Kirk Nishikawa owns Brewyard Beer Co. with partner Sherwin Antonio. The Glendale pub has been hydrating the neighborhood since 2015 — it’s the area’s first micro-brewery, according to the company. Prior to starting the business, Nishikawa worked as an architect for eight years and restaurant manager for his family’s restaurant for four years. Antonio worked as a mechanic for 20-plus years before going all-in on beer brewing. Nishikawa handles the sales side, while Antonio is the brew master. The Brewyard owners tap into their Asian roots with beers such as Ube Wan, an Indian pale ale made with purple yam, or Ube, which is used in Filipino dishes.Question: What inspired you to start your business?Answer: My partner, Sherwin, caught the homebrewing bug about 15 years ago. I was usually the guy that hung out with him while he brewed and “sampled” all his beers. The beginning of our brewery dreams started with an ill-fated drunken promise in Vegas. (I know, right?) Strangely enough that promise stuck with us and eventually we got so close to the edge of this cliff that we decided to jump off.Do you like being your own boss? Do you ever think about trading it for a steady paycheck?It’s kind of like a mother versus a babysitter. Birthing a child and raising them is much more expensive, exhausting and stressful than sitting because a sitter gets paid doing it and can leave after their shift is done. But your child is your life and love regardless of the proud or disappointing moments you experience with them. I think Sherwin and I come from the same ilk in this sense. Although we have “the grass is greener” moments, we are happier and prouder knowing that what we do is truly ours and ours alone. There are definitely tradeoffs to being your own boss and it really comes down to your lifestyle. If you are OK with working for someone without needing recognition and ownership of your hard work, then there are more advantages to that steady paycheck, vacation, weekends and ability to leave without regret.What’s the best aspect of running your own business?Seeing your product on the shelves or watching people enjoying your beer at a bar or restaurant. I also really appreciate the occasional flexibility with time.
And the worst?Losing money on any given month. It always makes me question if I am competent enough to run a business. What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?COVID, of course, is probably everyone’s answer. For us we had to completely change our business model from taproom pints to canning and distribution. Since we didn’t have a lot of money in the bank, we had to be very strategic on how we used it to make the very expensive changeover. Even with (Payment Protection Program funds) and the L.A. County grant, we still ran out of money and had to pull an (Economic Injury Disaster loan).
What’s your favorite story about running your business?Since we are located under the Western Avenue bridge, it can be a little tricky finding us. We got “I’m lost” calls several times a day when we first opened. Apparently, the Waze app even told customers to take a hard right … off the bridge. Luckily, no one listened to their Waze app or we’d see a pile of cars in front of our parking lot.Has being Asian affected your business?It’s hard to tell what people’s subconscious and conscious intentions are. We had a great deal of difficulty distributing our beer while it seemed other breweries our size were having a much easier time than us. Was it because I was the salesman? Am I just a bad salesman or was it because I didn’t have the typical white bearded hipster look that put people at ease? Were they more critical of our beers because I wasn’t white? Were they more critical of my products because I was a short Asian guy? In the taproom, do people change their view of the brewery when they asked me where the owners were and I say “You’re looking at one,” or when customers assumed one of our tall white beer tenders is an owner as he redirects their questions to me? Do less people visit our taproom because they know it’s Asian-owned, don’t like our beers, can’t literally find us or maybe a little bit of all of the above? These are questions that can’t easily be answered because half the time even we have a hard time identifying and admitting to our own unconscious biases. If negative reactions are racially motivated, most won’t admit to it anyways. I’d like to believe it’s all in my head and hope it is. Maybe we just had a longer string of bad luck and steeper hills to climb. It happens. In any case, I can’t do anything about it other than ignore it and keep working.What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business?Treat it like your first child. You’ll lose sleep, be stressed out and be more financially unstable. But you’ll be so happy and proud of it when it starts walking on it’s own. If you raise it well, it could even start taking care of you.
– Amy Stulick