PREPPED FOR SUCCESS

Cooking up a business at the Food Craft Institute

By Rachel Trachten

 

Upper: Entrepreneur Dana Bushouse, pictured at the 2015 Eat Real Festival, launched Crooked City Cider with help from Oakland’s Food Craft Institute. Lower: In Coffee Roasting & Retail, FCI students learn hands-on techniques and business savvy from coffee sector leaders and innovators.

Entrepreneur Dana Bushouse, pictured at the 2015 Eat Real Festival, launched Crooked City Cider with help from Oakland’s Food Craft Institute.

It could be said that having two great-uncles who were jailed as moonshiners during Prohibition would lend some unique cred to a current-day maker of alcoholic beverages, but Dana Bushouse intends to keep it all on the up-and-up.

In 2015, this Oakland-based cider maker launched Crooked City Cider after more than a year of brewing her low-alcohol beverage at home. “It’s one thing to make cider and another thing to sell it and develop a business,” says the cider pro.

That’s why she enrolled in The Business of Beer, a two-month intensive at Oakland’s Food Craft Institute (FCI). She also signed up for FCI’s Business Planning Module, and during that course that she realized opening a cider bar was her long-term goal, so she revamped her business plan with that focus.

“Many home brewers share a common dream of maybe some way opening a brewery down the line,” says Sam Gilbert, who had started a home-brewers collective in San Francisco when he enrolled in FCI’s Business of Beer. With the help of the course, “what started as a fanciful dream turned into something much more tangible.” Fast forward two-plus years and Gilbert is on the verge of opening Temescal Brewing, a production brewery with a taproom and beer garden.

Roots in Eat Real

Eat Real Festival founder Anya Fernald started FCI in 2011 because she saw a need for professional-level training and education among the festival vendors. Housed at Jack London Square, FCI offers classes in traditional food crafting techniques as well as business planning, operations, and finance. Classroom work is combined with field trips to farms, breweries, roasteries, and shops. A small sampling of FCI’s approximately 90 professional instructors reveals a “chocolate sourcerer,” a brewmaster, a butcher, a chef, a marketing consultant, and even an architect.

For Gilbert, the chance to meet other brewery owners at businesses like Magnolia Pub and Brewery, Uncommon Brewers, and Baeltane was a highlight of the FCI experience. “The more you can talk to other people who have gone through it, the better off you’ll be to not make the same mistakes,” he says. For Bushouse, Business of Beer affirmed a path she’d already begun to explore: “I left with confidence and reassurance that this is what I wanted to do and understanding what my next steps should be,” she says. “It was pretty awesome to connect with other folks who were in different stages of development.”

Like many FCI alumni, both Gilbert and Bushouse are regular vendors at the Eat Real Festival, which now serves as the main fundraiser for the nonprofit FCI. Last year, Bushouse finally gained the status of a legally established business, which allowed her to pour her own cider there. Now in its eighth year, Eat Real has raised over $300,000 to help keep FCI classes affordable. More than 200 students have taken courses, and 60{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} have received tuition scholarships.

“To have a presence [at Eat Real] is like putting your stake in the ground and showing up for the Oakland food scene,” says Gilbert. Chatting with Eat Real customers also brought useful feedback from aficionados who appreciated the hops flavor in his pale ale. “We took this as a good sign about the way we were adding hops to our standard recipes,” he says.

 In Coffee Roasting & Retail, FCI students learn hands-on techniques and business savvy from coffee sector leaders and innovators.

In Coffee Roasting & Retail, FCI students learn hands-on techniques and business savvy from coffee sector leaders and innovators.

Hitting the Road

This year, FCI director Ally DeArman launched On the Road, a new line of classes to spread opportunity to more food artisans and business owners. “We know very well that food entrepreneurs are some of the busiest people,” she says, “… so we’re bringing our instructors directly to their places of operation, like Bauman College [a center for holistic nutrition and culinary arts], CUESA’s Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, and KitchenTown [an industrial kitchen facility].” FCI partners with a different organization each month and is currently planning a workshop on distribution strategies at KitchenTown in June. A former nutrition instructor in the Oakland schools and intern at the first Eat Real Festival, DeArman hopes to expand On the Road to Sonoma, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

For a taste of FCI’s offerings, I attended Business Positioning and Planning at Bauman College, which was led by Wendy Weiden of Food Solutions. An eclectic mix of aspiring entrepreneurs took part, among them a chef who had cooked for President Clinton, a fertility maven, and a specialist in boozy baked goods. Even in this short two-hour session, we learned some essentials about launching a business. Students were given a task that sounded straightforward, but proved surprisingly difficult: Write a positioning statement defining the target audience for a product or service and highlighting what makes it stand out from the competition. Weiden kept the evening lively with real-world examples, including a series of positioning statements from one of her clients. The small company produces high-end dog food, and the statements offered a lesson in honing one’s message over time.

A different type of real-world connection arose for Sam Gilbert through FCI’s Fundraising and Pitching Module. At the end of the course, he was among the students presenting their pitches to a group that included local food investors from Slow Money. “A couple of investment opportunities did come out of that event,” says Gilbert. “In a very real way, FCI helped make capital investment in local food happen.”

Gilbert is finalizing construction and fundraising for Temescal Brewing, which is slated to open this spring. Bushouse serves cider in her shared Uptown tasting room, sells it to local restaurants and bars, and keeps her sights on opening that cider bar. FCI and its staff and instructors were instrumental for both entrepreneurs. “I love that it’s run by women who are strong and encouraging and motivating,” says Bushouse. “They’re passionate about what they do and about their students and are willing to jump in and help.”

foodcraftinstitute.org
temescalbrewing.com
crookedcitycider.com