HCC’s Small Business Center Helps Tap Success for Frog Level Brewing Company
By the time Clark Williams and wife Jenny contacted Sharron Donnahoe at Haywood Community College’s Small Business Center, he had already been brewing beer in his garage for a while. He and his friends already called the garage the Frog Level Brewing Company. But he was ready to take the next step.
“Sharron was very receptive when I first reached out to her,” Williams explains. “She helped me with a business plan that worked. She shot holes in everything I had and I needed that. Even though the brewery officially started in December 2011, I still lean on her.”
As Haywood County’s first brewery, Frog Level Brewing Company has made successful strides in a short period of time. In addition to flagship ales, six handcrafted beers always on tap, the brewery has rare kegs made for limited release. The beers made onsite are distributed to local restaurants. The limited amounts of 32 ounce bottles are sold in specialty shops such as Whole Foods.
“If you had asked me a few months ago where I saw this business in three to five years, I would have said distributing the product all over North Carolina but we’re already doing that.”
Now, the vision for the next few years would be to be able to employ more people, to increase bottling, expand, and increase the presence of Frog Level Brewing.
A part of the success already seen by the brewery is due to the relationship with Donnahoe. Through the Small Business Center, she referred Williams to the NC Rural Center Microenterprise Loan Program where he was able to secure a Green Loan. And as a retired Marine, Williams qualified for a Patriot Express Loan. As a result of these loans, Frog Level Brewing was able to expand their brew house.
In addition, Donnahoe referred him to business counselor Patricia Costello, CPA, at the Small Business and Technology Development Center for guidance with investor structuring.
Williams is quick to point out that his first investors were his friends who loved his beer. “They were a large part of getting this business up and running,” the Canton native says. “But we do have a number of investors and it is my job to nurture and grow their money. They own part of this company and I want to make money for them in the long run.”
It takes Frog Level Brewing 8 hours to make 100 gallons and this is done 4 days per week. But the payoff is coming into fruition. “I have hundreds of recipes,” says Williams. “This summer I want to experiment with lemongrass.”
And he’s done his homework. According to Williams, it takes hops four years to grow to maturity. “When the Pilgrims came to America, they used up all the hops and substituted the tip ends of the Blue Spruce to make their beer. I would like to try using Blue Spruce this summer.”
Williams says it’s debatable whether brewing beer is actually a passion or a science. He believes the key is in the hops. “It’s how long you brew it and when you introduce the ingredients.”
The key may also be in the catchy names for these ales. Salamander Slam, Tadpole Porter, Lily’s Cream Boy Ale, Catcher in the Rye, and The Nutty Brewnette speak for themselves. And the combinations of Frog Level’s concoctions are pretty clever. Take the Bug Eyed Stout, brewed with next door neighbor Panacea’s espresso.
Williams says owning a small business is not all rosy. Taking a leap of faith of leaving his job at nearby Giles Chemical as plant manager was easier to do knowing he had a retirement coming in from the military.
“But these local restaurants have my back. They order my beer and it makes me proud,” he says.
In return, he has their back too. A staunch supporter of buying local, Frog Level Brewery has local art for sale throughout the brew house. “I have a passion to get the word out for Haywood County. What’s not to love here? I get as much pride from someone saying I make a great beer as I do when people tell me they drove here from the Outer Banks or Charlotte just because they drank this beer and wanted to check the place out. Then I can tell them all the best places to eat around here and where to go for a hike. They tell two people and then they tell two more.”
This year, Frog Level Brewing brought home a bronze award against 19 other competitors at the Hickory Hops Beer Festival. In 2010, they won the gold for best home brewer in a Wilmington competition.
And now, they have a leg up with Clark as head brewer and Taylor Rogers working for him as a certified brewer and beer judge.
To tap into success for a small business venture, make the most of the resources available at HCC’s Small Business Center. The Center provides budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions concerning their business ventures through three avenues. An extensive business resource library of print and audio materials is available for loan and free business seminars are offered to the public. Confidential one-on-one counseling services are available by appointment and are free of charge. The Center is located on the main campus of HCC in the Learning Resource Center.
For more information about the HCC Small Business center, call 828-627-4512 or visit sbc.haywood.edu on the Internet.