This weekend I had the distinct privilege of meeting the team behind Charles County’s very first brewery- Patuxent Brewing Company. This brand new brewery isn’t open yet but things are on track for 2019. In fact they were hesitant to even order their equipment due to the tangle of zoning issues and inspection shenanigans, along with a host of other things I will get to shortly.
At the heart of Patuxent Brewing are the founders, husband and wife Davie and Kendra Feaster, and their business manager- the third member of this perfect trio- Tranice Watts. I can state simply that they are a cohesive, symbiotic unit, and could not be more perfectly suited to work together. They are inseparable ‘peas in a pod’ according to Kendra. Tranice and Davie have known each other since they both attended Crossland High School. They met in welding class- yes welding class. Tranice was mistakenly scheduled in the class, while Davie actually signed up for it, but the friendship was instant and Tranice never looked back. Welding and race cars forged a lasting partnership that has stood the test of time and relocations, and has served them both well building a brewery. Kendra Feaster, with her Master’s degree in Marketing and a photographic eye is a veritable “Jill of all trades” and Davie’s wife of four years.
They all offer critical elements to the collaboration. Kendra brings her marketing expertise while Davie brings his passion and experience as a homebrewer in search of bold flavor. He also has experience in both the retail and wholesale sectors of the three tier system leaving him uniquely suited to navigate the monopolistic, restrictive, and archaic alcohol regulatory system in place in Maryland. Tranice in addition to her extraordinary business acumen brings a background in environmental science to help make the brewery as green as possible. They are all in balance, whether constructing the brewery tables and bar, or reminding one another to keep pushing forward despite the obstacles- and there have been plenty. The underlying component to all of this is their deep friendship and their unwavering faith. Through the most trying times they always go back to the understanding that this is exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and despite the challenges- God is navigating, lighting the path forward.
Right to Left: Kendra Feaster, Tranice Watts, and Davie Feaster of Patuxent Brewing Company
Those hurdles have been numerous and extremely daunting. Charles County has been incredibly supportive of Patuxent Brewing and has worked with Kendra, Davie and Tranice to make sure it opens. The difficulty comes from the complete and total lack of experience, regulations, and zoning for breweries- quite simply because Charles County has never had one before. They are quite frankly guinea pigs, doing the hard work so that other breweries might follow suit. It is one heck of a gamble that Kendra and Davie have sunk their life savings into. The learning curve for them and for the County is large. Patuxent did their due diligence, with Tranice studying brewery business models extensively, and Kendra and Davie working with the Brewers Association of Maryland’s director Kevin Atticks, and President Cindy Mullikin, while getting up to speed on their boards, commissioners, and elected officials. They have also found the entire brewing community extremely welcoming and helpful. Davie has a standing offer from Calvert Brewing (among others) to gain practical experience on their industrial system in preparation for working on his own.
Despite all of this they still have no brewing equipment in place. Inspections have hindered them- again due to the inexperience of the inspectors. A prime example of this could be seen with Patuxent’s cold storage inspection. Davie installed foam board on the walls. This was approved by the fire marshal, but he was forced to remove it when a clearly inexperienced local inspector told him only drywall or fiberglass was allowed on the walls. Davie and the fire marshal argued that drywall or fiberglass would mold and foam board was standard protocol for cold storage-to no avail. It has been just these sorts of things that provide a lesson for everyone involved- unfortunately at the expense of the Feasters.
Another rather incredible series of delays came from the Smallwood Village Zoning Board, run by Meredith Management. Zoning has taken several months- in this case not only because of the lack of zoning in place for this type of manufacturing (breweries), but something far more disconcerting. The zoning board immediately challenged Patuxent with “concerns” about what type of crowd they wanted to bring in and the music they would play…. Yes Patuxent Brewing Company is 100% minority owned- a rarity in and of itself, but becoming more commonplace with each passing year. The insinuation by the board was (disappointingly) clear. Unfortunately the county could not help move things along because they had no actual representatives on the Smallwood Village Zoning Board. Therefore the delays piled up and enormous restrictions were placed upon Patuxent once the final language was agreed to. The good news is that they have final approval- which is what the county was waiting for to help push toward the finish line. The greatest restrictions include limiting capacity to 45 patrons- despite fire code allowing 75+, and they are required to operate as a Nano brewery producing no more than 200 barrels per year. This is not a recipe for profitability without additional events and streams of income. They are looking at the parking lot as an opportunity to expand capacity for events like festivals, yoga, single mingles, and a host of other wonderful ideas.
This is where I need to share with you Patuxent Brewing’s take on Charles County and being a 100% minority owned business. Kendra, Davie and Tranice absolutely LOVE Charles County- it is their home. They love their community- which is diverse and eclectic, and inviting regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, class or gender. Tranice truly believes there is NO better place to raise a family than Charles County. Davie speaks with great fondness about his home, the support from neighbors, and the idyllic days of fishing on the Patuxent River; while Kendra tells of how everyone in the community has reached out to welcome Patuxent Brewing with open arms. Many partnerships have already been constructed from restaurants (and Huntington Golf Club) carrying their beers, to planned fundraisers with the Humane society and various religious groups. The genuine affection they have for their home, county, and the people within is palpable. Everyone in Waldorf is family to them. The Feasters would not have tied their entire financial future to a brewery in Waldorf if that were not the case.
The other component to this is how much they want to give back to this incredible region that has been so generous to them. They view themselves as stakeholders responsible for acting as good stewards in their community. They want to bring people together over a beer and get them to actually talk- like good neighbors and friends do. They recognize and embrace their role, as their brewing predecessors in Maryland have always done, to build strong communities. When it comes to being one of the only 100% minority owned breweries in the nation they spoke with like mind. Kendra summed it up decisively,
“I don’t want this to be a black thing or a white thing…it’s a beer thing.”
They want to be known for the quality of the beer they produce and promise NEVER to sacrifice quality for quantity. A promise I have no doubt they will keep. A recent trip to the Fresh Fest in Pittsburgh also brought in accolades- particularly for the King’s Wife, Davie’s New England IPA made in honor of Kendra. It also brought comradery from other minority brewers that experienced challenges and discrimination when getting started in the industry.
After all of this I asked them what they might do differently if they had it to do all over again. The response was one that comes from knowing now just what it was they didn’t know when they began:
- Hire a lawyer from day one to help navigate many of the intricacies, from inspections to zoning to permitting, and just about everything in between.
- Find a guide for opening a brewery. Well there really isn’t one yet….other than attending a brewery start up class at Seibel. Fear not Kendra is probably going to write one geared specifically for Charles County, Maryland! The breweries that come after Patuxent should thank her- better yet immortalize her!
- Networking- establishing connections on the various boards, and with elected officials and commissioners to facilitate the process. You have to know people as it is much easier to work with existing relationships to get things done than start fresh with strangers.
So what comes next? Ordering equipment of course! Davie is looking for a 1 or 3 barrel system to get started, along with 3 barrel fermenters. They will partner with local farms, not only giving spent grain to farmers as feed, but purchasing local hops and malt as it becomes available. They have partnered with Martin Prouxl, Agriculture Business Development Manager hired by Charles County Economic Development Department to promote local agriculture, to assist them in this endeavor. They already have a regular bevy of food trucks lined up once the taproom opens. They will have 8 taps with 4 dedicated to year round flagship beers, and 4 to seasonal and experimental offerings. Davie strikes a balance between what is expected- porter, IPA, NEIPA, cream ale, with the unexpected- sweet potato bourbon, or peanut butter bacon beer among other exciting and bold flavor profiles. The sweet potato bourbon beer was a collaborative effort with local Blue Dyer distillery and comes as no surprise. After chatting with Davie I learned very quickly that he is a man that loves FLAVOR! It is also no surprise that if he had his druthers, he would work on a collaboration beer with Sam Calgione of Dogfish Head to see just how far they could push the flavor envelope together.
The brewery offers ample parking, and includes a children’s play area that will have a dedicated monitor. They want it to be a family place where everyone is welcome, so much so they sacrificed their only office space for the play room. The brewery also has two VIPs that will almost always be on premises, Cinnamon and Spice. They are the Feasters wee puppies that are so undeniably sweet your heart is guaranteed to melt. They take after Kendra and Davie, two of the nicest people I have ever had the honor to meet.
Eventually, perhaps a few years from now, they will need to relocate to expand operations beyond 200 barrels and the current limited seating capacity. It will still be located in Charles County, most likely not too far from where they are located now.
Today they are just excited to get the beer flowing, and build a lasting legacy. What is the legacy they want to leave?
In one hundred years, Davie wants people to say, “They were all about their community, and the King’s Wife is still here.”
For Kendra, “They were unstoppable. They had an idea and stuck with it no matter what, and it is still bearing fruit.”
Perhaps both of these visions of their future are best described by the writing on taproom wall when the three faced some of their most difficult days,
“Your only limit is your MIND!!”
If you are interested in helping build their legacy please check out their fundraiser: