What is your full name, title, and business name?
Michael Byrne, co-owner/head brewer of Lineage Brewing
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Lineage Brewing is a neighborhood focused small brewpub. The kitchen specializes on hand pies and the brewery makes all kinds of styles from a beet saison to a classic European lager or even a hazy IPA.
What piqued your interest in beer/brewing?
Not to sound cliché, but it started from a trip to Munich with my wife. It really opened our eyes to what full flavored fresh beer should taste like. A couple years later, my buddy Dave Forman (An owner at One Line Coffee) convinced me that it was a good idea to brew beer. So we made an IPA from a kit. The beer wasn’t great, but we loved the process and kept brewing and started winning some awards. Dave got really busy with One Line, but I became completely obsessed with brewing. I built up my own home brewery. I started brewing all the time and read everything that I could. I focused on brewing through the style guidelines to really learn what each element brought to the beer. I enjoyed the science, the problem solving and the artistic elements of brewing. It was truly everything that I loved rolled up into one. The obsession is what lead to me take a job as a professional pub brewer and eventually opening Lineage Brewing. I have loved going to work everyday since.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I was an obsessive home brewer who believed there needed to be more breweries in Columbus (there were only a few at the time) and specifically in Clintonville. As my wife and I began to plan, we developed a friendship with Carey Hall and Jessica Page. Carey and I would ride bikes together almost every Tuesday and it became clear that Carey and Jessica P had the same values and beliefs of what a nice neighborhood brewery could be as Jess and I. We then joined forces to create Lineage Brewing.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
Being named on the “Class of 2015” list by Bill Babbitt in Beer Advocate magazine was big. That really meant a lot to me. I’m not sure if Bill realized how honored I was to be on that list. I knew we really had something special when an old friend I hadn’t spoken to for a number of years reached out to me, to tell me she overheard someone saying nice things about Lineage in random bar in North East Ohio. It was then I knew that we were on the right track.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
It’s a lot of responsibility. I sometimes think a lot of people think we sleep in, drink beer and high five each other all day. But that’s simply not the case. Yes, there is freedom and flexibility, but there are people that depend on us to make sure we take this seriously and make good decisions. And I take that very seriously. I know our employees expect us to lead in a way that will ensure they get paychecks and help them get to their career goals.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus has been very supportive of Lineage. From our Clintonville neighbors to city hall, everyone has been so helpful and full of encouragement. It’s a great time to open a small craft focused business here in Columbus. The city is young and hungry for things that have bold flavors or are made by hand. Thank you Columbus, we love you!
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you here and ultimately what made you stay.
I grew up in Akron and graduated from Kent State University. I moved to Columbus in 2007 because my wife found a career path here. We stayed in Columbus because we like to call it a great “Home Base”. It was a big enough city that it had everything we wanted like great restaurants, bike paths and great neighborhoods. Yet is was small enough that we didn’t feel intimidated. It is easy to get around and for a long time, the city had a very low cost of living. That allowed us to establish ourselves; something that would have been much more difficult somewhere like Chicago. We also love that the airport is so easy to fly in and out of. But the number one reason we just can’t leave is Clintonville. It quickly became our home and where we wanted to raise our daughter. We wanted to open a business in the neighborhood here. We wanted to be active members in our neighborhood. And opening Lineage has allowed us to do that. The Arts and Craft houses were a nice bonus too!
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
No matter what business you are trying to open, remember that customer service is the number one thing. Your customers are the reason your business can remain open. Always smile and do what ever you can to make them happy. If you don’t they won’t come back.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
There is never a minute that goes by that you won’t think the whole thing is going to come crashing down and you will lose everything. Oh, and that everything is going to break down. Coolers, delivery vans, routers, phones etc. You name it, it is going to break at a time that will 100% not be a good time.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Staying relevant. How many breweries are there in Columbus now? I constantly worry that one day people will stop coming in. However, at the same time it keeps us focused and hungry to do better. It’s not always obvious, but we are always re-investing to make Lineage better in every way. Better brewing processes, better food, better service. If we see a place that we need to do better, we try our best to address it.
What is something (menu item, service standards, etc.) that Lineage offers that other breweries in the area don’t?
The hand pies. There are some places doing small empanadas, but I haven’t seen anyone else doing the large full meal hand pies. We make each filling from scratch and bake it covered in flakey pie dough. They really are a perfect match for a pint of beer and there is one for every person’s taste buds. My all time favorite is the English inspired roast beef hand pie. It is filled with braised, tender roast beef and vegetables. Then it comes with a horseradish cream to dip it in. Oh my, I love it so much. I could eat it everyday!
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I think I’m too conservative sometimes. I think sometimes you have to take risks to grow the business. I honestly have a tough time with that. My new years resolution this year is to take a few calculated risks in 2019.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Well, let’s be clear. We’ve only been open 3 and a half years. So, I can’t really say we are different. But, so far we’ve focused on 3 things. First is customer service. Our staff is expected to make sure the customer is happy. If a customer ever reaches out and says otherwise, we use that situation as a teaching moment for the whole staff in order to improve. Second, we filled a void/need. When Lineage opened, there were only a couple bars and no other breweries in Clintonville. As residents, we wanted a brewery. We hoped others did as well. And finally, we do our best to run a solid business. We can do a lot better, but we don’t over spend, we track as much as we can, we consider ROI on bigger ticket items and we don’t use Lineage as a personal clubhouse.
What was you biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
I trusted a company for way too long. It has probably cost us 4 or 5 thousand dollars in repair work so far. Luckily, I have found a great company that has solved many of the problems. But issues still pop up once in a while that we have to fix because of that fist company. Things like this hurt, but on the positive side, you learn so much from these kind of experiences and it only helps you as your business grows. It teaches you what questions to ask and when to sniff out BS and move on before waste more money.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
We have found Quickbooks to be very easy to use.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
I knew it was time to bring on another person in the brewery, when I noticed that everything was suffering and we couldn’t grow because I was trying to do everything in the brewery and make sure the pub side was functioning. I was working 80-100 hours a week, my stress level was higher then I ever thought that it could be and I honestly was at a breaking point. That was the time that Carey came on to work in the brewery. I had to have help, or the brewery wasn’t going to last past year 3.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Having Carey Hall, one of our partners, come on full time was a true game changer. I really can’t express what it was like to have someone that I could completely trust step into the brewery. Carey was able to focus on cellaring while I focused on brewing and growing the business. Now, Carey really runs the brewery side. I still get to brew most of the time (It is why went into this business!), but Carey has really grown his position into something that is invaluable to Lineage.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out?
We spent the past year trying to buy a small affordable warehouse. (No, we are not trying to open a production facility) Unfortunately we weren’t able to get any deals done, but it ate up a ton of our time and resources.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Yeast. We spend a good amount of money on yeast. We aren’t a brewery that uses 1 yeast for all of our beers. If we need a specific yeast for a certain style a beer, we use it. You can’t make a Wit beer with the Chico strain, you need the correct strain. We used about 14 different strains in 2018. It is one of the things we love about being a small brewpub. We have a fair amount of flexibility in our brewing schedule.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Everything we work on I get excited about. If I am not, it’s likely not worth doing. But Carey and I recently went over what new beers we want to make in 2019 and there are a couple I’m stoked to brew. I’m a firm believer that brewing through the style guidelines, using new ingredients and new (to us) yeasts, makes us better brewers. We both get excited about growing our brewing knowledge.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Being so focused on our neighborhood, we find the neighborhood papers to be very effective. People tell us they see the ad, they bring in the add and that allows us to track and measure those adds.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
Honestly, we have a great team of professionals that help us. But the one person we work with the most and really depend on is Adam Bok from Nichols & Company CPAs. We took advantage of SCORE Columbus when we were starting Lineage and our mentor Jerry Jones gave NCA a glowing endorsement. We have to agree with him.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Unfortunately for my wife, I vent to her. Jess is the business/numbers side of Lineage, so we are constantly talking about the business and how to solve problems.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
In ten years, I’d like to see us be able to provide healthcare to our full time employees, some sort of retirement saving plan and professional development incentive. To get there, I think we will need to increase our wholesale accounts and realistically have to do some small scale special release packaging. But we are going to need room to get to these goals.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Blake Compton of Compton Construction. I remember buying crew tickets and picking them up from Blake at the Hooligan’s club. I’ve watched how he’s grown his business at a steady rate by developing relationships and trust with his clients. When it came time to build out Lineage, we met with Blake and ultimately Compton Construction for our brewery build out. After working with Blake, I see why he’s successful. He creates partnerships that continue to grow after the job is completed. He is also really active in many different non-profits and other areas in city. He’s a great role model on how a small business owner can make large impacts on their community.
When I was growing up in Akron, I worked for my best friend’s dad, Mike Ochsenhirt. Mike owned and operated a commercial concrete company. He and his brother grew that company into a highly respected entity. Mike hired me when I was 13 and I worked for him for 13 years. He really took me under his wing and taught me more than just concrete. Mike—or Mr. O as I know him—would explain why he did certain things a particular way or why a job site superintendent wanted something done a specific way. He taught me how to work hard, why you do something right even when no one is looking and to always respect and treat your employees well. Without Mr. O’s mentorship, there would be no Lineage. I’m not exaggerating, I think about how lucky I was to have had Mike as someone to learn from and look up to almost on a daily basis. Ask anyone at Lineage, I love to talk about it.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Besides grab a beer and hand pie at Lineage? Gosh, that’s tough. There are a lot of things that I love here in Columbus. But it would tell someone to go stop down at Thurn’s. I love that place. The sausages, bacon and Kraut are so good! Plus, the family behind the counter are always so nice and helpful. Thurn’s is a true gem.
What is one risk you are looking forward to taking in 2019?
I would really like to see us finally buy a small warehouse space. It’s a huge gamble, but it would really relieve some production pressure at our brewpub. It would allow us to do some really fun things we just don’t don’t have the space for at our High St. location. We could make small experimental batches on a regular basis, more barrel aging and expand our kitchen. Right now, we make so much Spaceship #6 IPA, that is takes up 40-50% of our tank and cooler space at any given time. Creating more cold storage could really be a game changer for us.