Small Business Spotlight: Community Beer Works in Buffalo, NY

Prost! Yelp sat down with Ethan Cox to dive into how Community Beer Works got started and the growth this beloved nano-brewery has seen over the years, as well as advice for those looking to start their own business. What started as a labor of love has evolved into a beer brand we know, love and recognize.

Ethan Cox, President and Main Instigator of Community Beer Works

Why did you decide to start your business? Tell us your backstory!

When my wife & I decided to move to (my) home in Buffalo in 2006, it meant that perhaps our academic career aspirations would be derailed. Happily so, for me they were (and for her, they were not!). After teaching at D’Youville College for 5 years, I put my PhD in a drawer and jumped in with 6 friends to take the “home-brewing collective” idea we’d developed into a regular–but very small scale–brewing operation. We began planning in 2010 and opened in the spring of 2012, and here we are still, five years later!

What started out as basically scaled-up home-brewing has continuously grown in output and seriously professionalized in terms of personnel and process. Along the way, we’ve formed a partnership brewing at local pizzeria Hydraulic Hearth; added capacity and canning by brewing occasionally at Woodcock Brothers in Wilson; brewed some dozen collaboration beers with brewers both near and far-ish, and made tons of one-off beers, in nearly every style you might imagine (and some you would not). We continue to sell beer at the Bidwell Farmer’s Market on Saturdays in-season and serve well over 100 accounts in the Buffalo area as well as numerous bottle shops and growler stations. We also sell beer downstate through a distributor. Beyond that, what started out as a modest growler-filling operation on site has evolved into an ever-growing taproom with regular programming, beer-releases, games and lots of Yacht Rock- it’s a scene, and we’re all proud of what we’ve accomplished.

Why do you love doing business here in Buffalo?
The Buffalo we moved back to in 2006 was and has become ever more incredible and dynamic, with so many options for entertainment, for food & drink, and for fun. And, it’s great to be a part of that growth, and to see us getting national attention. I recognize it’s not the entire city, so I do hope that we can ultimately lift everyone up- beer is a great leveler in that regard as are taverns and pubs, what are called “third spaces”– and Buffalo has a lot of those!

What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
Customers tell us all the time–from owners to employees, from brewers to bartenders–that our great love for beer, and our knowledge of it, really come through in the beers and the taproom atmosphere, and that we should always let our Beer Geek flag fly. So, while we do tend to be wacky and irreverent in our marketing and events, at the end of the day you can also count on us to put the beer first.

What’s your advice for other business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?

It will consume you, so be ready for that- and if it doesn’t, you might have some problems. Still, persistence is necessary but not sufficient for success. Be resourceful, and stay as calm as you can- be the eye of the storm that is your business. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses; cultivate the former and address the latter and don’t assume either will just take care of themselves. Believe in yourself but be humble and accept well-intended advice and criticism. Don’t let people get lost in productivity and profits.

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