CAPITAL REGION —“You are your choices” is the motto for Chris Martell, co-owner of the popular and expanding Druthers Brewing Co.
The Saratoga Springs-based company has a second location in Albany, and will be opening a third in Schenectady before summer.
“If you think about anything in life, any choice has a consequence, good or bad,” Martell said. “If you treat your employees well, you’ll have a good [work] culture.”
“If you use poor ingredients, you’ll lose customers,” Martell said. “Druthers essentially means choice, so given your druthers, what feels right to do? When we face a choice, we try to look at both sides and we go with what hits us in our gut. I think that we’ve been doing well as a group with those decisions over the last five years because of it.”
For Martell, the idea of starting a craft brewery had been on his mind since the late 1990s, when he lived in San Diego.
“There’s something about creating your own beer on-site to your specs, and then coupling a menu to that beer is just cool,” he said. “To have a collaboration between the kitchen and the brewery and then serving it in an atmosphere that you’ve designed is amazing. I love people who push the envelope and try new things, how they source and care about their product. I thought if I could put a team together that all have the same goals in mind, then we could really have something special.”
Moving forward with his love of craft brewing, finding a team and turning it into a reality took time, of course.
Taking a risk
In 2008, Martell started talking long distance with his brother Brian to bring Druthers together. Those talks turned into four years of planning before the Martell brothers were ready to move on their dream.
“When we applied for financing a brew pub, the economy really hadn’t rebounded completely, and getting money for anything was difficult,” Chris Martell said. “Getting funding for an ownership group with no background [in restaurants] was difficult to almost impossible. We reached out to every bank in the area, and every one of them turned us down. We finally got funding through the New York Business Development Corporation and an SBA 504 loan.”
While exhilarating for Martell, the loan came with high stakes.
“The term sheet from NYBDC made it clear that we had put all of our assets on the line,” he said. “Our homes, our investments for retirement, everything. We believed in Druthers so much that we were willing to risk our financial well being to do it. Given our druthers, would we do this? We were unanimous that this was worth it.”
Five years down the line, it’s clear that the concept for Druthers was definitely worth the risk. Between the two locations in Saratoga and Albany, Druthers employs 160 people.
“It’s crazy and it’s an industry that’s growing,” Martell said. “Breweries are a passion that have caught the eye of many folks.”
Indeed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office recently released a statement that 400 breweries are in operation statewide, breaking a record set in 1876. The Martells and Druthers have stayed on the top of the industry growth because of their philosophy of putting out the best product possible. Then there’s brewmaster George De Piro, a driving force behind Albany’s Pump Station before taking the helm as the chief brewer at Druthers in 2012.
“George is amazing,” said Martell. “You don’t see many brewers that are able to cross over to so many different styles and put them up on a beer board.”
Martell similarly takes satisfaction in his dedicated workforce.
“I love seeing employees that take pride in what they do, seeing that they really care,” he said. “They believe in what we’re doing here. There’s great camaraderie between kitchen, bar and waitstaff, and we have a high turnout at holiday parties and other get-togethers throughout the year.
“It’s amazing to see the way that these employees work together and support each other. It tells me that we’re on the right track here.”
The two brothers were then joined by their other sibling, Scott Martell shortly after they opened.
“I’m pretty sure Scott saw how much fun we were having and didn’t want to be left out,” Chris Martell said with a laugh.
With a background in marketing honed working for Disney, Scott Martell took over marketing and the sales department for the company’s off-premises beer distribution.
While Chris Martell loves brewing, it’s not his only passion in life.
“Maybe it’s an early midlife crisis, but I find myself trying new things to see what takes. I started taking flying lessons four months ago, and I love reading biographies. If I have interest in something, I want to start now so I’ll be good in 10 years. I figure it’s like a piggy bank – invest the time and all of a sudden you’ve got something after a while.”
Martell credits this passion to try new things as one of the reasons he has been successful in business as well.
“I think it takes away some of the fear of failure, the fear of working so hard at something and not getting any type of return,” he said. “I don’t have that as much I guess after trying so many different things in life. I’ve also lost a few friends early in life, in their mid-20s and early 30s. When that happens, you kind of just realize that tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.”
For more information on Druthers, visit their website at www.druthersbrewing.com. You can find them in Saratoga Springs at 381 Broadway, in Albany at 1053 Broadway, and this summer in Schenectady at the Riverhouse at Mohawk Harbor near the Rivers Casino & Resort.