Saratoga County

Outlook 2021: Family-run Bound by Fate Brewing in Schuylerville adapts, overcomes in 2020, sees bright future

Bound by Fate co-owners Pam Pradachith-Demler husband Brett Demler (behind) and Evan Demler.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Bound by Fate co-owners Pam Pradachith-Demler husband Brett Demler (behind) and Evan Demler.

As the principals in Bound by Fate Brewing planned the one-year celebration of the opening of their family business in Schuylerville in mid-February, they settled on the theme “Nevertheless, we persisted” and named their anniversary ale “NEVERtheLESS.”

With an oh-so-slight tweak of the viral feminist expression “Nevertheless, she persisted,” Bound by Fate used the three words to describe their successful struggle to keep their nascent craft beer company alive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like thousands of other small businesses in New York state, Bound by Fate was required to close its doors to the public by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 16, 2020.

The taproom at 31 Ferry St. had been open for just 23 days.

While countless businesses have been forced to go on hiatus, downsized or succumbed during the three-month lockdown and subsequent period permitting limited hours of operation and restrictions, Bound by Fate managed to survive. Along the way, some plans were scrapped and others were adjusted to meet the situation at the time.

“This has been a year of persistence and perseverance and optimism and positivity in the face of so much challenge,” said Pam Pradachith-Demler, director of operations. “You see the hope.”

Family affair

The venture was named for the collaboration of members of the Demler family. The four co-founders are Brett Demler, 40, his wife, Pam Pradachith-Demler, 39 — who met as students at Columbia University — and his brothers, Evan, 38, and Ryan. Brett Demler handles the brewing in a barn on the family compound in Schuylerville. Evan Demler is in charge of sales. Ryan Demler, who introduced his family to home brewing, a skill he developed as a student at McGill University in Montreal, is director of operations at Community Beer Works in Buffalo. Brett described Ryan’s current role as “a celebrity consultant” with Bound by Fate. Ryan collaborates with Brett on the development of recipes and vets plans for the business.

The Demler brothers have roots in Schuylerville, which led to the return to the historic village, and are graduates of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. All three had experience in home and commercial beermaking that they poured into Bound by Fate.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“The family had been talking about a brewery for over 10 years,” Pradachith-Demler said.

Bound by Fate, a licensed New York state farm brewery, had its soft opening on Jan. 17, 2020, offering a modest menu of its beer. It officially launched a month later on Valentine’s Day 2020, and was enjoying an enthusiastic response from customers when the pandemic closure intervened.

“We were in that tiny space of 800 square feet,” Pradachith-Demler said. “We were packed every day that we were open.”

The taproom has been open since mid-June and operates Thursday to Sunday under New York state COVID-19 guidelines that limit the number of customers allowed to 50 percent of capacity.

Brett Demler said he typically offers six or seven of his craft beers, with one tap reserved for cider. The most popular beer is Lupulion, a New England-style India Pale Ale with an alcohol-by-volume (abv) of 6.2 percent.

The perfect spot

The first few steps that turned the family chatter about a brewery into reality were taken in 2017 when Pradachith-Demler, her husband and their young son relocated from San Francisco to Schuylerville. They purchased a large, historic house, 9 Gables, with Brett’s parents, Maureen and Randy, that became home to three generations of the family. The property included an outbuilding that houses the brewery.

Pradachith-Demler continued working remotely for an education policy nonprofit based in San Francisco and Brett Demler began assembling his brewing operation. Evan Demler left his job with Commonwealth Brewing in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and moved to Schuylerville.

The Demlers had not settled on a location for their taproom. They said they were assessing possible locations in the region, among them Saratoga Springs, and possibly setting up in a building with other businesses.

In January 2019, they learned the property on Ferry Street, on busy Route 29 just east of the downtown intersection with Route 32, would become available in a few months.

“That space had been occupied by a number of small businesses before us, a café most recently,” Pradachith-Demler said. “When the owner said she was leaving, we looked at the space and said ‘This is a perfect taproom. The location is ideal.’ The space itself was long and narrow. It looks like a bar and felt like a bar to us. We said, ‘This is a great place to start.’ ”

Not only was the interior appealing, the property included a deck along the side and back of the building.

Pradachith-Demler was on maternity leave at the time, and immediately turned to the incorporation of the company and the application for the farm brewery license from the State Liquor Authority. It took a year to obtain the license.

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The farm brewery legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, was designed to bolster the growth of the craft beer industry in the state. It followed the Farm Winery Act of 1976 that spurred the production of wine in New York.

To operate as a farm brewery, at least 60 percent of the ingredients in the beer must be produced in the state. Among the perks provided by a farm brewing license are lower fees and the ability to sell New York wines and ciders without another license.

Shifting gears

With their only source of revenue closed, the COVID-19 shutdown hit the Demlers hard, but they reacted and figured out a way to adapt.

Pradachith-Demler said that the small size of the company and the fact that it was so new, had low overhead and was evolving ended up being a benefit.

“In general, as a family, we are fairly optimistic people and we want to keep things positive,” she said. “‘We’re like, ‘Alright, we’re not going to control what the governor tells us to do, but how do we stay alive? How do we stay open?’ ”

While the size of the company, with just the co-owners as employees, allowed it to be nimble, timing was important. “We weren’t privately financed,” Pradachith-Demler said. “This was our entire life savings and some money that we borrowed from friends and family. So we had no cushion. For us, we had to find a way to continue to stay and sell beer, even if it was completely different from our model.”

The Demlers were focused on by-the-glass sales in the taproom and had not intended to package their beer for off-premises consumption. However, since the New York state protocols allowed to-go sales of alcohol, they promptly opted to produce 32-ounce cans — dubbed crowlers — of Bound by Fate beer.

Brett’s aunt stepped in to loan the company the money it needed to buy the machine to manufacture crowlers. It was a chunk of the approximately $50,000 the company ultimately had to invest in crowlers, food sales and deliveries as a result of COVID-19.

The sudden demand for the large cans produced a shortage. “So a whole group of local breweries and bars got together and ordered a truckload,” Brett Demler said. “That was really the only way that worked out for us.”

Bound by Fate wasted no time setting up its to-go sales in a lemonade stand in front of the taproom. The Demlers said the business was closed for just one weekend. Since it was so small and had just opened, Bound by Fate did not qualify for any aid or loans in the first federal stimulus package.

When it became clear the shutdown was going to last a while, the Demlers did their crowler work and began to prepare for a return to what they hoped would be a more normal environment.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“We made a lot of smart decisions. We built a lot more furniture and utilized the deck,” Pradachith-Demler said. “We did all of the expansion inside. We tripled our indoor capacity space in terms of square footage during the three months we were closed. It would have cost so much to do it in the future. We were already shut down for customers inside, so we might as well do the work. We did all that work ourselves during that same time.

“We kept the lemonade stand operating outside, which actually got us a ton of customers, this curbside approach. People could just pull over; 27,000 cars cross that highway every day. It was great advertising for us during those warm months when we were closed. Then, as soon as we were able to reopen safely, we followed all of the guidelines and did that.”

Though they had expanded and could accommodate more patrons, even with the 50 percent limitations the Demlers took a careful, deliberate approach.

“At that time we were just having people outside on the deck and were not seating people inside,” Brett Demler said. “We were still trying to keep track of what seemed a daily update of new regulations and stuff around it. We kind of held off on having people inside and are so grateful that we have that awesome deck. That got us through the summer.”

Every new customer at Bound by Fate receives a lengthy greeting that explains the rules in place for masks and distancing in bars and restaurants in New York. Included in the welcome is a request for email addresses for contact tracing. The message makes it clear that the Demlers are not taking any chances during the public health crisis.

“We have all been working in the taproom and seeing thousands of customers and haven’t had any incidents,” Pradachith-Demler said. “It’s a testament because we have lived it, and also my son goes to school in person, wears a mask every day. We see that it can work.

“His classroom has not been shut down. We have not been shut down. No one who has worked with us has tested positive. We know that if you follow the science it can work and there are ways you can be safe. The hardest part is educating. You can’t change the way individual people think about it.”

‘Always flowing’

Brett Demler said he picked up a lot of knowledge talking with customers while working at a home-brew company store in California. He brought the brewing equipment he accumulated back to the New York four years ago. There is no question, he said, that he will have to expand to handle the expected growth in business when the deck reopens in the post-pandemic environment.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

For the anniversary weekend festivities, Brett Demler teed up seven of his brews, which included Kegasus, a cream ale; Headless Boatman, a brown ale; Paper Parasol, a sour IPA; and Empty Niche, an English-style Porter.

“I like variety, so we’re always aiming to keep kind of a broad spectrum of beer styles,” he said. “We have eight taps and usually we have six to seven beers and a cider. Part of it is making sure that beer is always flowing and we have a good variety. And a season rotation. As we move through, tastes change depending upon the weather.”

New York is a step or two behind the more developed California craft beer industry, Brett Demler said, but he has not found different tastes on the coasts.

“Clearly for us, hoppy beers sell really well. The New England style is very accessible,” he said. “In the last few years I would say we have transitioned from people who weren’t really beer drinkers, thinking IPA means bitter, to now recognize that IPA means hop-forward, but not necessarily bitter. A lot of times it is more fruity than anything else.”

Chuckling at a question about what’s ahead for Bound by Fate, Pradachith-Demler said the company has already moved through much of what was scheduled in years two, three and four of the business plan. Getting to that second year, she said, is an achievement to savor.

“We are building something for our family, we are working together and we are living together. We’re still all here,” Pradachith-Demler said. “We are joking that we need to have a reality show because this has been the most dramatic year. But we’re still married. We’re all still alive and the business is thriving. It was an epic journey to get here. It was the best first boot camp year of opening a small business. I think we learned a lot.

“Talk to me in 10 years about whether it was worth it to walk away from a career where there was stability, a great salary and health insurance to take this trip. There are good days and bad days, but I think what we are building here is something really special.”

At a glance

Bound by Fate opened its taproom on Jan. 17, 2020

Family-financed and family-operated business

Demler brothers are graduates of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School

A New York farm brewery

Adapted to COVID-19 lockdown with to-go sales

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Saratoga County

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