Lessons Learned Bootstrapping + Growing a Taproom Brewery with Whistle Buoy Brewing

If you've ever felt inspired to get together with a few of your friends, start a small 'n' mighty brewery, and grow it to become what feels like the very heart of a city -- then Whistle Buoy Brewing's Colin Curtis and Isaiah Archer are two guys you'll want to talk to.

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Lessons Learned Bootstrapping + Growing a Taproom Brewery With Whistle Buoy Founders
Lessons Learned Bootstrapping + Growing a Taproom Brewery With Whistle Buoy Founders

In a small unassuming corner of downtown Victoria’s Market Square sits Whistle Buoy Brewing Company — an innovative taproom brewery concept that beats life-force into the city. In this episode, we uncover the lessons learned bootstrapping and growing a thriving beer biz.

Colin and Isaiah are 2 of 5 partners in Victoria, Canada’s trendy and forward-thinking Whistle Buoy Brewing Company. Through a unique mix of damn delicious products, content that punches right to the gut, and a well-rounded team, they’re well-positioned to grow.

May be an image of 4 people and outdoors

Whistle Buoy’s been in business for just under 2 years and they’re already expanding into the space next to them.

As owners, operators, workers, and innovators rebuild the hospitality industry, Whistle Buoy—in addition to serving great beer—serves as a great model from which we can learn.

Top Takeaways from a ‘lil Brewery with Big Ideas

Here are a few top takeaways from our conversation on The Guest Getter Podcast with Whistle Buoy Brewing:

1. Having a few partners + being small = more bandwidth so the company can be nimble

It’s no secret that bars and restaurants have a lot of moving parts. It can be hard to roll with the punches — especially when they’re coming at you with Ali-like force in a pandemic.

But that’s never stopped the team at Whistle Buoy. When a new curveball is thrown their way, they respond with creativity and intentionality.

For example…

whistle buoy car

Global pandemic? Pfft.

When the pandemic first hit, they were delivering immediately by foot, bicycle, and eventually got their own Whistle Buoy car (aka “The Prius” or “Baby Wizard”).

No indoor dining in the middle of winter? That’s cool. Bring your dog.

They winterized their patio and made sure everyone knew that dogs are welcome:

Snow Storm? No problem.

When Victoria—a town that shuts down from a trace of snow—was hit with several feet of snow, Whistle Buoy had the perfect tonic: a stout-infused boozy hot chocolate.

They made it using their own stout, Bailey’s Almande, Sheringham Distillery chocolate liqueur, organic almond milk, organic chocolate, whipped cream, and a toasted marshmallow for garnish. 🤤

Takeaway Questions:
  • How ‘tiny’ can your operation become?
  • What moving parts can you eliminate?

2. Partner with people who round out your core competencies

Here’s a look at Whistle Buoy’s founders and what they each specialize in:

Hospitality + Customer ServiceMarketing + RetailHR + HospitalityFinance + OperationsHead Brewer

So when they they had to let go of their staff in March 2020, the ownership team was able to cover all the bases it needed to. This is a key ingredient in Whistle Buoy’s ability to survive — especially as most restaurateurs are suffering from staffing shortages.

And not everyone needs to be an ‘expert’ in their core competency, to begin. As Isaiah says:

“I’m learning a lot as I go right now. I don’t have a ton of formal experience in marketing. It’s just a really good opportunity to learn by doing.”

Isaiah Archer

It’s ultimately about having ‘aces in their places’ in a way that’s best suited to each partner’s sensibilities.

Takeaway Questions:
  • Is there a value-add partner you can bring on?
  • Can you bake equity into a key employee’s compensation so that they’re fully bought-in?

3. Make friends with other local businesses

One of Whistle Buoy’s not-so-secret weapons is that they masterfully partner with other local businesses to enrich their guest experience and foster relationships with the small biz community:

Burgers ‘n’ Beers with Burger Crush

Whistle Buoy Brewing social media post

Oysters ‘n’ Beers with Wandering Mollusk

Whistle Buoy Brewing social media post

Pretzels ‘n’ Beers with The Bikery Victoria

whistle buoy beer and pretzels

(Turns out that one of the advantages of not having a kitchen is that you can leverage any kitchen you want!)

Takeaway Questions:
  • Who in your community is making products that you love?
  • Why not call them right now and get the partnership conversation going?

4. Pair offbeat products with offbeat content (+ a dose of nostalgia)

As you look through Whistle Buoy’s beer offerings, you’ll notice that their flavours are unique — offbeat, even.

Just Kiwious Sour, or Ocean Spray Cran Kelp Gose, for example.

What I love most about their beers is that the local region, and what IT has to offer, informs many of their flavours:

A coffee ale using local Discovery Coffee
An example of Whistle Buoy Brewing coffee ale
Dry-hopped kettle sour using organic beet juice from a local farm (Michell Farm Market)
An example of Whistle Buoy Brewing kettle sour ale

To help bring their beers to life, they partner with Victoria-based animation and motion designer Ryan Steele to create hilarious videos that feature a good dose of nostalgia (who remembers Space Jam?).

Here’s their short video for the Ocean Spray Cran Kelp Gose:

Takeaway Questions:
  • Who are the farmers and purveyors of high-quality ingredients that you could use in your products?
  • Who are under-the-radar creatives in your area?

A few memorable quotes from the cast…

  • “There is no right way to do it. Being genuine and doing things that speak true to who you are is always a good path.” — Colin Curtis
  • “Obviously there are best practices, good techniques, and ways of being more effective. But it really comes down to just staying true to the concept, believing in the concept, and just committing to showing up, trying things, failing, and moving forward every day.”
  • “We’re always coming back to simplicity, consistency, and quality. Those are 3 key words for us.” – Isaiah Archer

Want more? Listen to this episode. You’ll find answers to the following questions (and more)…

🤔 What’s the Whistle Buoy backstory?

🤔 How did they see that the local beer industry was ripe for innovation when they started?

🤔 What role has knowing their audience played in their success?

🤔 How else is being ‘small’ powerful?

🤔 What’s next on the horizon for Whistle Buoy and the industry?

Weekly takeaways, straight to your inbox.

🙂 Actionable tips to get more guests…

 😃 Ideas to increase per-head spend…

😍 Value-packed quotes from the podcast…

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