For all the passion brewers put into their beer, every brewery is a business, and businesses start with financing. In Loudoun, new breweries often go to Jimmy Olevson and MainStreet Bank to get started.
Olevson, the bank’s chief lending officer, got into the business to help breweries get started before Loudoun’s brewery boom had the meteoric pace of today. Old Ox Brewery co-founder Chris Burns, burned by a deal that fell through with a national bank, sought out a local banker ahead of their 2014 opening. A mutual acquaintance recommended Olevson.
“I had never financed a brewery before,” Olevson said. “Being in Loudoun, I was very familiar with wineries, but had never financed a brewery before.”
But Burns and his parents Graham and Mary Ann had done their homework. Olevson said they had a detailed plan “taking into account contingencies I would have never thought of.”
“Clearly, it was a family business, but it went far beyond ‘son and dad like to brew on the weekends because it’s cool and fun,’” Olevson said.
And go far beyond it has. Old Ox Brewery is one of the largest and best-known breweries in the region, along with some of Olevson’s other clients, like Lost Rhino Brewing Company and Adroit Theory Brewing Company. He has worked with regionally well-known breweries like Old Ox and Lost Rhino, established gems of the brewing scene like Black Hoof Brewing Company and Old 690 Brewing Company, and upstarts like the new House 6 Brewing Co. in Old Ashburn—whose founder, Rolanda Rivera, Olevson knows through volunteering at the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. He has also worked with breweries outside Loudoun, and MainStreet Bank is an associate member of the Loudoun County Brewers Association, of which Burns is president.
Burns said working with Olevson was a refreshing change, where he’d found the banking industry isn’t “known for its vision.”
“I think what’s so incredible about the relationship that we’ve established is that MainStreet—and Jimmy specifically—has been able to, through asking questions, really educated questions about this relatively new industry, really get to know what brewing’s about,” Burns said. “Because it’s different than a lot of other manufacturers.”
When he reached an agreement with the Burns family, Olevson wasn’t even a beer drinker—“I told my wife, I’m sorry, we can’t go to the winery this weekend, we’ve got to go to Old Ox”—but after his introduction to craft brewing, he began approaching other brewers.
“I started going to some brew festivals before I really knew what I was doing,” Olevson said. He would approach brewers and tell them “I really liked your beer and really like everything I saw—I don’t know if you’re happy with your banking relationship.”
After the experience of opening and growing Old Ox, Burns said he tells prospective brewery owners to pass over the national banks and look for financing locally.
“I have some incredibly frustrating experiences when it comes to financing,” Burns said. “I bet that if you talked to not just other startup breweries, but other small business as a whole, they’ve all had pretty rough experiences trying to get financing. Everybody has a story. But my first advice to everybody that has come to me looking for advice on starting a brewery, I would say make sure you have twice as much money as you think you need, and go to a community bank, because anyone else is not going to have the vision.”
Beyond the initial loan, Burns said the relationship with the bank for its other needs has been important, such as with Assistant Vice President and Commercial Relationship Manager Melissa Prevatte. She helps the brewery with issues like credit card processing, finding the best price for those services where other operations may be spending percentage points off their bottom line with ready-made services like Square.
“When times are good, everything’s fine with your banker, your CPA, your attorney,” Burns said. “When times are bad that’s when you find out who’s going to do battle with you, and who’s going to get out of it.”
Olevson said financing breweries has been good business—not just from a financial standpoint, but for the connections its helped him make in the community.
“There was never an intention of saying … I want to be that banker who does breweries,” Olevson said, “but it clearly worked out very well.”