Alum of Business Planning: Crooked City Cider
When Dana Bushouse turned her passion for craft cider into a business, she looked to her moonshining great-uncles for inspiration.The more she discovered about her family’s “crooked” history, the more that initial inspiration turned into entrepreneurial guidance — save the illicit smuggling.
Just as her uncles grew their bootlegging business based on the steady demands of Prohibition-era shortages, Dana has let Oakland’s newly developed taste for craft cider dictate her business’s organic growth, batch-by-batch, and with FCI: class-by-class.
When did you first decide to start a cider business?
I always knew I wanted to start my own business but never knew exactly what that would be. As a kid, I was always selling old toys to friends or organizing fundraisers for local animal shelters. I really liked being able to connect with people to raise money, whether it be for myself or for a non-profit.
Crooked City Cider started with me wanting to consume a better cider myself. I wasn’t able to find the cider that I wanted to drink in Oakland so, I immediately thought of my great uncles who were moonshiners back in Michigan and their legacy of alcohol production.
The name Crooked City Cider is about my family history and tying into that prohibition era of challenging the norm and pushing yourself to be inventive and to create something for people. It’s about meeting a demand that hasn’t yet been met. Like my uncles met the demand for a quality whiskey during prohibition, I feel that Crooked City Cider can meet the demand for poundable, sessionable dry cider.
How did Food Craft Institute’s Business Planning Module & Business of Beer Master Course help you grow your business?
The Business of Beer course came right after I decided to start Crooked City Cider. I had just finished my cider-making course in Washington. I literally flew in from Washington and took my bags into the Business of Beer class, so I was able to continue momentum. I was able to take the ideas, inspiration, and momentum I had from up north and tie it into my community here. Being able to connect with other small business owners through FCI and other folks who were at the same level I was sealed the deal. It engrained me in a community that helped me decide I really was going to stay in Oakland for this business.
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
One of the neatest things about starting this business is diving into my family history. I found all my uncle’s case files and pictures and stories about how they got started. They started making wine in their butcher shop and then Prohibition hit, so they started making whiskey. They grew organically. But they were also breaking the law. I knew that was not something I wanted to do, so I took some inspiration from them as far as creating a brand and telling a story instead.
As far as industry inspiration, I’ve really delved into the craft cider producers who actually are who they say they are. I look towards those producers who are being true to the fruit and the ingredients, and to their consumers, and working at educating the public rather than doing a smoke and mirrors effect to get people to drink their product.
What do you envision the upcoming years will bring for Crooked City Cider?
In the next year – actually, hopefully in the next month – we’ll be signing a lease for our own space to open a cider bar in Oakland that not only serves locally produced cider, but also cider from around the country and around the world.
It’s hard because I make a really good cider, but it’s very challenging because every batch of juice I get is different. Every ferment is different. And so it truly is this artisanal craft product that is different. Every single keg I deliver, I feel like there’s a little bit of variety in it. I like that, but it’s challenging to market.
There’s part of me that doesn’t want to let that go of that side of growth, but there’s the reality of needing a paycheck and small-scale distribution won’t do that. I’m very open to the universe sending me another half who has experience with production and distribution to grow that side of the business, but where we stand right now is that I’m focusing on direct-to-consumer sales from our own tap room.
Five years? I would really love to see the production grow and see it expand outside of Oakland, but still keep the quality. I just don’t know if it’s possible to grow without losing that quality. In a utopic world, I’d love to see Crooked City Cider bars throughout the Bay Area and perhaps beyond.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered?
Managing growth and capital. You hear the same story with any business that doesn’t come with money behind it. You put out a great product and have all the best intentions to grow organically, but the demand ramps up and you’re like, “whoa, how can I meet this?” There never seems to be enough money and it’s challenging to figure out which path to go down to find the funding you need. Investors, loans, crowdfunding, etc. Debt is scary, but so is giving away part of your business. Weighing out these options and figuring out what to do next without getting behind or neglecting your focus is super tough.
What advice do you have for new food entrepreneurs starting out?
I still feel like a beginner so it’s hard to give advice. I learn lessons probably every week and clean up messes each time.
Stick to one idea. Continue to stick to your goals and follow what you believe in. I’ve had opportunities to veer from my brand and my goals but I continue to stay true to my brand, to Oakland and to the story. Don’t cheapen that.
If you’re interested in learning more about Business Planning for your own endeavor, visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Our next Module is April 26 – 27, 2016.