Walking the Line
There’s a fine line between mitigating risks and playing it too safe. It’s a line the duo behind Sacramento’s Fountainhead Brewing Company has been walking since they first decided to get into the craft beer business.
“We both kept day jobs which was really a struggle,” Daniel Moffatt says. He and Mark Bojescu opened the brewery a year ago in April but kept their jobs in retail management. “So there was a little risk aversion in there because I can’t just walk away from a steady job with benefits.”
And it makes sense, both are married with kids, so there’s plenty of reason to be cautious. And it’s not like they didn’t take risks. Moffatt, for example, says he invested his retirement money into the business. Now, looking back they realize the biggest risk they took was playing it too safe with both of them keeping those second jobs.
“In retail especially, in the holiday and Christmas season, I was almost never here and I’m the only one who brews so it really took a hit on our menu,” Moffatt reflects.
How much of a hit? At one point, the brewery, which normally keeps at least 8 beers on tap, was down to three. “I never felt like we were at risk of failing, but my expectations were higher, and I knew his expectations were higher,” Moffatt says. “For our own goals, that’s what was disappointing.”
“I think our growth pace was definitely slowed down due to the double jobs and we could have grown at a more rapid rate if we were dedicated here from day one,” Bojescu adds.
The one thing that was never at risk, the support of their neighbors. “This neighborhood, Hollywood Park, has been awesome, they’ve been so supportive. They come out,” Daniel says. “We have a loyal customer base. Even in the rainy months, they come.”
So as they approach their first anniversary, their approach to running a brewery has changed. Moffatt has quit his retail job. His entire focus is now on brewing beer for Fountainhead and expanding the menu with two rotating experimental taps.
“I think our first year under our belt; we know what the expectation is: having Daniel here full-time to be dedicated to brewing full-time and giving him the capacity to do so,” Bojescu says.
“I’m doing it full time now and our main goal is to fill that menu up,” Moffatt says with the excitement of someone who’s done playing it too safe and is instead doing what he loves.
Fountainhead gets Flowing
Retail management was their jobs, but for Mark Bojescu and Daniel Moffatt, their dreams laid elsewhere.
“My goal, years ago, was to eventually open some kind of restaurant or bar and grill,” Bojescu says.
That’s all the budding homebrewer Moffatt needed to hear, “We were probably sitting around over a beer probably complaining about our jobs… and just jokingly I said if you open a restaurant I’ll brew your beer.”
That joke turned into serious business. Moffatt continued to brew at home, even converting his garage into a 26-gallow brewery. “It started to seem like we started to have some recipes we were pretty proud of and we started doing some of the math and some of the business planning.”
Plans for a restaurant fell away as they learned more about the challenges of permitting and instead their focus shifted to opening a brewery. One of the biggest challenges facing any budding brewery is finding a location. That wasn’t a problem for Fountainhead.
“My father was in the plans of retirement, he’s been in the mechanic industry and he had a building that he owned the last 20 years,” Bojescu says. “He said ‘hey, I got this building, what are your thoughts? Want to do something with it?’”
They’d get the keys to the building located in Sacramento’s Hollywood Park region in 2015. It would take a year of cleanup and renovations, including removing the car lift, before the transformation from mechanic shop to brewery would be complete.
“Construction took a long time, a lot of frustration and challenges that came our way and we looked at each other and said, ‘hey, we’re going to open this place, if it kills us.’ And it took a long time,” Bojescu says.
Fittingly on April Fool’s Day 2016, the one-time joke was reality and Fountainhead Brewery Opened its doors. Moffatt and Bojescu have been at the brewery every day since learning as they go.
“It’s easy to say let’s open this brewery up,” Bojescu says. “A lot of people talk about it. It’s tough, very difficult, a lot more than we even imagined.”
“You do get caught up in the weed and the day-to-day, if you just take a second…” Moffatt pauses turns to Bojescu and raises a glass. “Man cheers, we opened a brewery.”
Fountainhead Brewery is just entering its second year of operation but that doesn’t mean Moffatt and Bojescu aren’t already thinking well into the future.
“You can’t rest on your laurels. You can’t sit back,” Moffatt says, especially now that he’s brewing full-time. “What’s going to really set us apart is that kind of rotating experimental tap. We’ll always have our staples on here, but I’ll always be trying whatever I feel like that day.”
Growth is also on tap at Fountainhead. Moffatt and Bojescu are hoping to add more tanks and fermenters. And even thinking about what’s beyond the walls of their current taproom.
“Obviously we have already talked about what is the next step? Do we need to look at another location? Do we need to have multiple taprooms or a production facility? These are all conversations we have all the time,” Moffatt says.
Another conversation that hasn’t gone away, Bojescu’s dream of opening a restaurant. “I’d love to see food in Fountainhead… I never sleep and I think about the full package, food and beer,” he says. “It’s definitely in the back of my mind; maybe the 5-year plan.”
In the meantime, the pair is preparing to distribute more of their beer. The focus will be on their Hollywood Park IPA and the Station 12 Belgian Blonde. They are the breweries most popular brews and the styles most in demand at restaurants and retailers.
Fountainhead will also focus on those experimental beers in hopes of offering a unique variety to the regulars and new visitors alike.
“They always want change, they always want new and so that’s something we want to provide,” Bojescu says.
The influence of… Ayn Rand?
So how did Moffatt and Bojescu come up with the name of their brewery?
“We wanted to be kind of the neighborhood watering hole, but we’re not going to call it ‘The Watering Hole’ but some kind of water theme or fountain theme, so the word ‘fountain’ came up pretty early,” Moffatt explains.
Even with a theme Moffatt says coming up with a name for their budding brewery was a challenge. That’s when he fell back on his time as an English Literature Major and the works of noted author and philosopher Ayn Rand.
“The Ayn Rand book, Fountainhead came up, and it was so simple. I just texted (Mark), ‘what about The Fountainhead?’ And he just said ‘yes’. It was that simple.” Moffatt says while the brewery carries the same name as Rand’s famous novel, that’s where theme ends.
As for the brewery’s lion head logo, he says that can be credited to a graphic designer friend. “He was super patient with us and giving us what we asked and he’s then he was like ‘hey this is what I worked on, on the side’ and I was like done!”