultant, to get us started on our search. That first meeting brought up some really important questions about our business and business model. Mainly, we discussed the topic of location. Risa and I were pretty set on South Philly. But South Philly is a big place, so Vince got us started on finding a property right away.
He showed us three very different South Philly properties that piqued our interest. One was a little off the beaten path in a mainly residential part of the city, but the rent was cheap and the space was big. Another was in a more popular location, but would require some creative work to set up for cider production. Lastly, there was the building at 613 S. 7th Street, a “vanilla box,” as Vince called it. What it looked like to us was a blank canvas. With giant windows, high ceilings and a prime location near South Street, we knew as soon as we walked in that we would do everything we could to make that space work.
Then came lease negotiations. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in starting this business is to surround ourselves with people who know more than us. While we began talks with the landlord, Risa and I started to expand our team. We brought on an architect who has worked to bring our space to life (and done far more work for us than we ever imagined). We also brought in and consulted with many people who know the ins and outs of the industry.
With our team in place, we’ve set the ambitious goal to open our cidery and tasting room by the end of the year. There’s a lot of work ahead, but we’re thrilled to share this journey with cider fans everywhere.
Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for construction updates. And stay tuned for part three, which will focus on all of the work leading up to the opening of Hale & True’s cidery and tasting room.
- Photos: Hale & True