About a decade ago, a group of Samuel Adams employees volunteered to paint a local community center. Afterwards, Jim Koch, the brewery’s founder and brewer, walked to his car feeling vaguely discontent.
“I should have felt great that our employees offered to pitch in, but for some reason I didn’t,” said Koch. “While it was certainly satisfying to give back, we left them with a mediocre paint job and weren’t taking advantage of the diverse talents of our employees. This led me to realize that I wanted to create a philanthropic program that would involve our employees, use their talents to add real value, and give back to others in our industry.”
Shortly thereafter, in 2008, the brewery introduced the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program. The program focuses on supporting small business owners in the food, beverage and hospitality industries, as well as fellow craft brewers, by providing microloans, business coaching and mentoring. A few examples of how the program is making an impact across the country are through the program’s signature Speed Coaching events, a Brewing and Business Experienceship mentoring program for small brewers, and the Pitch Room national competition.
“I know how hard it is to start a small business in the food and beverage industry, because I have been there,” Koch said. “Our Brewing the American Dream program offers those two things that I wish I had access to when starting Samuel Adams 30 years ago – microloans and business coaching. What differentiates our program is that we don’t just slip a check under the door; it’s the combination of microloans and coaching that’s so important to help a small business grow and succeed.”
To date the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program has made more than 375 loans totaling over $3 million. The brewery estimates it has helped create or retain more than 2,000 jobs – that’s more people than work at Samuel Adams. The program has seen a loan repayment rate of over 98 percent, which is well above the national average. For more information on the program, visit samueladams.com/btad.
Frank Sickelsmith, HMSHost Q&A
As part of the Brewing the American Dream Program, the Pitch Room competition provides an opportunity for food and beverage small business owners to perfect the art of the sales pitch, and compete for a prize including a $10,000 business grant and extended coaching from Samuel Adams employees. Past judges have included Samuel Adams retail partners such as Frank Sickelsmith, HMSHost Corp.; Patrick Kruk and Dianne Kinney, Outback Steakhouse; Marcie Everett and Donna Ruch, Red Robin International, Inc.; Sandy Block, Legal Sea Foods; and Amy Latimer, TD Garden.
We chatted with one of those judges, Frank Sickelsmith, vice president of Adult Beverage and Restaurant Development at HMSHost Corporation.
Q. Tell me about your experience with the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room competition.
A. It was amazing to experience the passion and energy of the small businesses that participated and pitched their products. And all of the products were great! It is so inspiring to see how passionate these entrepreneurs are, and if they listened to even just one piece of my advice, then I feel I had an impact.
Q. It’s great to see the industry helping the next generation of business owners. What do you see as the real benefit?
A. Think about it – almost every successful restaurant chain in America started with a single location. So, the opportunity to create the next big thing is real. New concepts and emerging cuisines keep our industry exciting. Restaurants are very trend-sensitive and many of the best new ideas come from passionate entrepreneurs. I feel it is so important to give back to the industry that you are in, and it’s great to have partners like Sam Adams that share that same sentiment. If we help our colleagues, we all win!
Q. Why do you feel programs like this are important?
A. The food and beverage industry is risky and unfortunately we see many small businesses fail for many reasons that could include poor bookkeeping, focusing on the wrong things, or simply not hiring the best people. Anything we can do to help other passionate entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses and to create more jobs, the better off we will be. That’s the beauty of the American Dream.
Q. What do you like best about your industry?
A. Where do I start? We exist to make people feel good and provide a necessary service. Also, the industry attracts genuinely good people, people who get real gratification from making someone’s day just a little brighter.
Imagine you’re a bartender at a Samuel Adams Brewhouse in an airport during a snowstorm. The place is packed but one seat opens up at the bar. A weary traveler takes the seat. He’s no longer the road warrior – now, he’s our guest. We take care of him. His travel woes just disappear for a while as he enjoys his beer and great meal.
Additionally, I love to see the innovation the industry has experienced over the years. I’ve heard Jim Koch say this is the greatest time in history to be a craft beer lover. For me, it’s the greatest time in history to be a restaurateur.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you received early in your career?
A. To be yourself, and to be true to what you believe in. My dad, Randy, told me and showed me this. I see a lot of people who achieve success and then change as people. I grew up in restaurants – the people that worked for my dad in his restaurants serving, cooking, bussing and washing dishes were a big part of my youth and are still like family to me. As I grew in my career, I realized that it was those experiences and those people that helped me understand the business and helped make me who I am. I still have the most reverence for those people who do the hardest, least celebrated jobs. I think that’s kept me grounded and has made me appreciate all that I have.