Posted on January 9, 2023
Kent and Karen Killough traveled the world and fell in love with the European experience of breweries. They decided that they wanted to bring that refreshing experience to the Texas Hill Country… and so they did! With a lot of hard work and planning, they created an oasis of live music, culinary excellence, natural beauty, and yes, amazing beer! The couple joins Steph Silver to share how one car ride and a handy notebook gave birth to Vista Brewing. They explain how their brewery provides more than just good beer. Instead, they also offer a relaxing escape from bustling cities, warm hospitality, and a unique mix of Driftwood’s old and new atmosphere.
Listen to the podcast here
How A Brewery In Texas Provides The Most Refreshing Experience With Kent & Karen Killough
Our guests are Kent and Karen Killough, Owners of Vista Brewing, a destination brewery in Driftwood, Texas. Thank you, guys, so much for joining me.
Thank you for having us.
We’re happy to be here.
As you guys know, I’ve been hounding you for a couple of years. I’m a fan girl of Vista Brewing since before you even put up your signs that you were going to break ground. I’m so looking forward to hearing more of the depths of how you got this started and the journey that you’ve been on. The journey has been one that nobody could have predicted when you started. Here you are, you’re still standing. You’re not just standing but running.
In a lot of different directions.
Steph, I remember meeting you in the Driftwood Post office when you were starting VINE. You’ve come full circle here.
We both met each other when we were getting started. That’s fun. We’ll talk another time about me getting started. Right now, we’ll go ahead and dig into this. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what your lives were like before Vista.
I’m a fourth-generation Texan. I grew up on Lake Travis, went to Texas undergrad, and studied business. I went into finance and was in banking. Karen says I was at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. It’s a whole another story. It was the writing on the wall. We moved to England and studied in Oxford to get my Master’s in MBA, and then went into private equity and worked in M&A for another eight years.
I moved here to Austin, Texas, many years ago after college. I went to North Carolina State University. I have an Engineering degree, which is nothing to do with what I do now. I moved here in my twenties after college, exploring Austin and having fun, and I met Kent through a mutual friend. We’ve been together for many years.
I moved here to work at Dell. I was recruited to work as a Computer Engineer at Dell. I was there for 6 or 7 years. I was doing computer engineering, and I slowly moved more toward marketing, which is what I do now. I moved into the product marketing team and then into event marketing to further away from pure tech and more into marketing.
That’s a whole another conversation. We might have to have you on another time. That’s a big journey.
That’s like an evolution.
We have changed our career paths with Vista.
Moving to Europe, I was lucky enough to have Karen not only as my moral support but she was out paying the bills while I was studying. It was an awesome story that she was on a flight going from one city to the next for Dell, sitting next to the CEO of a boutique spirit company. That relationship turned into her being their Global Marketing Manager.
I never talk to people on airplanes. I just read my book and have my earphones in, and I met my future boss. He was a Polish count. He had this vodka company and he wanted to buy some computers. We had this conversation and I ended up working for him in this very global, small company. Five people, global company.
What a synchronistic encounter there. It’s a life-changing, unpredictable moment.
That was a huge shift from a huge company, Dell, to a tiny company and a more consumer-facing product. I was working on the business side of Dell.
What made you decide to switch?
It was more interesting to me. We love food and beverage, but that was something more creative. I could learn a lot. It was an interesting company.
It’s that idea of starting to make this shift into things that interest you inside. We’re intellectually curious people about anything. From a personal passion perspective, that was where you started to see the shift. Karen made it first. While we lived in England, we fell in love with this concept. Maybe it’s general. We call it the British Country Pub. It’s this fine food and drink in the midst of this agrarian beautiful setting. It’s not in the city but out in this beautiful destination that you would travel to with friends or family and spend the day. It’s an “everything slows down” experience.
While we were living in Oxford and Kent was in school, The Perch and The Trout are the two pubs that were our biggest inspiration. We looked them up.
Write that down. You put that on your bucket list.
From the city center of Oxford, walk up the river. There are wild horses running through the fields and it’s so picturesque. You take a walk and it’s a day trip, but you’re walking to these two pubs. They’re beautiful places, great food, and you can relax.
In that, we were, “We want to do this. I love this.” I got my Master’s. There’s a new awesome corporate career happening.
That was 2009, too. That was a long time ago.
In the future, when the sun starts setting, then we’re going to be able to roll into this.
Have you thought of it as maybe a retirement-ish or somewhere way in the future?
Further down the road.
I then went to work in London, and then we traveled a bunch. Everywhere we went, we’re drawn to this concept whether you’re in the Alps or in the jungle in Thailand, or on the beach in Australia.
The winery in New Zealand.
All of these places have that same beautiful place and fine food and drink. You go there to integrate with all of that. It’s not thatch roof and peat fire, but it’s the same idea.
The feeling was the same when you were there.
It stoked that desire in us more and more. Roll forward to 2014, we moved back to Austin. In that period of time, from 2008 to 2014 or 2015, Austin exploded. There were six new high-rises downtown. It’s grown to 25 to 26 million tourists a year visiting Austin. The population had grown by 20%, but beyond that, the Texas Wine Road, Central Texas, with the cultural area, had come into its own fast. It has become one of the most visited wine regions in the world. In 2016, 2 million people visited the wineries between Austin, Wimberley, and Fredericksburg. That’s staggering.
At that time, our first son, Kaden, was almost one when we moved back to Austin. I was traveling to either New York, San Francisco, or Chicago every week, gone from Monday at 5:00 AM to Friday. We saw what was happening to Austin when we moved back. What could we do where we use both of the skills and experiences that we’ve built in our corporate careers to work together? It may not be gone all the time so that we can do it with our family and wrap in that idea of what you hit on.
Karen made that transition to Potocki. We’re starting to do something that is more personally rewarding and fulfilling in addition to our intellectual curiosity. The fun story is that it was my brother’s birthday. We were driving to New Orleans and got stuck in this crazy rainstorm. I don’t know how many people had driven to New Orleans. An 8-hour drive took 12 hours.
We’re on I-10, and Karen got out a notebook on the dashboard and Vista was born on that car ride. Not to say it was written on the back of a napkin, but that’s where it started. Some of the frameworks that we drew out in that conversation are brand pillars, the strategy frameworks, and things that I was using in our job, but we have them now. They’re on the wall in the office at home. They’re in strategy decks that I use to talk to our team about the direction the company’s going.
A lot of the fun event and marketing ideas happened. Some of them didn’t, but a lot of the things we came up with on that drive came to fruition.
We made our British country pub.
What year was that?
We started in January 2015. We started looking for land. We got defined on what we were doing, where we wanted it to happen, and what that remit was. We wrote the business plan, building our whole stakeholder group to make that come out of the ground. It took us about a year.
We were looking for land while I was pregnant with our twins. I remember this. We’re hiking around properties while pregnant, negotiating on a property that we did not get in January of 2016, the month before they were born.
There was another property that was almost Vista. It’s a big equestrian facility like all these other infrastructures. It’s a big property but has beautiful infrastructure. Vista would’ve been a little different. It wouldn’t have had as much of our personal design in it. I recall vividly because we were having twins, and it was going to be a scheduled C-section.
We were going at it with these guys because we wanted it, and it was a seller’s market at that time. I was like, “Pause. We’re on the radio. I’ve got my hands up here.”
We’re going to go have two babies. Let’s pause.
I’m on the phone, “Pause. We’re going to go have some babies. We’ll pick back up in three days. Okay?” I hang up the phone. The next morning, go and come back up. Three days later, somebody had come and bought that land with cash. We were personally devastated, like, “How could you do this to us? We had a deal.”
It worked out the way it was supposed to. We found the land we were supposed to have.
My personality is like, “Maybe this isn’t supposed to happen. Are we on the wrong path?” Did you just say, “We’ll find another place? “
It wasn’t supposed to happen there. In the personal scheme of things, that’s a non-trivial investment thing to do. Maybe in the larger scheme of all of the businesses that you talk to, it’s not, but it’s a big deal. There are all kinds of emotion and anxiety that are “mature executive.” You try to keep those things at bay. You use your rational brain. That anxiety is tied into that big transaction, and then you go, “That’s done. That wasn’t the right place.”Business owners are expected to act like mature executives all the time. They must keep emotions and anxiety at bay and always use their rational brain. Click To Tweet
We moved from that in a property that we found that wasn’t our market. It was a proactive approach to the landowners to carve it out of where it was. That was a long road because it wasn’t just that they want to get the value that they expect out of their land. It was, “What are you going to do with our land?” They were interviewing us.
Texas ranchers are caring for their land.
Down to, “What color is the roof going to be?” I’m just saying the level of detail and the spirit of what we were doing. That set the stage for us becoming a part of Driftwood.
We became a part of that community.
It’s not like we had to retrofit our thoughts and what we were doing in order to make it work for those conversations. It all fits. Our belief in creating a beautiful space that integrated into the natural surroundings celebrated the beauty of the Texas Hill Country and connected with local agriculture. All of those things were what we wanted to do, no matter what.
If we’re going to sell our land, that’s what we want it to be.That naturally rolled into our involvement with the Historical Conservation Society of, “This is who we are.” That then became, “We don’t want anything to change about Driftwood.” Driftwood is this beautiful agrarian little bubble. We’ve got our Trout in Oxford and Driftwood, but it’s going to change.
Austin, Williamson, Travis, Hays, and Comal Counties are the fastest-growing counties in the United States. There’s a massive river of population growth that’s happening from I-35 North to South and South to North, and then out 290 and 281, and there’s like this little rock in that river. It’s going to change, but how do we sculpt that? We stepped into that conversation with what we already were and it clicked.
That relationship has continued to develop over the last few years. We’re now hosting their second Annual Driftwood Heritage Festival. Being a part of that community and helping them showcase what Driftwood was is important.
We are Driftwood. It’s not just synergy. We’re now a part of it. Our vision for what Vista is and will be is the next generation of this agrihood that is Driftwood, that is the Napa Valley of Central Texas.
For those who aren’t from around this area or are even in Austin and don’t know Driftwood very well, I want to step back and paint the picture of Driftwood that it is an unincorporated town. There’s no city governance.
It is an “area of influence.”
The city includes a post office, a church, and a cemetery.
That’s our entire downtown. We now have a blinking light. It slows people down.
That was extremely helpful to get that blinking light.
It is. It does finally slow people down because it’s a 45-mile-an-hour speed limit that everybody would zoom through at 65. The decisions are still made by the ranchers and the community. They do want to keep it as agrarian and beautiful. You drive down that two-lane, no-shoulder road.
It is a scenic highway.
It’s a historic highway.
Tit’s the William Barret Travis Heritage Parkway.
You see live oaks and cypress trees and not trapped homes and billboards. We’re surrounded on all sides. The North is Austin, the South is San Antonio, and they’re both encroaching our way very quickly. These huge heritage ranches are being pressured from all sides to sell for millions and billions of dollars to subdivisions and other developers. It truly is still the Wild West out here, shaping what this whole community is becoming. You guys are now part of what that communication and that dialogue is.
We would like to be. We’ve been very fortunate to be included in that conversation and story. In the short period of time, we’ve been in the rooms to talk about our approach to land development to bring in the network that we’ve developed from the city, county, and water conservation districts to shape other development trajectories.
That’s the thing that happens after you’ve been doing it for twenty years. We got lucky. It’s the right place. All of this inflection and change is happening right now. You’ve got all of those influences that you captured eloquently. We’re at that flashpoint where we have the vision and the patience to do these things, and then can step in and have those conversations.
It’s become an extraordinarily rewarding part of this journey that we’re able to help our community conserve what’s happening in Driftwood. It all started with the idea of, “We want to help people enjoy a beautiful space around fine food and drink.” That’s what people come to buy. If you’re going to spend your money and your time, that’s what you’re thinking you’re doing when you’re coming to Vista. The subtext there is that they’re connected to this story of conservation and community and very much nature.
We did our best to preserve what was there.
If you could paint the picture, how many acres and what does Vista Brewing look and feel like? How does it match up to some of your early thoughts and visions for what it was going to be?
We’re both very proud that where we are now and what exists is close to what was on that napkin in that rainstorm on the way to New Orleans. We have 21 acres. We built almost 10,000 square feet of buildings. It’s a historic piece of property. It was part of William Barret Travis’ original land grant. For those people that didn’t take Texas history growing up, William Barret Travis is like the Thomas Jefferson of Texas.
Maybe a speckled past leading up to his moment of greatness, but his moment of greatness was when he was heroically killed in defending the Alamo. Anyways, there’s a historical marker on our property for that. There were 657 large oak and elms on those 21 acres when we bought it. It’s greater than an eight-inch diameter trunk. I know what they are, where they are, how big they are, and where that trunk hits the ground.
We did all of that work so that we could design all of the building footprints, our fire lanes, the water treatment facility, and all of those things into that layout as best we could. Now of the 657 trees, 641 of them are still standing. Of those that came down, the vast majority of that wood was reincorporated back into the project. The bar, our serving trays, and our benches are all pieces of what had to come down.
Anything beautiful that you see there that God didn’t create or that’s not biological, it has Karen’s eyes.
Kent’s our landscape architect.
Our idea coming into it was like, “It’s this historic property and it’s old Texas.”
We’re going to build an old-looking barn-type structure.
We wanted it to be there.
You know that’s not it. You’re confused. We started down that path. If we try to make it look old, it will not look right. It’s not actually old. We went all the way in the other direction. We worked with an amazing architecture firm out of Austin, OPA Design Studio. Steve Oliver, their principal, has become a good friend of ours. He does a lot of brewery distillery work.
He knew the factory side but has an amazing eye for helping us to create this modern-looking structure. The premise was, “Let the trees, nature, and sky be our art.” It has huge windows and a pretty neutral palette, but it’s an open and airy modern ranch. I don’t know if that’s a real architecture or design term, but that’s what we call it. It’s clean lines with a lot of wood, steel, and glass. It’s modern but it fits in the space.
That idea and contrast has carried through our brand. Our brand promise that it’s all of these things of ethos, quality, and all of it. The idea of the look and feel of when you’re thinking Vista has carried through the contrast of modern ranch. It’s this beautiful agrarian setting with these modern-purpose designed facilities that are tucked into that in the same way that it is an elegant setting but is somewhat rustic.
When you drive in, our road is not paved. You drive in, “I’m going to this ranch brewery.” If you peek through the trees, then there are these modern buildings after you walk through the stonewall from the 1890s. It’s old and new together.
It’s a very elevated space. One of our brand pillars is an approachable premium, and that it is accessible on a Thursday to come and get a burger and a pint for $15. That’s not bargain-basement cheap. For most families, that’s something that they can do, and so they come in and are able to experience that. We’ve hosted Outstanding in the Field, where it’s $250 a plate.
Lots of large corporate groups are coming in, doing team-building events. Our catering menus are amazing. We’re getting these events that are huge, and then the family coming on the weekend to enjoy themselves.
You also have Outside the City Limits Festival once a year.
We do a lot of live music. Being in Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, we have access to so many awesome musicians here. We have weekly music. We do larger festivals and concerts throughout the year. The one in the fall, Outside the City Limits, is going to have 2 sound stages and 7 or 8 artists, but only 1,000 tickets sold. To any individual person, 1,000 sounds a lot.
When you’re talking hundreds of thousands, they go to ACL and all of the concerts themselves. It is boutique, but purposefully so, the whole idea is that we’re able to connect with all this stuff in a powerful way. Maybe this is a tangent that we may or may not want to explore, but part of our marketing strategy is about doing strategic events like that.
OCL, Outside the City Limits, is a business venture. We have to make a return on a big day like that. The idea behind it was that we amplify all of these things that are a part of what we do and are able to scream about it. It’s on the radio. We’re talking about it on all channels. Posters are up everywhere. Whether or not people come, they get a sense of what’s happening at Vista and Driftwood.
It is music, but there’s fine farmable food. There’s a great craft beer and Texas wine. It is a beautiful Hill Country space. It is this boutique thing. We get to go out and talk about that on the platform of Outside the City Limits, which, even in and of itself, is fun. This is what you’re doing when you’re going to come and hang out at Vista. You’re getting Outside the City Limits. What brings another zag in that tangent is the idea of distance and that we talk about it being in the country amidst these generational ranches. There are 641 large oak and elms with this expansive property, but we’re 25 minutes from downtown Austin, 1 hour or maybe 45 minutes from wherever you are in San Antonio.
In all the suburbs of Austin that are moving down I-35.
There are three stoplights between Vista and Lady Bird Lake. It is shocking if you see the hills in our logo. That was a design that Karen got to over a whole huge journey. That last hill that you come over on FM 150 is more symbolic. That’s the point at which you exhale. You let go of the hustle and bustle. Maybe you can set down that screen and forget about the deadline or whatever. There are 20 minutes from wherever you were. I get caught up because I think Austinites are a little spoiled.
You have Town Lake.
I still catch myself saying, “Town Lake, I mean, Lady Bird Lake.”
You know how long you’ve been here by what you call it. One of the reasons I moved to this area was that space because I went kayaking with a friend. I came for the weekend. I went kayaking and realized that within two minutes, I was outside. I took that breath of fresh air, and my shoulders relaxed. That was in college, so I didn’t need to relax as much then as I do now.
It’s the same concept. That’s why we’re growing so quickly. We’re out here in the Hill Country and Austin is gorgeous. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re amongst the skyscrapers than when you take that 20 to 30-minute drive to get out. One of the things that I find so wonderful, and I didn’t realize, is that I had never been to a brewery. Yours was the first brewery that I had ever been to.
I’ve told you guys before the story of my obsession with your brand and your business. It’s funny. I went to the brewery and thought the experience that you have was incredible. It’s not just about going and tasting this amazing beer.
That’s what I always say. We don’t sell beer. We sell the experience.
That’s the first time we’ve said beer, and we’re how far in this conversation.
We sell the experience of being there, the music, the food, and everything together, including the fresh air.
If you have a family, packing up a family is a big deal, especially if you have younger kids. You’re like, “We have to get this and this. All the snacks and all the things.” Once you get out there, it’s not just going to have a couple of beers with your friends, your spouse, or your partner. If you bring the whole family, with Vista, there is a playground.
It’s strategically designed to not be fully thought-out for the kids, either. The kids have to have an imagination. The fun thing about it is that kids play on the playground, but they’re running around in the woods and they’re playing with sticks, rocks, and balls and doing the things that kids are supposed to do.
Our kids have several different little forts and secret hiding places around that are there.
That’s the other thing. The kids will come and play and create a little tipi or something, and then they’ll have to leave, so the next kids that come are like, “What is this?” The imagination continues.
We’ll give a brewery or property tour to the group of parents, and then our kids will give their kids a tour of the forts. That organically happens.
That’s awesome. Has Vista lived up so far to the vision, mission, and passion that you wrote down in that notebook on your way to New Orleans?
The only thing missing from the notebook that we had in there is a place to stay, lodging. It’s in the plan. COVID delayed that plan a little bit. Having a place to stay would complete the picture that we came up with years ago.
Our original on the top of that page was BBB, Beer, Bed, and Breakfast.
We have the farm. I have my beehives, amazing food, and great beer.
Directly, we have to remind ourselves daily. For all of the entrepreneurs out there, you get that it’s a struggle.
You get caught up in the day-to-day.
It’s like, “You own a brewery. Wow.” There is all of that.
You’re not just drinking beer all day.
He sets aside one day a week for that.
Just one. We have to remind ourselves that we’ve done a lot in this period of time. It’s not hindsight rationalization. Legitimately, we are hitting the mark of what we set out to do. It’s not just the pretty picture that we’ve painted. It’s the subtext behind that. It’s all of those things that we talk about with Driftwood and with the level of execution that’s happening in the products that we put out.
Having a great team of people is what makes the business.Great businesses work with a great team of people. Click To Tweet
It’s the people that we work with.
We’ve hired now such a great team that they’re gelling the post-COVID era. We have great leaders and a great team.
That is symptomatic of us hitting the mark. We’re so lucky to have the leadership team that we do and the team working that we do. They’re truly experts in the field and truly passionate about what they’re doing that makes it. We had a pairing dinner, and I’m sitting there blown away. Our customers are sitting around us and I’m gushing in my mind.
I’m like, “This is amazing.” It’s because of our culinary team. Our chefs, cooks, general manager, and brewmaster. Our beer is the best beer I’ve ever had in my life. Of course, I’d say that but I believe it. Your question was, “Are we there?” I’d say, “I believe we are, and evidence of that is the quality of people that have come to be a part of that team.”
It’s the team who wants to work with you.
They want to do it because it’s not easy for them either. Everybody’s got to work hard.
Everybody has to drive. You guys are fairly close.
If you did a pie chart of where everybody lives on our team, probably the biggest number of them may be live in San Marcos, then Dripping Springs, a few Wimberley, and then South Austin. Everybody’s less than 30 minutes. You’re definitely not rolling out of bed yet on your bike and hopping over to the office.
When I moved to Driftwood, I realized that everything is 20 minutes away, except the Hays City Store or the post office in Vista.
Within the next months, there will be two H-E-Bs between our house.
Which is a sentiment to how quickly it’s growing, right?
Both are being built in the last years.
If you ever need to know where a population’s going, just look where H-E-B bought land years ago. They know.
I have two separate questions I want to make sure you answer. How do you keep yourself true to that mission, vision, and passion? What has been the greatest struggle in doing that or keeping things going?
I’ll start on how we get on the mission, vision, and values.
You’ll take the easy one? Okay.
A lot of people say that was hard. For us, it is easier. It is a momentum thing. Once this snowball gets to a critical mass of, “This is the vision. This is what’s going to happen,” it’s the land, the development, how it’s designed, connected to the community and the way that it is, and the people that are coming. Once you get that moving, it’s easier to keep that momentum and inertia around vision.Once you get moving toward the vision of your business, it’s easier to keep that momentum. Click To Tweet
It is a struggle to say that everybody has a different perspective on what a brewery is going to be. You’re going to a concert, and what that experience is going to be? Hopefully, for the folks that read this, they’re going to have like, “We’re going to go and experience this because we are expecting this beautiful place that has this heart that is connected to its community and is super high-quality stuff.”
The vast majority of people are coming over. They’re going to see a brewery on their list, and then they’re like, “I’m used to having pizza and beer in this industrial space.” We love that. That’s a part of who we are. Karen’s on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. We highly integrated and love that, but that’s not Vista.
There are moments where we catch ourselves like, “What does it mean to have to be a Texas destination while being an approachable premium and being world-class and a sustainable business?” Wouldn’t it be easier to change that menu a little bit? Cut those costs. It comes back to, “If we’re going to do that, then why are we doing this?” That’s an easy answer for Karen and I. Whenever that question comes up, it’s like, “If we’re going to do that, then why are we doing this?” That momentum with that vision keeps rolling.
We touch on our mission, vision, values, and brand pillars in almost every team meeting that we have. We’re always talking about it.
We talk through mission, vision, values, and brand pillars to every team member that’s hired. At every major quarterly and annual meeting that we have with our leadership team, we talk about mission, vision, and values. I don’t think I get a whole lot of eye rolls out of it. I’m up and I’m all animated and excited about it.
Knowing that you are truly dedicated and still excited about those pillars that you put into place is what gets them excited about it. It’s so much easier for them to check themselves if they see you checking yourself on a regular basis.
Thank you for saying that. I hope that’s the case. Our mission, vision, and values is a frame. This is what drives the heart of what we do. Our mission is not to brew the finest beer in Texas or to have the warmest hospitality. It’s not that. Our mission is to positively influence the way that people live their daily lives. It is extraordinarily aspirational, but creating an aspirational bar like that allows the rest of all of those things that are hard to define that we’ve talked about that are part of what Vista is. It pulls those along.
If we’re asking ourselves and telling ourselves what we’re doing here is to positively influence the way that people live their daily lives, then, we’re not going to let it just be this cost-cutting venture and these things. It’s got to be all of those other things together. The vision is that through the connection of world-class brewery top quality farm table cuisine, the beautiful natural land that we’re on, and the great local Texas music that’s played there.
People experience all of those things together and then realize that they can access those. We’re not making it so complicated. We want you to come to Vista and have that experience, but it’s like, “We’re in the heyday of the quality of beer that exists as a consumer. Don’t accept okay beer ever in any circumstance.”
When you’re H-E-B, do not go, “That’s good enough.” When you’re out at another place and you’re ordering a beer, there is no such thing as okay beer anymore. It should be fantastic. Hopefully, folks that come will have that fantastic experience and they’ll go, “That’s now what I’m seeking.” Hopefully, it’s Vista, but there are plenty of providers that are.We are in the heyday of craft beer in America. When ordering one, there is no such thing as okay beer anymore. It should be fantastic. Click To Tweet
The same applies to food in Austin. There are so many great restaurants in Austin.
We want our consumers, the Austinites, our community, and San Antonians to Wimberley, all the way around, to be spoiled but to realize that this is fine quality cuisine. I’ll put that Burger and Pint special. The burger is made with 21-day dry-aged beef from a ranch two miles down the road in Driftwood where those cows have been raised on spent grain from Vista’s beer. It is out of this world.
We could certainly buy cheaper beef. The story there, the sustainability of that, and the quality of what you taste in there are why we choose to serve that burger.
As a consumer, you can access that stuff. You go to the farmer’s market. You can get that. You can put that on your own table. You can buy the highest quality beer that exists right in H-E-B, and you can make that happen. The musicians that play have phenomenal talent. Music’s been a big part of my life, not in rock and roll, whatever.
Kent plays classical piano.
I love music and there are these amazing musicians that are playing. Maybe I never was one of the cool kids that understood what these names are and who they are, but they are. When folks come and sit down and listen, they may not have known who Deer Fellow was before they came but now they know what amazing quality sound is. It’s all around us in Austin in free shows.
It boggles the mind the number of things that you have access to that are free. Also, the culture that you have access to. That’s part of positively influencing the way people live their daily lives. You come and you see that. You experience it, then you know to seek it out. That’s what guides us because that’s where we got to where we are we. We’ve experienced these things and we knew we liked it, and then we realized what it was, and so we sought it out and we built it.
What advice would you have for someone who is driving to New Orleans in a rainstorm, thinking about starting their own business or jumping into a big change in their life and wanting to go after something that they’re passionate or dreaming about?
It’s all worth what you pay for it. One of my mantras sounds trite, but I believe in that situation where you’re considering your passion and what you’re going to do with it, if you can do something, you should. Don’t tell that to a teenager. When you’re in that place in your life and you’re thinking about all of the components of what would make this dream, whether there’s a very practical, “Do I have the skills, network, and resources to make that? Yes.”
“If I did this and it was a resounding failure, what would my option be on the other side of that and what does that look like?” You build that pro-con ledger, and if you can legitimately make it out like, “The pro of me doing this and of us as a family achieving this level of fulfillment together overcomes the strife, potential loss, and struggle that I’m going to have to go through it,” then you should do it. You will not appreciate the strife, struggle, and challenge until you do it. It’s hard and it’s every day.
Running your own business is like having kids. You can’t explain the love and hardship combination until you go through it.
In the same way with your kids, there is no greater reward and fulfillment that happens. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived through it. There’s no greater satisfaction and positive self-being that you can get from your family or realizing that vision through your vocation or business. We make it sound like, “You’ve got to drop everything and go. Be your passion.” That’s what we did, but people can do that in their everyday life.
I would say to surround yourself with people that are in the industry that you want to be in. Before we started, we went to a lot of breweries. We talked to a lot of people. I would say, “Get in there and ask them questions about their daily life. Ask them about their passion.”
Get involved with some fine dining, up-and-coming chefs and restaurants.
Learn as much as you can before you jump into it. After, continue having mentors and talking to people. The beer industry is good for that. People are very willing to help each other. We call it a coopetition. We’re not competitive. We help each other when we need to share ideas and resources.The people in the beer industry are willing to help each other. They are not that competitive and always share ideas and resources. Click To Tweet
That’s beautiful. Is there anything else that you want to share? We talked about some events, but there’s always something going on at Vista. What days do you close? That’s important.
We’re open Wednesday through Sunday. We’re closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Unless you have a private event. The space exists for people to have experiences. We have companies and families that do special events every day of the week. You had the whole place to yourself on Monday and Tuesday, depending on what it is. You might have it on Wednesday or Thursday, and we’ll close to the public. If you’re going out to have an experience with your friends, it’s Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then on the weekends.
One of the biggest parts of my role is to create our programming calendar. We always have something going on. We have live music every Friday and Sunday. We have an awesome brunch. We do a lot of things like classes and activations where outside vendors will come in and do something fun. We’re showing movies outdoors. We’re showing Home Alone. We are always doing something.
A lot of our programming is connected to either groups or things that we are passionate about. One thing I was proud of that happened, and it’s amazing that I want more people to go and experience is that we had a screening for Fin & Fur’s Deep in the Heart, the documentary on wildlife conservation and land conservation in the State of Texas. It’s narrated by Matthew McConaughey.
It’s an amazing National Geographic-level documentary, and these guys are incredible. To have a panel discussion with the Hill Country Conservancy and their producers, and to talk about not just, “How do you make this beautiful epic film? What does it mean? As a community, what can we do to be a part of that mission?”
In our programming, to be able to show something like that, engage with our guests in that way, and then inspire, you inspire most of them in a small way. It just becomes awareness, and then you make choices that are different in your life that help moves it in that direction. There might be a couple that are completely evangelized and become, “We’re going to go out and save some ocelots.” That’s a little wild cat for those of you who don’t know. I didn’t know that it exists in South Texas.
Anyways, we did that screening and it gives me chills even just thinking about it. A lot of our programming will come back to that. A lot of it’s fun. You got a home market, music, and Home Alone, but it connects to these community organizations that are meaningful for us. I said that about strategic marketing, but there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to do.
If you get out and you get on Do512 or whatever, the calendar is insane. I hope that folks will start getting selective with their choices on not just, “I’m going to go and have an escape and have something overwhelm my senses for a couple of hours, but it’s something that makes me better.” That’s what we strive to have as much of the time as we can. It’s programming and experiences that help people experience better things.
Even when there’s no programming at all, to me, it’s still one of the most amazing places to be. Thank you for creating it.
Steph, you’re awesome.
It is a wonderful space. It’s a gem in Texas, not just the Hill Country. You have done a fantastic job. For all of you guys who are reading who haven’t been there, take the day trip or come and find a way to take the journey over to Vista Brewing because it is worth it.
Thank you so much. Also, we have a tasting room in San Antonio now.
That’s right. We’ve talked so much. There’s still an hour’s worth of conversation that we can talk about.
It’s the layers of the onion.
There’s so much more I wanted to talk about, too, but we’ll have to have a part two. By then, so much will probably change as well. Thank you, guys, so much for joining me and telling us about your story. If you guys want to learn more, go out to Vista. These people are there all the time. You can get the Fort Tour from the kids.
I gave a tour of the apiary to a group.
That’s the other thing. You can go walk the land. It’s not just a brewery. You can go see the garden and walk amongst all those oak trees. It is a beautiful place. Good job. Thank you.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for having us.