Illawarra

Brendan Dowd – Illawarra Business Leaders Interview

Brendan Dowd - Resin Brewery

Episode #1: Brendan Dowd – Resin Brewery

Trever Molenaar sat down with Brendan Dowd, co-owner and head brewer at Resin Brewery in Bulli to discuss all things beer + business. Chatting about the beginning of the friendship between Brendan and Steve, to how they decided to take a termite-infested squatters’ home and transform it into Bulli’s must-visit craft beer pub, and the ‘Oh no!’ moments along the way.

Starting a business is no easy feat, let alone launching two weeks before the country goes into lockdown due to COVID, but these guys have created a stunning destination pub in a suburb craving for a new local hangout, with delicious beers, food, and entertainment. Whether you are looking for a night out with a couple of mates, or a birthday lunch for 30 Resin is perfect.

“What’s my favourite beer?” “Which is my favourite child… how do you pick?”

Video

Podcast

Transcript

Brendan Dowd
“What’s my favourite beer?” “Which is my favourite child… how do you pick?”

Trever Molenaar
Welcome to series two of the Illawarra business leaders here, I peel back the layers of a rich and diverse business culture, perfect for those interested in all things business. Now let’s get into it.

So welcome to the Illawarra business leaders. I’m talking with Brendan from the resin brewery. So Brendan, if you’ve been living under a rock, tell me all about what resin is all about.

Brendan Dowd
resin is about two mates me and Steve, who decided that we needed a bit of a coastal change from work and we just wanted something different in our lives. And we thought Bulli needed that as well. There’s not much in the way below in terms of restaurants and drinking establishments. And we just we’ve been brewing all our lives and decided that it was a jump we wanted to take. What’s resin about good craft be a good atmosphere and place that people can come and feel like they’re at home. And good food to go with it. Okay,

Trever Molenaar
I’m going to test that. But I do love resin. So I’m putting it out here right now. So it’s a great place to be. But you’re right – Bulli needed that. Yeah. And now with the establishment of the Fitz coming through and things like that. It’s becoming a lot more cosmopolitan. So Steve and yourself are both brewers?

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, look, my grandfather taught me to brew when I was… I’ll say 18. But it was probably 16 when we first kinda played around, and then my dad was doing it as well. And my brother and I both stuffed around with it for a while and on and off all through my kinda 20s. And then Steve and I went to uni together. And I think we’ve been we’ve been surfing a bit and just decided to kind of do a bit of brewing together and, and he’d been brewing on and off. And I kind of taught him how to all-grain brew, and then we were brewing in his garage, probably every other weekend type thing. And then beers be sitting down drinking beers and things. That’s when the dream started coming out

Trever Molenaar
I’m going to ask you more about beers later. But because this is business, let’s start with the side of things. But we’ll get into the business about beers in a second. But tell me about Firstly, the business itself. And how you guys eventually started that? Was it a dream that you had around beer? Was it a business first?

Brendan Dowd
It was beer, it was always the beer You know, that’s what we enjoy doing. Steve and I’ve worked together for 20 years in environmental science. We’re consultants and things. So we’ve done the whole business side of things and knew that we could probably make a business out of beer, like you said, there’s not much in Bulli that’s growing now. But we just thought there was an opportunity and want to do something that we loved. So the business side of things, you know, craft beer is one of the biggest growing industries in Australia at the moment, it’s doing really well. We kind of follow the United States probably by 10 to five years in where they’re at. And it’s still booming. So we knew that that business would work. We just had to find the right location. And I think we did. And once we did that it was off we went.

Trever Molenaar
Tell us about that location.

Brendan Dowd
I live in Bulli, Steve’s in Austinmer. And we’d been looking around.

Trever Molenaar
Because it was pretty rundown when you found it.

Brendan Dowd
It was really bad. So it was full of termites, squatters, kids partying on the weekend. It was pretty bad.

Trever Molenaar
And for those that don’t know, it’s near the railway station in Bulli.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, that was another reason for buying it, obviously, you know, close to transport. But it was pretty dilapidated.

Trever Molenaar
For those who haven’t seen the photos, you can Google them. But so you guys spent a lot of time and energy. How long did it take to really make that what it is today?

Brendan Dowd
From the time we decided? Well, when I first broached it with Steve, I think my wife and I just drove past one night and we said oh Jeez, that’d be so good. And I messaged Steve, that night we’d been looking around elsewhere. And the next day he was making an offer to the owners. Yeah, so did stuff around with that. But then it was probably two and a half years until we kind of opened a lot of work in the planning and things with counsel and things like that. And then the build took about I think 14 or 15 months.

Trever Molenaar
So it’s a full It was a full build, wasn’t it?

Brendan Dowd
yeah, it was a full restoration and then a full build out the back. So there’s the old Heritage House, which is basically two storey eight rooms, four on the bottom floor on top. And at least basic there was originally the guest house so what it was, yeah, but my guest house, a family the Heards they built that back in 1877 I believe. Yeah, guesthouse for the for the burgeoning railway coming down from Sydney.

Trever Molenaar
And Bulli back in the day. I don’t know if you know But it was it was one of the highest density areas for pubs as well. So there’s a number of jobs coming down Bulli Pass. So yeah, you’re bringing that history and heritage bath. Yeah,

Brendan Dowd
yeah. Yeah. So there’s the heritage. And then there’s the other one near the primary school name. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’ll come to me. So I’m just on the, you know, right on the road on the road there, which is now a vacant particular vehicle. Yeah, well, no, there’s all that also the old dilapidated building that’s still there on the highway there the Denmark.

Trever Molenaar
Okay. So that the building itself is beautiful. You’ve obviously spent a lot of time and money getting that right. And that’s, and that’s the first phase. And then the second phase is, once they’re there, what do you serve them? So you guys are obviously doing food and beverage? Yep. Let’s talk your favorite beer?

Brendan Dowd
Well, I guess take that back a step. We were definitely doing food and beverage, it was always going to be that Steve spent a lot of time traveling, I’d spent a lot of time in London, the pub life over there is really kind of all about kind of creating that feel of home. So people, you know, rock up to the pub at lunch and won’t even have a beer, I’ll just sit there and do a crossword for three hours and then go home. And wanted to bring that kind of feel of people being comfortable at the place. So it had to have food, it had to have spaces where people could just chill out and you know, still had to have that vibe around the bar and things so yeah, we want to do that kind of thing. So it was it was somewhere where people could, you know, a destination for people to go. The beer. What’s my favorite child? So how do you pick but at the moment, all the crazies the hazy beers and New England IPAs and things and I love to brew those. They’re fun to brew in contrast to something like our sand and lager, which I can probably I brewed that yesterday and can do that with my eyes closed type thing, and it’s a fairly basic process. But the big hazy beers, you know, they take a lot of a lot of time, a lot of care and things like that. And they, you know, tasting that along the way and the way that ends up. That’s probably my favorite thing to do at the moment.

Yeah, so the normal homebrew size 20-23 liters. Steve and I bought a pilot brewery at 60 liters. I’d been brewing with another mate, we build a little 200 liter brewery up in the hunter. And now we’re on 1000 liters. So everything is 1000 liters at resin. So we have 1000 liter brew space. And that goes down to the cellar, which is 1000 liter fermenters. With 1000 liter Brite tanks stacked on top, those bright tanks are basically for us 1000 liter kegs, we serve directly from those.

Trever Molenaar
And how long does it take to go through 1000 litres at resin?

Brendan Dowd
It depends on the beer. So something like Sandon lager that’s probably our biggest seller, that’s the only beer that we kind of do back to back that’s always on. Just because of the I guess because of the way we built resin, it’s not only craft beer people going to resin. So you need a kind of standard be that people can go I don’t like craft beer, what can I drink? A lager so that we have that on back to back. So it’s always available. Two weeks, we go through that 1000 liters, I suppose. And then something like Refraction, our most popular craft Pale Ale, that’s the same kind of thing. That’s not all the time, but that’ll go in two weeks. And this Sunday, it’ll last for two months type things.

Trever Molenaar
So the Bulli people love a drink.

Brendan Dowd
Definitely a 1000 liters a couple every few weeks.

It’s not only Bulli people coming obviously, you know, but people from Sydney and Newcastle are also making the trip and things like that

Trever Molenaar
very much in what you said it’s a destination. So let’s talk business. Let’s talk what when you’re talking business, you’re not only just brewing, but you have a business itself, who inspires you in the business realm of things to make your business what it is today?

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, I guess in the, in the craft beer world it was you know, all those pioneering American craft breweries. And I think places like stone brewing and, and the likes, they kind of they started in the early days, Dogfish Head these kinds of places. They started the same kind of thing small brewpubs, you know because that was the way to do it. In America, at the time it was pretty much either do burgers and pizzas and craft beer, and people just turned up in droves. They’re now you know, millions of liters a week type thing that pumping out type thing, they’ve moved on from that little brew space. They’re now doing a whole lot of that kind of wholesale stuff. So those business models, Dogfish Head, the head Brewer there, Sam Calagione, his name is, I read he’s got a book about brewing and business and I read that Probably 10 years ago, and that was something I gave to Steve when we first started talking about it.

Trever Molenaar
Almost a defining moment there.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, kind of it was. Yeah, he, you know, he read that front, the back type thing came back and said, Oh, well, yeah, you know, that’s, that’s something we need to do type thing. So that’s probably somewhere we had. And, you know, Steve, Steve started the business that we both worked at Ecological Australia before we started this, and, you know, he’s done the whole business thing. So, you know, I guess I look up to him in that sense that, you know, he did that, sold that off? And did his thing.

Trever Molenaar
In your relatively short space of being open? How many employees do you have?

Brendan Dowd
It fluctuates, you know because you’ve got we’ve got casuals, and a lot of casuals and uni students and things. At the moment, we’re hovering around 20 to 25. And it just depends, but 11, full-time staff, I’d say at the moment and the rest of casuals.

Trever Molenaar
Tell me… in business, there is always a moment. It’s always a wow moment. When did you guys sit back and go? Wow, we’ve made something?

Brendan Dowd
Not two weeks later, when COVID hit, I’ll tell you that much. So we open just before COVID. You know, two weeks prior I think. So I think it was high. Now we so we got our two weeks prior to COVID. Then we got the full lockdown. And then I think they said that was March April type thing. And then May, June, July, outside of that opened up again. I think I think our bank balance skyrocketed in July, there must have been some changes in the restrictions and things, and people are allowed to come back out and things like that. And when we saw what we kind of made during that month and the fact that it was still the middle of COVID and things that I think we both kind of went well, you know, imagine this wasn’t COVID

Trever Molenaar
We’re onto something.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah. Yeah. And that was the middle of winter type thing. I think there was still that kind of rollover of people going oh, you need to look after small business. COVID ruining hospitality. So we’re probably getting all that help. But you know, some sort of blessing in disguise. Yeah, yeah. Flip it around the opposite. Yeah, it’s a moment. Have we? Yeah. COVID obviously, yeah. So we got the first week where we just got smashed, we ran out of beer, essentially. And then the restrictions came in in the second week. So we were down to half capacity. That was all like, like he said, a blessing in disguise. We’re running out of being after that first week. So the restrictions are kind of like, cool. We can catch up on the beer-type thing. But um, yeah, that over them. Now, we’ve only been open for a year so there’ve many bad moments. And they’ve broken tanks. (TM) No lost beer? Oh, look, those things happen all the time. Definitely want to be Yeah, you know, We’ve had two or three infections, you know, that’s the whole 1000 liters gone when that happens. And that just happens. You can’t do much about that.

Trever Molenaar
What’s an infection?

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Brendan Dowd
And so you’re playing with live yeast when you’re growing the and if some kind of bug or something gets in through the process while you’re brewing. Normally it’s yeast-related and you get an infection and that whole beer is gone then, another mistake I pumped 100 litres of cleaning caustic fluid into a ready-to-go be just put it into the wrong tank so that that beer was tasting great. And I’d been looking after it for two or three weeks and just mixed up the tanks in my head and just pumped the cleaning fluid into the wrong tank. Or at least you know, yeah, well I noticed after so that had to go down the drain.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. So your marketing guys you guys have a very good online social presence. Yeah, where do you market what’s your strategy?

Brendan Dowd
It’s all social at the moment. We’re actually having a meeting about you know what we may need to do elsewhere and things like that at the moment. Yeah, we just decided that socials were that so we employed Bella from Bella media and she’s yes she’s been great. Just does everything for her. Yeah, we target the craft beer sector and things like that. But also looking at you know, the sweat set and the moms and you know, because could we’re open seven days lunch, afternoon dinner, we kind of got all those kinds of different directions on the heat and were maybe not hitting them all at the moment. So there’s a bit of work to do there.

Trever Molenaar
Okay, so you’ve got a plan you’ve got direction Yeah, but I guess social media for you guys is probably the best bang for the buck that you can get?

Brendan Dowd
We’ve had all the TV and radio come in and ask if they can do stuff for us. And we’ve just kind of thought you know, we’re young and new and you’ve got that role of people going off got to go try Resin so we’re, you know, weekends we’re always full Yeah. So At the moment, we’re just we’re getting that right and getting the socials, right. And we’ll start, you know, we’ll start looking at other avenues and things that we’re missing, you know, notice a few things. Jump on the groups in Facebook and things and people ask a question like where can I go for lunch with 30 people and people will put all these big lists of places and someone says resin? I noticed this the other day, and there were like four or five people who live in Bulli I said, Never heard of it. And that just shocked me. Oh, yeah, like, so that’s kind of an eye-opener. To me. That’s like, well, we’re not hitting everyone. But I would have thought everyone in Bulli knew resin. I don’t know if that’s just me. But

Trever Molenaar
So what have you focused your attention on and is Steve the same, or is he different?

Brendan Dowd
we’re both the Brewers, I’m head Brewer. We’re both doing all the higher-end business side of things. Steve’s kind of doing accounts more so than me, just because he has that experience. And I’ve got the head Brewer role. So that’s the kind of split there. But in terms of just everyday business, it’s both he and I were looking at getting an assistant Brewer on now, Steve wants to move away a little bit from that. And I’m finding it hard to keep up. So we need someone else there. And that’ll allow me to do more business and things like that and get involved with direction on social media and direction on marketing and things like that.

Trever Molenaar
So you’re doing a lot more high-level stuff. So you’re working, not necessarily in the business, but on the business more.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. So we’re neither of us are on the tools behind the bar or anything like that. But you know, there’s a whole lot of what to do with ordering and stock and all that kind of stuff and keeping all that sorted. So yeah, you know.

Trever Molenaar
What would you do differently? You’re a year in now, yeah, you’ve probably made some mistakes. Not that you’ve seen that. But what would you do differently now?

Brendan Dowd
What would I do differently? I would probably have gotten an assistant Brewer in earlier, which would allow both Steve and I to focus on bigger things. But I think COVID did change things a lot. We were you know, if COVID hadn’t been around, we’d be well into our systems and much more set up now. We had to change our business plan every week to a fortnight. Well, as we went through COVID restrictions change every kind of week and things like that. We were constantly sitting down thinking “now what have we got to do? How do we get these people in? How do we do this and write these policies and send this off to Government”. So we were busy dealing with all that and not focusing on Resin so much. So you can’t do much about that.

Trever Molenaar
And I think he learned from that too. You do learn how to pivot really well. Yeah. Especially in our industry. We in real estate, we’ve had to pivot multiple times in the same thing with you. Small businesses have to so it’s, it’s made you grow as well.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, look, we Yeah, changing that, that focus day in day or week in week out was, was tricky, but it was good. You know, there’s things like, you know, growler fills, I don’t know, if you know what a growler, there has to be two-liter bottle, you know, we’d always plan to get those sorted and set up and I want to always wanted to get a hand candy machine. So people at the end of the night that didn’t want to leave, you know, his two cans Off you go type thing. So we always wanted to do that. But it wasn’t that wasn’t in there. You know, it wasn’t in the first few months that we’re going to do that COVID hit and bang, you know, we’ve ordered 300 growlers got the canning machine in and things like that. And so it forced us to get things going that we may not have got to so quickly, so that was good. Yeah, I think differently, I think I think we definitely need more people in the back of house in the office helping us get things done so we can focus on the stuff we wanted to do. You know, we always wanted to do it because we loved brewing beer. And we both do that. But you know, young families and all those kinds of things and so much to do in business, it kind of pulls you away. So

Trever Molenaar
How do you juggle all these things? because there is obviously a lot of people that are listening either into business in some form or fashion.
How do you juggle big business and family life?

Brendan Dowd
Maybe ask my wife. You don’t? Probably don’t? Yeah. Steve and I both got young families, you know, young kids in primary and he’s got one in high school at the moment. So it’s hard. But we both came from roles as consultants where you had that flexibility of time. And we’ve kind of made that work at Resin as well. So I’ll be up responding to Facebook messages at midnight type thing on the lounge still doing that. But I’d got I can pick the boys up from school at three o’clock every afternoon and have them for a couple of hours until Natalie gets home from work, she’s working full time. So there’s, there’s still that flexibility there. So we’re getting it done still doing lots and lots of hours. But the flexibility allows it to kind of happen.

Trever Molenaar
It takes a different person to be either a business owner or entrepreneur because you’re doing things, you’re not doing things nine to five, you’re not clocking on. I think people who are business owners look at things differently. It’s not an hourly rate. So you guys, obviously are the same, but what sort of skill set do you think is natural for you? And what do you think is more of a learning task in your business role?

Brendan Dowd
The learned task is time management. For me, I’ve always been really poor at it. And even going through uni, if I’m going, to be honest, you know, everything was done at the last minute. And that’s something that I really had to kind of change throughout my whole kind of career, but going into business, you just have to get things done when it needs to be done. And when you’ve still got that flexibility to go, Okay, I can do that later tonight. And then it doesn’t happen. You know, those kinds of things. It’s that everyone from university day. Exactly. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So that’s definitely a learned thing. Yeah.

Trever Molenaar
And natural. What’s natural for you in business?

Brendan Dowd
Natural? I don’t know. I don’t know. Creativity? Yeah, look, that’s, yeah, look that that’s there. But creativity, especially in the brewing world, for me, has come from? I’ve been doing it since I was 16. So I don’t know whether that’s a business side of things. But it’s definitely there. Yeah, look, in my previous career, kind of moved up management-wise, and managing people was always something that I kind of did well. And I think that flowed on with a really good team at Resin now, which is important in hospitality, you’ve got to have, you know, they’ve all got to get on well, if that’s not working well, especially the front of house, you know, and even in the kitchen and things like that, you know, if there’s no team bonding there that really that’s really shown to patrons and things.

Trever Molenaar
I think you can tell, every employee that you have is always smiling, and that comes from the top. The fish rots from the head, and the culture starts there, too. So if they’re happy, they’re bringing that through to the patrons.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah. It’s something that we instilled from the first kind of team meetings we had on the first day before we opened and things like that, and it’s kind of flowed on. You know, there are definitely some things that we need to do better still. Communication from Steve and I down the line to know or is probably lacking. And I’m sure our managers would say the same every business, I think communication is the key is the hard one. Especially if, you know, like we just discussed that kind of that flexibility of time and things on being pulled away with family. And I’m in the brewery down in the cellar, scrubbing the floor one minute, and then you know, someone dealing with me upstairs, come come and deal with this. There’s something wrong up here.

Trever Molenaar
So that’s the thing about a leader to you’re scrubbing the floors, but you’re also paying the bills, that’s the thing that people see. And yeah, and that humility to be able to do that nothing’s beneath you. And that’s a good leader.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, look, I think, you know, you have to do that you have to show that you’re willing to do everything. But at the same time, you’ve got to do the big stuff as well. So it’s hard that it’s hard to balance that I think sometimes.

Trever Molenaar
What drives you?

Brendan Dowd
Good beer, just yeah, that’s, you know, it’s hard to be creative in the beauty world and knock out 100% good beers all the time. So you’ve got to have some that don’t work type thing. You know, we don’t have a pilot brewery at the moment. So every beer that I’m trialing is pretty much done at 1000 liters. So if it’s not up to scratch, it’s still currently you know, it’ll get served if it’s 90%. Good. But if it’s, if it’s nowhere near what we need, it just basically goes down the drain.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. So I can hear all the guys and boys screaming right now.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, look, it’s the brand you can’t, you know, he can’t put out something you’re not happy with. And we agree, agree to that at the start. It’s 1000s of dollars, but it’s also the rest of your business. So you can’t get that wrong.

Trever Molenaar
So have you had either of you ever wanted to give up? You’re only relatively early. But is there been a moment that said, we’re done?

Brendan Dowd
Not at the moment? Yeah, I still haven’t worked a day in my life type thing, you know, since I started this.

Trever Molenaar
And that’s that line right there is where you get into business. If you love what you do, then you’re not working.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I drink a lot less now I tell ya that much. Yeah, now it’s just trying to create a bit of a balance type of thing. So that kind of own and essentially live in a brewery now so gotta watch what I’m doing but yeah.

Trever Molenaar
So Brendan, what’s next for Resin brewery?

Brendan Dowd
Yeah, that’s a hard one. Steve and I actually just had that meeting probably a few weeks back. We, we’d love to expand, we’d always talked about maybe having a satellite resin. And, and in the business that we’re in previously, we’ve got a lot of connections with developers and things like that. So we’ve got old connections, kind of hitting us up and saying, We’ve got this, you know, we’ve got this huge, huge residential expanse that we’re doing out here, you know, we’d love to have a pub will you guys be involved? and, you know, that might happen in the future. But at the moment, you know, we just sat down and said, we need to focus on getting Resin HQ/flagship where we are at the moment, right, so for the next couple of years, we’ll you know, we’ll keep it at that and make sure that’s right. But um, you know, the whole, the whole packaging scene, kind of, you know, that’s pulling us as well, we’d love to kind of, you know, get in and dominate the beef ridges as well, those kinds of things. So that’s calling. But that’s a big step. And it takes away from that, that personal nature that we always wanted, you know, once you do that, we’ve got to go and buy a warehouse somewhere buy a brewery four times the size five times the size of what we’ve got now. And then you’re out there stuck, just brewing the same thing, constantly putting it into cans, and that, that love of beer kind of fades away a little bit we’ll always have will always have Bulli. So we’ll always get to play on the little one if we move to the bigger ones,

Trever Molenaar
but from experience, the second location, it’s dividing the culture, it’s changing things, then the communication has to get 10 times better because you’re never there and you split the people. So

Brendan Dowd
like I said, the things that we’re not great at that would just highlight Yeah, exactly. tenfold more of an issue.

Trever Molenaar
Where would you love the second location to be?

Brendan Dowd
Well, we discussed that it on a beach somewhere, it would be ideal, you know, close to the water, you know, both of the surf we met in the surf, you know, those kinds of things so that that’d be ideal. Got to get a whole lot more money in the bank before we start thinking about those kinds of things. Sure. Yeah. But um, you know, also, you know, burgeoning areas, Southwest Sydney, kind of excites us as well. A lot of our previous work was out that way. So we helped improve all those kinds of things in environmental sense.

Trever Molenaar
Everyone around Southwest Sydney right now is bracing for it.

Brendan Dowd
Yeah. We get a lot of people from Southwest Sydney driving down so

Trever Molenaar
And why not? It’s a destination. It really is. Yes. So look, Brendan, thank you for talking with us. It’s been exciting to hear what Resin is all about and behind the scenes and I’m sure if people haven’t heard about Resin, they’re gonna check it out now.

Brendan Dowd
We’re at 8 station Street, just right next to the train station in Bulli.

Trever Molenaar
Beautiful building. Can’t miss it!

Coming Up

This season we’ll be hearing from Brendan Down (Resin Brewing), Nic Squires (Illawarra Surf Academy), Greg Flood (Inspect Wollongong), David Love (Sun People), Barry Pearson (Papi Dulce), Aaron Cowie (Seaside Building), and Leon Keir (One Wellbeing).

If you missed the previous season be sure to check out the last episodes showcasing the area’s most talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and business people.

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