If you would have told me in January that I would still be in the little town of North Vernon, Indiana three months later bartending, I would have told you to put the crack pipe down. I’m not a bartender, I’m a writer. So what happened? Why did I put my life on hold to be a small town bartender? Grab some popcorn, or a latte, or better yet, a good craft beer and settle in for a minute while I share the story.
Most of you might remember that I was in the middle of CES in Las Vegas in January when I decided to push the reset button on my life. I was sick, unhealthy, and just knew that if I didn’t fix my health that I would die from my food allergy sooner rather than later. Yep, it really was that bad. For 30 days, I committed to no alcohol, no soy, no gluten and six days a week of CrossFit. It was brutal. Those 30 days weren’t easy and everyday I felt like giving up, but I didn’t. Currently, I’m down almost 20 pounds and 39 inches and I feel amazing. I still react to soy weekly, and I realize that this will be a constant battle that I’m not sure I will ever fully win. Sigh.
Here’s the story of how it started.
And the update on where I am now.
For the first two weeks in Indiana, I did not go into my Uncle Tom’s craft beer bar, Vernon’s Ale House. Then for a week I went in and just watched. I saw a very unorganized business, no one really knew anything about the beer, and I saw employees taking money from customers, and instead of it going in the register, it went into their pocket. My Uncle Tom was also not acting like the man I had known my whole life. You see, he was a retired Kindergarten teacher, not a businessman. Running this business had him at his wit’s end. He was tired, cranky, quick-tempered and it was quite evident that he needed help.
My uncle has a big heart and when his friend asked him to invest in a bar, he did. After a couple months, Tom soon realized what a mistake that had been. When I came here for Thanksgiving I found out that he had bought a craft beer bar. I literally thought – What???? Just after Christmas the calls starting to come saying that I needed to get my ass to Indiana to help him out of this mess. In January, I was receiving daily messages that I just couldn’t put off any longer. I felt a deep sense of urgency to get on a plane to Indiana and so I did.
I have traveled the US for over three years interviewing breweries and producing content for dozens of beer blogs. I have tried hundreds of beers training my palate to pick out the different kind of hops and yeast strains in each beer. I’m not a beer judge yet, but I sure hope to be soon! I started my first business at age 20 and have operated small businesses for over 20 years. After my last business, I swore I would never have a brick and mortar business again nor have employees. You can read that story here: We Built a Dream 10 Years Ago & Catholic Charities Destroyed It.
So here I am with beer and business knowledge watching this bar for a week as an outsider. Seeing the look of desperation in my Uncle’s eyes on Friday night was what led me to ask him to call a staff meeting for 48 hours later on a Sunday afternoon. Up to that point, there was no written schedule. Rather the employees would write down when they might be able to come in and each shift they just hoped someone would show up to work. There were no Standard Operating Procedures, no daily tasks, no accountability of any kind. That all stopped that Sunday afternoon.
I asked Tom if I could lead the meeting, and I could see that he was grateful that I was stepping up. I haven’t stepped down yet. In that first meeting, I passed out the new schedule, an agenda, a set of tasks for each department for both opening and closing duties. Of course, I introduced myself and said I would be there for two weeks to implement processes and get them back on the right track.
Well, things don’t necessarily work that quickly. It was apparent that a couple employees were going to put a shit ton of obstacles in my way and challenge me at every turn. I worked each issue, came out with more and more policies and procedures, and realized some major changes needed to happen. I needed to remove a couple bartenders from behind the bar as the nights that they worked we were losing anywhere from $20-150. It was unreal.
The Great American Ale Trail: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation
I’m not sure if they thought they were slick or I was stupid, but that shit didn’t fly. My main goal was to get the bar to stop hemorrhaging money. Removing the suspect bartenders was the most necessary first step. Finding good help in a small town was not easy my friends, not easy at all. I asked our Head Bartender, who is way awesome, to teach me how to bartend. I could handle the beer and wine without question, but I hadn’t been behind a bar in 20 years and no way did I remember how to do anything. Every afternoon for a week, we trained for an hour teaching me how to be on the other side of the bar, how to pour a proper drink, and how to handle a rush.
We have beer tastings every Thursday from 6-8pm. This was our Cider & Sour Beer Tasting 🙂
The way the bar was setup leaves a lot to be desired. It is not configured to be a fast bar which is tough on nights when we have bands in there and it is five people deep to get a drink. Configuring it is next on the agenda…
Every week we bring in 10-15 new beers that I had to research first… tough job, but somebody has to do it. I’m very proud of our beer program – 15 craft beers on taps, no domestics, with over half being local Indiana breweries. Then we have an extensive bottle and can program with over 60 beers in every style from pale ales to wits and IPAs to sours and gosas.
I fell into a routine of working between 60-70 hours at the Alehouse. I would do Admin work in the morning, head in at lunch to photograph the specials and work the social media accounts, then bartend at night. Seven days a week, most often from open to close, I was working for Vernon’s Alehouse. Not sure if you noticed, very few, if any, blog posts were written. I was inspired to start writing poetry again, but I had no energy to write for clients, let alone myself. It’s been a month since I’ve written out my thoughts, a month since I have had anything to say.
I never, ever thought I would work weekends again or at night. I like to be in bed by 10pm! These days I’m up at 4:00am for CrossFit, work at home until 10:00am and then head into the Alehouse for the day. On the weekends, I’m bartending from 5pm to close, some nights not crawling into bed until 3am. It is brutal.
The lessons I have learned from being a small town bartender will fuel quite a few blog posts though! Oh, the stories! For now, I’m still working on getting a POS system in place, finding good quality employees, and a manager to take over for me. Honestly, I don’t think I could ever just walk away from the Alehouse. I have put in a lot of sweat and tears and it feels like my baby. Those of you that know me, know how much I love to run small businesses! Today is my day off and I’m enjoying the solitude to write. I’m grateful that the words decided they wanted to show up today too.
What about Alaska?
I will be heading back up the beginning of May. I’m headed to the Dominican Republic in April with Fathom Cruises. It is my birthday present to myself! I will be in Alaska for the summer and I will fly out a couple times as I have some family obligations in Arizona and Indiana to take care of. There is no doubt in my mind that I want to have a house in Alaska. I have been gone almost six months and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss the hell out of it. I might be done full-time traveling, and more than likely will have a couple residences and fly between the two. That’s what I am leaning towards and hoping I can make it work. I love traveling, but it is time for me to have a place to call my own again. By the end of 2016, I will have some sort of residence, whether that is a cabin in Alaska or a home on four wheels.
For now, I’m in Indiana and crazy enough, enjoying being a small town bartender. I’m letting myself explore other avenues and listening to my intuition about where I should be and what I should be doing. Right now, I am where I am supposed to be – in Indiana helping family.
Robin Brown says
Kristi – I am thrilled to have discovered your blog, you and your writings on your life experiences. I especially enjoyed this blog entry as I am from North Vernon. And I know your Uncle Tom quite well. He was my son’s soccer coach for a year! And in North Vernon, well, everyone knows everyone. It breaks my heart to hear how there were a few taking advantage of Tom. I’m tickled to know you’ve taken care of that situation. My hope for Tom and Vernon Ale House is you will find an excellent replacement for yourself and the business will continue to thrive on the path you have set forth. I hope to visit a nd meet you before you leave town on one of your journeys. Please say hello to Trevor Miller. As I know him well, too. Take care! — Robin Brown, Noblesville Indiana
Debbie Alvarez says
I enjoyed your story very much. Your Uncle did need your help and things seem to be good. Take care young lady.
Dan Wright says
Loved your article and I think the world of your uncle Tom. I hope you the best, but just remember your in Vernon not North Vernon. There is a difference and we are touchy about it. Just kidding. I’m glad you are here to help Tom and I do wish you well.
Dan Wright, Mayor of Vernon
Sheree Martin says
So awesome to see someone taking charge of their health–and life–to live the life they want to live and not the one society has defined.
And love what you’re doing to help your Uncle Tom in Vernon.
Andrea B. says
This is phenomenal. I love your writing and I love this post.
What a great story. I’m excited for you.
And man, what I wouldn’t give to attend a cider tasting!!
Can’t wait to see what comes next for you!
Loretta Vinson says
Thank you for sharing your passion and energies at the Ale House. I’m new to the bar but have always felt welcome and comfortable there. I make it a point (and a pint) to visit every time I’m in the area. I wish you all much success.
Connie McLeod says
Sounds like there’s a book in this story.
So that’s why you never replied to my email… You were busy being a bartender! Kind of ironic considering the last place we saw each other 🙂 Anyway, glad to see you are alive and well!
Email?? Can you resend it? I will search for it too!!!
Debbie Welchert says
Oh it sounds like you have such a wonderful busy and exciting life. Sounds like the bar is coming right along too. Someday I would love to visit Alaska with my family….
Lisa Brown says
You have a fulfilling and interesting life. I have never bartended but my husband has and he really enjoyed it, being the social person he is and loves to meet and talk with people.
Terry Poage says
I have always wanted to be a bartender and live in a small town. I am so envious of you. Now I am to old and handicapped to do anything.