The gig: Jennifer Febre Boase took up a new hobby in 2003 — playing the bagpipes. Her piper friends liked beer, and tours of local breweries led Boase to the notion that she should jump into the business herself. So she sold the house, cashed in the IRA and in 2012 founded MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. Boase, 52, set up operations in tragically unhip Van Nuys. But the MacLeod tasting room has become a rallying point for the community with a friendly vibe and clientele that's way more tow-truck driver than hipster.
Big competition: Craft beer is all the rage. But small players are at the mercy of large interests. "No matter how thriving a business sector seems to be, the price and cost ratio is tough," Boase said. "And we're a small operation that's working off a cost scale set by much bigger companies with much bigger buying power." Now in its second year of operation — planning and build-out took two years — the MacLeod tasting room is doing well, some months doubling or tripling year-over-year performance, she said. And MacLeod bottles and kegs are rolling into stores and bars.
Kicked by Kickstarter: Boase had most of the operating capital she needed to fund MacLeod. She tried to get the rest with two Kickstarter campaigns. They both failed. "It was surprisingly hard on me," she said. "Almost the moment we launched the campaigns, I started looking forward to them being over. You have to put a lot of time and energy into Kickstarter, ruthlessly hawking your wares, and I just didn't have the right attitude for it."
Join the club: So Boase turned to her customers for money to grow. Their Founders Club promised beer for life to members who joined at $500, $1,000 or $5,000 levels. And their Punters Club offers beer for a year to those who pay the $450 entrance fee. "The Founders Club and Punters Club were born out of necessity when we said, 'Oh, shoot! We're running out of money, and we need to get some in here fast!'" she admits. "We borrowed money; we paid it back in beer. But the members really feel invested in the company. It's created a really strong community of people who are dedicated to coming here. There's a brotherhood and a camaraderie that forms in it."
Family tradition: Boase's father owned Stottlemeyer's, the beloved Pasadena (and later Sierra Madre) deli of yesteryear. Boase washed many a dish there as a teenager, and brings her father's influence to her new operation. "My dad had peanut shells on the floor just like we do, and he was generous with his portions, like we are with our pours." Boase has started a Stottlemeyer's Facebook page, and fans will soon have a "Stottlemeyer's Redux" day at MacLeod where they bring fixings to remake the deli's signature sandwiches.
Life skills: After the deli, Boase worked at print shops and ad agencies. The lessons learned there have resulted in MacLeod's distinctive look. "I love graphic arts and printing, and enjoy bringing those skills to MacLeod," she said. "All the branding, the bottles, the labels, the T-shirts and how it all ties together is fun for me."
Complimentary skills: Boase's husband, Alastair Boase, is the grandson of Roland MacLeod, hence the brewery's name. Jennifer brings branding skills; Alastair does the heavy lifting. He had a 20-year career in landscaping before the brewery. "He brings construction knowledge, and the ability to work in concrete and with plumbing. And he's just that fix-it guy who loves machines. I'm not a loner by nature, and when I found a way to bring Alastair in by helping build the place, it became magic. I believe you should find out what people's passions are and find a job tailored to them."
Still learning: "The human brain is amazing," she said. Boase literally didn't know which end to blow into when she picked up the bagpipes, but now she competes with top players. It's the same at the brewery. "I'm still learning. I don't do the actual brewing, except for some small test batches I have done myself, but I now understand the process. I have to know at least enough where I can ask intelligent questions."
The payback: MacLeod just sank an additional $20,000 into equipment to increase production capacity. But there's more than just the bottom line. "Originally, I just wanted to open a brewery to make some money," Boase said. "I'm not a religious person, but I now almost feel like there's some higher power that's teaching me a life lesson in all of this. I think we've created something really great here, even though I feel it's 99% by accident. We have a great team of employees, we have amazing customers who are now friends. And having met the people I have here and knowing what this place means to them, I think it's all worth it."
Personal: Boase calls herself "a musician at heart," and she helped found Pasadena Scottish Pipes and Drums, a competitive band that also plays events including weddings and parades. She sings with the Santa Monica Chorus and teaches bagpipes twice a week at Granada Hills High School (the Highlanders, of course) to a group of "very enthusiastic teenagers."