It was a good day to share a tattoo with a good friend.
Around July 20, 2012, a bunch of guys were on a trip to Raleigh, NC. After bouncing around to a few breweries, three or four beers deep, and realizing that only half of all businesses survive for more than five years (according to the Small Business Administration), I made the very rational decision to get a MadTree tattoo if the company still existed after five years. In that moment, I created a Google Calendar invite for Dec 1, 2017, and, in a rare and not quite sober moment, even misspelled “tatoo”.
By July 2012, myself, Brady, and Jeff had all been planning MadTree for a couple of years connecting with suppliers, bars, restaurants, and investors. All financing was in place, we found our original location on Kennedy Ave, and we were in the midst of demolition. By the following January of 2013, we were making beer. Ohio’s first canned craft beer rolled off the line in March and the taproom opened in April.
Fast forward to 2015, up against production limits, we had a five acre plot of land under contract in Oakley. In February 2017, we opened a new taproom, selling 46,000 pints in a single day, celebrating our 4th birthday.
With all the growth and chaos that came with opening such a large and expansive facility, tripling the number of employees, Dec 1, 2017 came and went, with only a quick conversation about getting the 5 year tattoo. Regardless, we had beat the odds.
Surviving five years as a small business is effectively the flip of a coin. Half make it, half don’t. I don’t believe in luck or fate, but I do believe in statistics. Businesses that survive beat the odds. They build structures, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. They pivot, build a great leadership team, and make decisions with conviction in the most uncertain of times. They are purpose driven, and the clarity of direction resonates within and without the organization. I wish I could say that succinctly describes MadTree. That is our goal, but we have a lot of work to do.
Then there was COVID-19. On the morning of the Ides of March (Sunday March 15th), prior to the state mandated shutdown of bars and restaurants, we made the very emotional decision to shut down the taproom for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard people say, “thanks for prioritizing people over profit”. That’s cool. Thanks for the positivity. I wish it were that simple. We realize that a lot of our industry looks to us for guidance, so we literally gambled that the faster we shutdown, the faster we reopen, back to reality. With the taproom accounting for a large portion of revenue, it is critical to our success.
It’s funny what a pandemic can do for self reflection. A once in a lifetime (hopefully) event can jump start a lot of feelings and emotions. Over the course of 13 weeks of taproom shutdown, non-essential worker stay at home orders, and “what the fuck is going to happen next?”, we decided it was time to get a “tatoo” as I not so coherently wrote all the years ago.
So this July, Brady and I ventured down to Barber’s Electric Tattoo in Oakley. We’ve shared a lot over the years and now we have matching tattoos. Saying that out loud makes me chuckle. I can’t say I’ve ever imagined getting a matching anything with anybody, especially something permanent, and that person being a business partner. This tree, the MadTree, was hand drawn by Christopher Daniel, a blacksmith at Brazee Street Studios in Oakley. It symbolizes the connection to nature and each other. It symbolizes the 100 passionate employees who have trusted us with their careers and their families. It’s the millions of people that have believed in us. It’s Oakley. It’s Ohio. It’s conversation versus division. It’s a connection with nature and trees. It’s a celebration of craftspeople. It’s bigger than beer.
Now I have a beautiful and very permanent piece of art on my arm. This seven year journey has come with some incredible relationships, incredible heartbreak, and unbelievable growth as a human being. It has been the challenge of a lifetime; the ultimate capstone. I have had plenty of failures, no regrets, and an insatiable thirst for more. I have no idea what cards will be dealt in the future, but regardless of whether we’re here next year, in another seven years or for the next 100 years, this tree means more than I can ever express.
–Kenny McNutt, Co-Founder