Welcome to Becoming the Boss, our series celebrating the transition from solo-entrepreneur to employer through the voices of first-time job creators.
Jared Fackrell is a man of many titles: Husband. Father. Former Navy lieutenant.
He recently added two more: Entrepreneur and cider master.
A longtime cider home-brewing hobbyist, Fackrell decided last year to pursue his fruit-fermenting passion full-time and in the summer of 2018 opened the Capitol Cider House, or CCH, in Washington, D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood. After a year of hiring, planning, and building renovation, what was once an empty, concrete retail space is now a red-white-and-blue tribute to the original American beverage of choice. Serving diehard “ciderheads” and novices alike, CCH offers a diverse array of ciders made from ingredients produced within 200 miles of the Capitol Building.
When he set out, Fackrell was eager to share his enthusiasm for cider with customers—but first, he had to hire a team and get them up to speed on the finer points of the fermented beverage. In just a few months, they’ve become a close-knit team of cider experts.
We sat down with Fackrell to learn more about how he transformed a hobby into a business—and how he transformed a diverse group of willing newcomers into an expert staff along the way. What follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What sparked the idea to start a cidery?
“I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial. But I didn’t know what. We took a family vacation up to Ithaca, New York two years ago, and there was a cider house up there called Finger Lakes Cider House. My experiences previously with cider hadn’t been positive—I always thought they were too sweet. But we went in and had a great experience.
“My wife and I were sitting around a table in the cider house joking, saying ‘we should do this in D.C.’ I literally came back, bought a book from Amazon, taught myself how to make cider, and refined it over the last few years. We just sort of ran with it. But without that trip this wouldn’t have happened.”
What do you enjoy most about being a manager?
“I really enjoy being around my team because they come from so many different walks of life. And in many cases, almost all cases, they had no idea what cider was before working here [laughs]. With very minimal training, they figured it out. They’ve been self-starters, super enthusiastic and willing to learn. Which has been very refreshing for me. It’s great that everyone just comes in and hits the ground running.
“It’s cool to watch everything happen as I remove myself more and more. I’m no longer the bartender every night. It’s nice to see everyone grow into themselves. As a manager you want to be comfortable trusting that others can perform when you’re not there. It’s only been a month but I already have that warm and fuzzy feeling. The folks here can operate it without me, no problem.”
Do you find it difficult to pull yourself away and let the team step into those roles?
“At first it was. I’m pretty invested in this, emotionally and financially. It’s my baby. But at the same time I’m only one person and I can only do so much. Delegation is how you survive long term. You can sprint by yourself for a bit, but you won’t last. You have to delegate.”
What was the first role you hired for? What was that process like?
“I hired for the same position across the board. We just have sort of a one-size-fits-all position here, Cider Professional. And that person fills a number of different roles that would typically be split between traditional front-of-house and back-of-house duties. Our folks are really well-rounded.
The bulk of the people I ended up hiring had just reached out to me in the lead-up to opening. They sent interesting resumes, showed up to the interview, knocked the interview out of the park, showed up to the first training, and have been with me ever since.”
What is the training like?
“The training is iterative and ongoing. Like for example, we have a training tomorrow with a professional cidermaker. But the initial training was essentially 3 hours of getting to know each other, establishing mutual respect and trust. We mostly talked about cider—what it is, and how to speak the language of it.
“It’s been ongoing from there. About half of my team has been involved with pressing apples and the production side of things. It is helpful to see how it’s made so you can articulate that to customers. We get questions all the time, like ‘What is cider?’ ‘Does it have alcohol?’ If you’ve had a hand in making it, you can answer these questions better.”
What are you looking for when hiring?
“It is helpful to have some experience in the service industry. But a number of folks, myself included, didn’t have any a month ago. To me it’s more like, if you’re eager to learn, and have a well-rounded background, that’s great. Our people have really interesting pedigrees across the board. One person just came back from the Peace Corps, a number of folks worked in government. They bring well-rounded experience, and that’s helpful. This is a start-up like any other, and there are a lot of moving parts. Really what I’m looking for is someone who is willing to learn, and is dependable.”
What lessons have you learned from going through the hiring process?
“No one situation will be anything like mine. You’ll get a curveball at every stage. We did some advertising on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Facebook. But the reason we were able to hire so fast is because I kept a folder of emails from folks who were interested in a job and emailed me originally. Fortunately I reached out to those people first, and I found that most of them were still interested.”
How would you describe your company culture?
“What I’ve tried to do is create an environment where people feel like they can share ideas—not only share them, but have them implemented. That’s what we’re shooting for. My job is to resource people so they can make a difference while we’re in this startup phase. I think that’s been fairly successful.
“The other piece is the day-to-day culture side of things. We do a lot of positive reinforcement. I don’t go too far out of my way to compliment people [laughs] but my folks are coming up with really good ideas that benefit the team, and I try to recognize that, and create incentives for that.
“As an example, we put on a Cocktail Olympics competition during the soft opening. I put a table out with a bunch of different mixers and drinks. I said whoever wins it, your drink is going on the menu and you win a prize. And that drink is on the menu right now. It’s really good, too.”