An MIT grad with a bachelor’s degree in brain and cognitive science returned home to Boise, Idaho to make his dream of owning a brew pub come true.
Jake Lake opened Cloud 9 Brewery in 2014 after leaving the hallowed halls of Boston academia to grind out success in the hospitality business. Along the way, he became a professional in IT, and rolled the dice financially on the venture before reaping the benefits.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Lake offers some surprising detail of how he went from the hard sciences to hard challenges in hospitality.
Boxerbrand: How did you get your start in brew pubs?
We originally were home brewers, and after touring many breweries in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and across the East Coast, we started researching what it would take to create our own.
It happened to be the golden days of home brewing, with the Great American Beer Festival just beginning to reach great popularity, and home brew stores opening up in locales across the country.
On top of that, books and software were being developed along with brewing technologies to allow easier access to the professional scene. Essentially it was a confluence of multiple things that helped to pave the way for our entry into the restaurant and brewery business.
We opened the doors to Cloud 9 Brewery in 2014, after an extensive remodel, permitting process and hiring process.
Boxerbrand: Please tell me about your background?
I was born in Boise, Idaho, and went to grade school in Idaho. I then matriculated to MIT where I graduated with a bachelor’s in brain & cognitive science.
After graduating, I moved back to Boise, but there was not a lot of opportunity for neuroscientists in the early 2000s in Boise, so I went into IT, eventually becoming a manager in software engineering, which is my vocation now.
Our general manager Maggie was born in San Francisco, but moved to Boise when she was young, going to school in Boise, and matriculating to Connecticut College. She moved back to Boise after graduation and started her own construction and remodeling company, gaining the tools and experience needed to do much of the work on the restaurant construction and expansion.
Boxerbrand: How did you finance your dream?
Many people, ourselves included, believed that by having a good business plan, strong credit scores, and going into a bank for a small business loan, money would be quickly provided.
Instead we discovered that tenant improvements will not receive funding, as a bank cannot easily reclaim paint, wood or drywall.
We’ve all heard of angel investors—there is a show called Shark Tank all about investing in small business ideas.
However, all the local investment groups we met with in 2012 wanted complete control of the business, not just a fraction, and we were unwilling to provide that.
So instead, we sold our home, took a loan against my 401k, and were technically homeless for two years to finance the initial project.
Boxerbrand: How did you find a site for your business?
Back in 2012, brewery/restaurants were not yet a big thing.
The entire Capitol city of Boise had three: Sockeye, The Ram and Highland’s Hollow. We were competing for space against classic coffeeshops, boutiques, and non-brewery restaurants.
The business plan was based on a 2,400 square foot size, but we ended up choosing a 1,200 square foot location with lots of parking, pedestrian traffic, in a location very near to where we live.
The people in the area were nice and friendly, and it met the classic criteria of “would you walk home from there at night.” We decided to make the best of a smaller location, and recently expanded into the space next door this past March 2018, to finally get to the size we always thought we would be.
Boxerbrand: What is Club 9’s niche?
We are a full-service restaurant and brewery, and the only certified organic brewery in the State of Idaho. We are focused on local ingredients and local vendors, striving for a fresh and innovative approach to classic pub fare, and of course, amazing Idaho French fries.
Boxerbrand: What advice do you have for someone who wants to open their own brew pub?
Talk to everyone. Brewery owners, restaurant owners, staff, patrons, everyone. Ask them what they like, what they don’t like, what works, and what could be improved. Learn from their successes and their stumbles, and it will help you make better decisions about your own enterprise.