Growing up in Ogden, Utah, Kym Buttschardt remembers driving through the historic downtown area that Al Capone once scouted for business opportunities. Known for its repudiated lawlessness, Ogden was racked with prostitution, liquor, gambling, and worse. As legend has it, during Prohibition, after Capone stepped off the train and walked the notorious 25th district (then nicknamed “Two-Bit Street”), he hopped the next train west, telling an associate: “This is too rough a town for me.”
Well, times have changed in Ogden. One of the milestones in its renaissance can be traced back to 1995, when a slew of storefronts set out to redirect its history. Among the businesses opening up was Roosters Brewing Co., operated by the husband and wife team of Pete and Kym Buttschardt.
At the time, Roosters was also one of seven breweries in the state, which is known for its strict liquor laws. Setting up shop in a three-story, 1890s building filled with a sorted, yet quirky history (a house of ill repute, a Chinese laundromat, antique shop and Salvation Army Hotel), the Buttschardts pushed ahead.
More than 25 years later, Roosters Brewing Co. has become one of the bells of the craft brewing ball, sporting two locations, a 13,000 square foot production brewery and a third location on the way. Holding court with myriad beer styles like Helevation IPA and Niner Bock, and its signature Honey Wheat, Irreverent Pale Ale, O-Town Nut Brown and Junction City Chocolate Stout, Roosters continues to cut new paths.
We sat down with Kym to get her thoughts on where the market is heading and how Roosters will continue to lead the charge for all things craft.
What are some of the adjustments you made to your business model surrounding the recent state of events?
Like most restaurants and brew facilities in the US, we had mandated closures and updated health guidelines that forced us to change immediately. Luckily we were already well positioned for online food orders that we were able to expand during these changes and our facility was licensed for beer sales to go which was a huge help in keeping things going.
We’re located in Utah, which is known for being a tough state for liquor laws, but the state enacted quick changes that allowed us to use our licensed package agency in the front of our brew facility to add other local breweries canned lines to our retail sales.
We have always cared about supporting the community of craft brewing and being able to help other breweries with this option was a huge opportunity for us. We also made quick changes in our meal services, adding delivery options and family style meals. But in all honesty, it was the beer sales that carried us through this time. With that in mind, we added virtual tasting events and pairings with other local producers so we could still have those engagement opportunities, and sell beer for these events people could watch and sip from home.
What kind of conversations are you having with your customers today?
We’ve always been a third place for our community members, a place to meet for committee meetings or to grab a beer after a long bike ride with your friends. It’s what we’ve aimed to be in everything we do. So with the COVID changes, our customer conversations have really centered on how we still provide opportunities to engage and connect, while also being separated and now that things are opening back up we’re seeing how much all the little things really matter.
For example, keeping our patio open year-round provided a place for people to gather when they didn’t quite feel comfortable dining in just yet. But we’re also seeing just how much those club runs followed by a beer so you can settle in and chat. These moments really matter. It’s those small moments that people have missed the most and are treasuring the return to right now.
What role should a brand play in being a leader in a distressed market?
We feel incredibly honored to have a place in so many of our community member’s hearts. We’re so grassroots here in our community that it feels like people are celebrating any win we have, as if it were their own and we love that so much. Without that pride and sense of self people find in our brand, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
So, with that in mind, we really believe we have a responsibility to invite in other local businesses and support them with that same mentality: We win when they win. We like to say it’s showing some Roosters love. Leading with love is how we roll, distressed markets or otherwise.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to other brands in how to deal with the unthinkable like this?
Being in business is unthinkable anyways. If you can remember to think of owning a business as a constant practice in problem-solving, it doesn’t really matter what the new unthinkable thing is; you’ve been practicing for problem-solving and this is just a new problem. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but if you can look back and remember what you’ve been through from startup to whatever stage you are in, it’s a good reminder you’ve done hard things before and you can do hard things again.
We’ve always been a third place for our community members, a place to meet for committee meetings or to grab a beer after a long bike ride with your friends.
Give us a snapshot of today’s craft spirits market.
Craft is all about experience and exploration right now. People want beers that are changing and something new to try, but they also want that sense of place when they visit your location. It needs to provide an experience that is truly your brand’s vibe, whatever that means for you.
What’s likely to happen next?
We’re seeing so much development in seltzers and beer additives. There are so many options hitting the market right now. It will be interesting to see where the consumer focuses and really chooses to invest beyond a single season or two.
What’s your story from a brand perspective?
We’re an independent craft brewery based in Ogden, Utah. We love our town and we love outdoor recreation. When we started our first brewpub, we knew we wanted a place where people could gather and a means to support our outdoor recreation. Growing the brand has allowed us to give back to all those great outdoor spaces that made us fall in love with our town to begin with.
Walk us through your branding strategy.
We’ve changed up our strategy as we’ve grown, moving from one brewpub to two, then adding a production facility and canning line—moving from a local brewer to one that is distributing in four states and growing. Through all those changes, we’ve just gone with our truth: We love people, we love our community. The best branding we’ve ever done is just in showing up with love and kindness. That might sound silly or cliché, but it’s absolutely the basis of everything that’s worked.
For us, it feels like there’s a very blurred line from the consumer’s awareness of true craft beer so you have a lot of the big labels marketing in the same space as you but with these massive budgets for everything.
What’s the biggest issue today related to the marketing/sales side of the business?
For us, it feels like there’s a very blurred line from the consumer’s awareness of true craft beer so you have a lot of the big labels marketing in the same space as you, but with these massive budgets for everything. We do a lot of grassroots marketing, which is really invaluable to us as we continue to grow and expand. We just have to make sure we continue to educate consumers on being truly independent craft.
What’s the secret to creating a branding story that consumers can buy into?
Again, just being true to the things you care about. We are very outdoors oriented so that’s where we’ve aligned ourselves. We started sponsoring and supporting the things we already were involved in so it’s never felt forced or contrived. It’s not a story we had to figure out; it’s just who we are. The best thing for a consumer to buy into is the absolute truth.
What’s the one thing every craft beer brand should do in the way of marketing?
We’d like to see more collaboration brews make their way beyond the breweries and onto the shelves. It’s a huge opportunity for independents to support their peer group and influence the market toward true craft.
What are some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead?
Gosh, this is a tough one. There are so many opportunities out there. The challenge is in focusing in and picking where you want to put the time. For now, that’s in developing some new featured beers/seltzers and expanding our can production.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
We have a new location opening soon, so that’s a huge focus for us right now. But beyond that, we are working to bring back in-person tasting events and collaborate brew festivals in house.
Roosters Brewing Co.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Hands down, it’s our customers sharing in our growth. As I mentioned, we have a new location opening. We haven’t announced it or done any marketing, but people who have seen it are sending in their selfies with the “coming soon” sign. Again, people feel like any win for us is their win, too. They’ve been so much a part of helping us grow. All of that just feels so incredible and like we’re all on the same team.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
It wasn’t through verbal communication. It was modeling the ethics of places we liked to work and incorporating that leadership style into our business. We treat others like we like to be treated. A simple golden rule that has served us well.
What’s the best thing a customer ever said to you?
There is not one best thing that stands out, but rather the overall feeling that our customers feel part of our energy, our success and our growth.
What’s your favorite brand story?
Our brand story continues to evolve. We are grateful to be recognized as an anchor business in the revitalization of our town and are still considered community trailblazers today. Simply put, “We show up.” The community appreciates that and many creative ideas, businesses and organizations have been launched by simply gathering at our places over the years to enjoy a beer.
Story by Michael J. Pallerino, editor of Commercial Construction & Renovation magazine. Over the past 30-plus years, he has won numerous awards, including the “Jesse H. Neal Editorial Achievement Award,” recognized as the Pulitzer Prize for business-to-business magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.