By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Larger Oregon urban areas have become craft beer boom towns. But what if you wanted to open the first brewpub in a small town with a population of 9,795? What if you wanted to start a family too?
That’s what Kate Price and her husband Ben Price considered when they opened Hard Knocks Brewing in Cottage Grove, south of Eugene, in 2014. She expected challenges, both to open and to meet demand with their 7-barrel brew system (captained by Nate Sampson, formerly of Rogue). But Price was no greenhorn. Her experience includes being a Cottage Grove City Council member, a Peace Corps volunteer and owner and founder of Anytime Fitness in Cottage Grove.
She also understood that success isn’t a solo endeavor, but a collaborative effort.
New Ventures and the Lessons of Experience
The most important thing she’s learned? “You have to build a good team. You could be the best leader and entrepreneur, but if you aren’t surrounded by people who share your vision, you will fail.”
The Hard Knocks team began with the Prices. “We looked at how we managed people,” she explains. “What are they good at? What do they want to do?” Kate focused on sales and marketing: social media, building relationships and selling beer. Ben handled day-to-day operations for the pub, brewery, inventory and overall business.
“Women are often, in business, more willing to take risks,” says Price. “Men have a different expectation: Do the good job. Women, we don’t get paid as much. The expectations are higher. So we push more and take more risks. We are more willing to be more creative.”
Price has also gained a firsthand understanding of how men and women can focus on different priorities — and how that’s an asset. “I want to see if things are where they should be,” she explains. “Is something dirty that shouldn’t be? Ben won’t notice that, but I will. It’s a part of the experience that women are more likely to notice. We bring an attention to detail that men don’t necessarily pick up on.”
Leadership and Service
Taking charge is nothing new. “I never felt like I was limited in what I could do as a woman. I always felt like I was empowered. What I wanted to do, I could do,” she says. “I’m used to having a role that people feel comfortable following me.”
After college, Price joined the Peace Corps in 2007, serving a year in a small village in Togo along Africa’s west coast. The experience “is the foundation of everything I’ve done since.”
The village was poor, with no public services, but those weren’t the things that Price missed most. “It taught me what you can live without,” she explains. “Electricity and running water weren’t that important. It made me value my relationships more. Made me grateful for government, law, order, and justice — things that don’t exist in a lot of the world. It changed me as a person and enabled me to come back, focus and do what I needed to do to become successful.”
Improving Life and Community
While working toward her master’s in conflict resolution at the University of Oregon, Price interned with the United Nations and the Oregon State Legislature. “People were recommending I run for something,” says Price. “The U.N. tipped it. I saw how government worked on a global scale. That foundational piece is the community, then the state, then the country, then the world.”
Her understanding coincided with the 2012 election to fill a city council seat.
Price ran on an economic-development ticket. “I understand the importance of community, and it hinges around businesses,” she explains. “If you have a business like mine and you can make enough money, you can give back to that community and make it stronger.”
Challenges for Women, Opportunities for the Industry
Price was 31 when she opened an Anytime Fitness franchise in Cottage Grove in 2009. She was also gaining an appreciation for craft beer.
“When I met Ben, on our third date I told him, ‘You work at Rogue, you know a lot about beer, and I would like to learn more and develop my palate,’” Price recalls. “He got me hooked on local craft stuff, on IPAs.”
Alongside Hard Knocks, the Prices began another startup: a family. “I was trying to take care of the baby and manage launch,” says Price. “We are now expecting our second baby. I do a lot of stuff from home, balancing marketing and sales while also doing the bulk of the work with the kids.”
Price acknowledges the challenges women face in work and family life. “Even with my husband, who is pretty forward-thinking overall, I’m still the one who is the primary caregiver because he’s working all the time,” says Price. “And there are biological reasons for that, such as breastfeeding.”
Another limitation? “I can’t drink right now: I’m pregnant. It takes women out and makes the beer scene inaccessible. People can be afraid to talk about that biological difference,” Price says. “And we need to talk about it. If a woman wants to be home with kids, great. I’m having kids, but I still work. I will be back selling beer. That’s because I enjoy it. It makes me happy.”
The Public in the Pub
What makes the challenges worthwhile is what Price sees as Hard Knocks’s role as an ongoing catalyst for a stronger community.
“Hard Knocks isn’t just a brewery,” Price explains. “Our role here specifically is different than if we had done it in Eugene/Springfield, because no one has done it here. We’ve been educating people on craft beer, the role of a brewery and pub in the community.”
Kate and Ben Price know they are also serving their family, the town they call home and something bigger.
“Oregon is really paving the way for the brewing industry,” says Price. “I like the culture. You can always strive to achieve and do better.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.