July 21, 2021
7 minutes to read
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It was May 12, 2014.
I will never forget the day we were ordered to cease and desist because it was my husband’s 33rd birthday.
A few days earlier we had had one of the biggest weekends our organic farm and brewery ever had, so we were ready to celebrate! We were completely blinded by this little envelope that contained a piece of paper that would change the entire trajectory of our lives.
Let me step back a bit.
My husband and I are from New Orleans (well, technically, Slidell, Louisiana, but no one knows where it is), and we decided to leave about two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged our area. We were young, my husband had a lot of savings renovating houses, and we were hot (it’s so hot there; imagine taking a hot shower, without drying yourself and putting on your clothes), so we decided to moving to the Pacific Northwest, where my parents had moved a few years ago.
We found an amazing property in the Columbia River Gorge that overlooked the Columbia River and the Oregon Waterfalls. Again, we were young, and starting our own organic farm seemed like a fantastic idea at the time! And it was, but it was also brutal. There were long hours, few profits, and a seasonal lifestyle at best. A few years after starting the farm, we started home brewing because let’s be honest our farm didn’t quite support our love of craft beer. And we’re doing pretty well! My specialty was affectionately called Hair of the Dog Stout, and not for the reason you might think, but because the first time I tried stirring I dropped the oats on the ground, and the my dog’s hair got all mixed up! Do not worry – it was the first days before we let someone else try our beers.
Related: This Craft Beer Founder Gave Herself 6 Months to Succeed. Five years later, it is flourishing.
The rise of craft beer
At the time, #craftbeer was all the rage; it was around 2010, and Portland breweries like Breakside and Amnesia and Gorge breweries like Double Mountain and Full Sail were crushing it! We realized that this was an opportunity for us to create a product that was not seasonal – we could brew and sell our beers all year round. So my husband and I built our tiny little tap room from scratch at the edge of our upper garden. We had two: the “upper garden” and the “lower garden”.
We did all the necessary paperwork (and there was a lot!) To start our brewing operation. But there was one thing we didn’t do: read the fine print. However, we worked with county, city, state, and federal officials to get everything in order, and we got approved.
So we went to brew, farm, bake bread, make cheese and raise chickens, goats and sheep – everything to make our dreams come true. And things were going pretty well for a few years; our precocious daughter was about two when we opened and enjoyed playing with all the visitors (and rummaging through their handbags) we had our sweet son in 2013, posts like Oregonian, Colombian and Seattle Magazine started to introduce us, and people from all over the country started to come out and visit our little farm and our brewery. It was amazing, magical, scary, fun and exhausting at the same time – but that’s pretty much entrepreneurship, right?
Related: The Complete 12-Step Guide to Starting a Business
The beginning of the end
So now you’re caught up – we had worked so hard for years and were finally, finally, start to live decently. People knew the brewery and things were going well!
Cut to Mother’s Day, 2014, and we’re slammed. Slammed like we’ve never been before. So slammed that someone actually parked their horse parallel between the cars (if you’ve never been to Skamania County, Washington, you might not understand). We had a food truck, a local band and a lot of visitors – we were delighted! However, a few of our neighbors weren’t so happy … hence the cease and desist order which came less than a week after this busy day.
From that point on, we dealt with every county, city, and state department; they all came to our farm to inspect what was going on, how we were operating and a million other things. We were confident that everything would stop and we would get back to normal. We challenged the cease and desist, and they agreed to allow us to operate during the investigation.
They scheduled a public hearing for September and brought in lawyers from Vancouver. Still, we felt good. That night the place was packed. We had so much support – people wearing our shirts and standing up to speak on our behalf. The community supported us; it was so sincere. But the fine print doesn’t necessarily feel or care about things like that, does it? It turned out that when we got our county license, we asked to do growler fills (those big glass jugs of water), and when the state liquor board came out, they said we could serve pints on site. But we never knew we had to go back and change the verbiage to include pints on the spot.
In an instant, we went bankrupt. It was as if the carpet was torn from under us. It was like a punch in the stomach. It was such a scary feeling – our children were four and one years old – what were we going to do? We had spent the last seven years of our lives sweating, bleeding and crying to build this business, and it was finally paying off. And just like that, it was gone.
Related: 9 Multimillionaires Who Lost Everything But Come Back
What to do when you don’t know what to do
Looking back, it seems surreal. The farm, the fight, the horse tied to our fence, all that. But you know, looking back, it wasn’t sustainable. It would have been difficult (almost impossible) to scale just because of the location of our farm, the way it operated, and many other factors.
I was in such a fog for a while, but as humans we adapt, take one more step and keep moving forward, even when it feels like we’re not. We ended up going back to Louisiana for a while and I started working in a digital marketing agency. It was great. I had a fantastic mentor (if you’re reading this you know who you are), and life is good again. I started on my own in 2016 and jumped on the entrepreneurial roller coaster again. I earn triple the amount we used to shoot on the farm, and now I only sweat when I’m anxious in Zoom meetings.
The truth is, we can do difficult things. Entrepreneurs are a rambling bunch, and if something doesn’t turn out the way you thought you’d have lost something you thought you could never do without or have plans that were wiped out beneath your feet, keep going, even if you. don’t know where you are going. Just take the next step, whether small or large. It will eventually get you where you and your business are meant to be.
And don’t forget to read the fine print!