Women have always been on the frontier of beer. Before hops, words like “craft,” and before there was an industry, women kept their households stocked with the ancient ales. Traditionally they were the brewers, or “brewsters.” Now, from the “front of house” to the fermenters, women are excelling in every aspect of the craft beer industry. In New Mexico, many women have made solid careers for themselves, bartending, serving, hostessing, managing, quality control, marketing … the list goes on. With nothing less than their intelligence, tenacity, and take-no-prisoners attitudes, women are earning their rightful places in this business. And of course they should. It’s about time that history repeated itself.
This article marks my second in the Dark Side Brew Crew’s New Mexico Women in Brewing series, and this time I sat down with Colleen Sager, general manager and front of house manager at both Second Street locations in Santa Fe.
DSBC: How long have you been in the beer industry, Colleen?
Sager: I’ve been at Second Street for about 3½ years now. But, when I was living in upstate New York, I was working at a bar called the Ale House. They didn’t brew their own beer, but they had 15 rotating taps, so when I moved back to Santa Fe, I decided I wanted to get a job somewhere in the beer industry because I had so much fun working at the Ale House. It took me a while, because the turnover for this place is pretty low. So I started in Second Street in October (2012), about 3½ years ago.
DSBC: How did you become General Manager and Front of House Manager?
Sager: When I started off here, I was the hostess. And then you kind of go through the ranks then, where you serve for a little bit, then you bartend. So I learned how to do pretty much everything, as far as every position here. And that summer, this was when Josh Johns (currently the co-owner of Fire and Hops) was still manager. That summer Josh didn’t really have any shifts that he could give me, permanently, because he did have such a good crew on it at that time. So instead, he offered me an Assistant Manager position to help him out, so he could go between both locations and have somebody here, in the meantime. So I was the Assistant Manager for a while and then when Josh left, Carrie and I kind of took over running things. She, for the most part, did the scheduling and all that at the original location, and I was here. Then we hired Sean Ewy, and I was his assistant manager for a while. And then when Sean left, Rod (Tweet) asked if I was interested in the job, and at that point, I figured I had kind of been doing the job for a while now, so I might as well get paid for it. (Laughs)
DSBC: And you gotta get the title!
Sager: Yeah, exactly!
DSBC: As a manager, you have a lot of responsibilities at both locations. What does a typical work week/weekend look like for you at the Brewery and at the Railyard?
Sager: Oh my gosh. (Laughs)
DSBC: I imagine there’s a lot of driving back and forth, right?
Sager: A lot of driving back and forth, or riding my bike, if I can make it. There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s funny, people constantly ask me, “Which one do you work at?” And I tell them, “It totally depends on who needs me more.” I don’t know. A typical week is hard, because there’s no such thing as a typical week in the restaurant world. But essentially, I guess my mornings start off answering e-mails, helping with daily specials, if I need to, but now we’ve got a pretty good system so that the staff can handle that really well. On Wednesdays, every single Wednesday, I have a meeting with Rod, and that’s when we go over merchandise. We go over any sort of ads we need to do; if I’m having any staff problems, all of the good and bad we talk about at that meeting. So that’s how Wednesday always starts off. And then you just sort of hit the ground running. If we have a busy lunch and I need to jump on the floor and help ‘em, I do. A lot of meetings, especially when it comes to our marketing; I probably have meetings once a week with Monsoon Design, talking about new T-shirt ideas, or posters. If I want to work on new artwork for T-shirts, and for growlers, and for things like that. Then I usually get a sales rep or two a week, but I’ve done a pretty good job at scaring them away, for the most part. But, sometimes I am interested and I will listen to their spiel.
James Bell now does all of our music booking, and I try to meet with him at least once a week, especially now that we have to start booking, or not booking, depending on the summer concert series. He and I have to have really good communication about that, and about what bands I like, like what bands do I not have to tell, multiple times, to turn their music down. Who doesn’t argue about turning the music down?
It’s weird. My days, my mornings, and my early afternoons will consist of a lot of meetings and a lot of computer time, and then I’ll have a have a couple of hours to work on schedules, or if I’m hiring new people, trying to work that out. Then, the afternoon kind of shifts to me on the floor.
DSBC: And dealing with whatever needs dealing with, crowd control, etc.
Sager: Exactly. I’m just an extension of whatever they need me to be. If the bartender needs help, I pour beers. If the host needs help, I talk to customers. Even if they need help in the kitchen, not necessarily cooking, but getting stuff out of the window quickly, things like that. It’s the good thing about having started here, as a host, and then a float, and then a server, and then a bartender … It’s a great thing for me, and the staff, and a bad thing, also, because it’s good that I can help anybody in any situation and know how to handle it. It’s a bad thing for them, because I know the job, and sometimes I’m like, you can do this. You could do a little more, but I also understand when they’re overwhelmed, too.
DSBC: What’s one aspect of the Second Street experience that you try to focus on the most in your job? What’s most important to you?
Sager: One thing that Rod and I had talked a lot about this year that we want to do is make Second Street the place where people “experience beer.” And what I mean by that is, I want people who are beer aficionados and who aren’t beer aficionados, people who know they love hops and people who have no idea what they like because they drink Bud Light all the time. I want them to come here and learn about beer. So we’ve taken a few steps to get to that, which is, a lot of beer classes for our servers and bartenders. And telling them this is what you guys absolutely need to know about beer. I need them to at least know the basics. I want them to know certain things about our system, like that we have a 10-barrel system, and things like that. I need them to be able to describe the beer, at least a little bit.
DSBC: At least to where the customer knows what they’re about to experience.
Sager: Exactly. I want my staff to understand things as simple as what’s the difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA, so when we have Mosaic Month, and we have the Mosaic Pale Ale and the Mosaic IPA, they can describe what the difference is between the two, instead of saying that there’s just an extra word in there. So that’s one thing that’s super important to me this year is that I want people, especially beer drinkers, to come in and be able to experience beer drinking.
DSBC: What’s the toughest part of your job?
Sager: Well, for me it’s different having two restaurants than it is for most managers. You know, (I would assume) when you have one restaurant to run, it’s a little easier to kind of keep on track of what needs to be done and how to do it. For me, it’s been really tricky to know which restaurant I need to be at and when. My staff does a really good job, especially my bartenders. When I’m not here, technically the bartender is the manager on duty, and they do a really good job of handling that, but other than that, until recently in the last couple of weeks, I haven’t had an assistant manager, really. So, knowing who needs my help, when and how, but then also finding a good balance between that, so that if it seems like I’m at the Railyard a lot, it’s not necessarily that I’m ignoring the original location, but I know that they are not as busy right now. So that’s been really tricky, but I’m hoping — I did hire someone in the last couple of weeks — I’m hoping that works out well, and that’ll be all the help I need right now, and that will kind of eliminate that part of the process.
DSBC: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Sager: There’s a lot. Number one, I love working with Rod. He’s the reason I’m in Santa Fe. I had one foot out the door, ready to be in Denver, or somewhere else. And I realized that working with him was awesome. And once I took on the job as GM, I realized that he’s the best boss I’m ever gonna have. So, that, for me, is the most rewarding part of it, is being able to work so close with him. The other thing, too, is that I love my staff. We all get along really well. We all joke around a lot. We all understand that, yes we have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. And I think that’s important. I just feel like life is too short to not have fun, and we have to work. So you might as well have fun while you’re at work, otherwise what’s the point? And this job can be super stressful, for everybody, from the hostess, to me, to the dishwasher. You know everybody’s job here can be super stressful, and the only way to alleviate that, is by finding a way to have fun with it. So yeah, I love my staff. I love my boss. I think that everybody right now is getting along really well. We’re all really excited about summer, which is good, as opposed to dreading it.
Before Second Street, Colleen had moved to Upstate New York to get her Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology. During this time, she was working as a server. Later, she moved back to Santa Fe due to some family obligations where she began working at Second Street. She hadn’t been there a year and the East Coast called. She had loved it there and wasn’t ready to give up the culture. So, she left Second Street and moved to Manhattan where she was there for nearly four months. She loved Manhattan, but soon realized that living there was quite a different experience. It was soon apparent to her that Second Street was where she belonged. So she came back, worked at another restaurant, biding her time, until something opened up at Second Street. After working at the Ale House in Ithaca, she knew she was going to work in the beer industry.
DSBC: Now that you’re here, what is it like working in a male-dominated industry?
Sager: Oh, it’s fun! Dirty jokes and plenty of beer to go around, there’s never a dull moment. No, it’s great! Every now and then it’ll dawn on me that it is very male-dominated and kind of like a boys club, but I’ve never been in a situation where anybody has made me feel like I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, or I was in on a conversation that I shouldn’t be in on. And I’m not just talking about people at Second Street either. The more that I’m at places like GABF or even the more beer shows I get to go to, and I’m getting to meet other brewers and other owners from around the state, you know, I’ve never felt out of place. I’ve never felt like I was the outsider in the boy’s club. And so that’s been nice. But, yeah, it will seriously take sitting down at a table full of a bunch of guys, when we’re talking about brewfests or things like that, before I realize that I could be the only girl here.
DSBC: Do you ever think that people in the business don’t take you seriously?
Sager: I think if they don’t, they learn pretty quickly that that’s a big problem. (Laughs) No, I mean, I guess even with customers here, when we were in that transitional phase, between Josh Johns and Sean Ewy, and I was the acting manager, there were a couple of issues that we had with regulars. And all it took was one conversation with them, for them to realize OK, A. Don’t screw with Colleen, and B. Don’t screw with her staff. Because I will find you. I will threaten you. And I will tell you, “If you ever do that at my bar again, you will be gone.” So, I think that people for the most part learned pretty quickly, dude, don’t mess with me. (Laughs) And I mean that in the best way possible.
On her first day Colleen had watched as Josh Johns dealt with an unruly regular. He had said, “You know bro, we’re friends, and I appreciate that. And you’re a really good regular, but if you ever pull anything like that in my bar again, you’re gone.” From that moment on Colleen knew that Josh meant business, and saw that that was how people handled each other at Second Street. “If we’re gonna do adult things, like drink beer, than you need to act like an adult,” she added.
DSBC: So as a woman, then, do you think you’ve had to be more assertive?
Sager: I’ve never felt that way, no.
DSBC: How about with staff? Have you ever felt like they didn’t respect your authority at one time or another?
Sager: No, I think that my staff knows me well enough, because we have worked together for so long. I think what freaks them out is they know that I’m being serious when I’m all of a sudden serious. I’m not joking around. I’m not making jokes. I think my voice kind of changes a little bit.
DSBC: I’ve seen your face change to “Serious Colleen” on a busy Friday night before. What challenges do you face, specifically, as a woman?
Sager: My staff knows when it changes from “Fun Colleen,” who is constantly joking around and making the dirtiest joke I can possibly make to keep the mood light, to no, I’m talking to you RIGHT now. In this voice. And I’m being stern. And they’re like, OK, she’s being serious.
DSBC: Yeah, I can see the change, now. Don’t mess with Colleen.
Sager: But then three seconds later we’re joking around again. I made my point. No need to dwell on it.
DSBC: Life’s too short. What’s something you feel women add to the beer industry, or something you’ve added to the industry, as a woman?
Sager: At least for us, I can say merchandise has been a big one. Before I got here, it was just the guys, and they did a great job. And Jason Walker, and everyone at Monsoon know the industry and where it is, but when I took on the GM position and was in charge of doing more merchandise, I had women coming up to me and say, “We love the stuff you have for women.” And that’s something that Jason and I talk about all the time, “Is our female clientele going to like this? Is it going to flatter them the way it needs to?”
DSBC: Women are not just an afterthought in beer merchandising anymore.
Sager: Right. And that’s one thing I think I’ve helped to change around here. We also work with Nichole Breihan, who helps with our social media and stuff like that. Nichole and I will have conversations, too, about are there certain things that we need to do differently with our social media to reach out to women? Or even just in general, ‘like should we have a beer class that we put on for women only?’ I know that there’s a totally different social way that men and women see beer. I feel like it’s only been recently, like maybe in the last five-to-ten years, that it’s become a thing where women don’t want to just go and drink cocktails, like Cosmopolitans. They want to come to a brewery and have beer. And they can have that conversation about beer with whoever’s behind the bar.
DSBC: But you don’t see a lot of women sitting by themselves at the rail. Why do you think that is?
Sager: I have two theories. One, I think that if a single woman sits by herself at a bar full of dudes, she’s going to get hit on nonstop. Two, goes back to the social dynamic of it. Either, I want to be alone, so I’ll sit at a table and be left alone, or I can come with my girlfriend or a friend or whoever, and that’s when they sit at the bar.
DSBC: Do you have any female role models or anyone that inspires you to be a strong woman?
Sager: I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about that before. This might sound awkward, but in order to be a “woman in power,” if I am in charge of this bar, I feel like there is a certain statute of, I’m not going to take any crap off of you because I need you to take me seriously. I know that I’ve just had to be tough enough to tell people, ‘You need to knock it off,’ whether it’s my staff, or people that walk in the door, even sometimes with sales reps. That’s part of this job; you have to be that confident person.
DSBC: And so for you, it’s more like finding inner inspiration. You have to tell yourself to be confident and strong, because it’s in the job description.
DSBC: What advice would you give to other women who have a passion for craft beer and might want to get into the industry?
Sager: I think in anything, because the beer industry is booming right now, it’s good for anybody to know that it’s gonna take work. Not to say that it didn’t take work 10 or 15 years ago, before it was what it is. I think now, people need to understand that because craft beer is such a popular thing right now. There are a lot of people going to brewing school right now. There are maybe more people in HRTM (Hotel Restaurant and Tourism Management) programs, or in business programs, where their goal is to end up in a brewery or to end up brewing beer. And you can’t just come up to any brewery and say, ‘Hey, I brew some beer at home,’ you have to work hard for it. And if you’re willing to work hard for it, I think that’s fine, but have to prove that other part of it, too, now.
DSBC: You have to earn it and you can’t be afraid to start at the bottom.
Sager: No, definitely, and I think that sometimes that’s important, because, like I said, for me, multiple times, starting at the bottom has worked out really well for me and everybody else here. Whatever goals you have, you need to understand the commitment that it takes, as I guess you could say to anybody starting off a new career. And I guess, to the ladies out there, who are thinking about the beer industry, don’t take any sh*t.
DSBC: Well put. Finally, what is your favorite beer style to relax with after having to kick so much ass all day?
Sager: I am a huge IPA person. Yeah, I love our house IPA. The St. George IPA is probably my favorite beer that Rod brews.
DSBC: Really? Nice.
Sager: I love that beer, always have. And then you can’t go wrong with the Fulcrum, Pivotal, Trebuchet. So, anytime those are on, I’m a pretty happy person. The more hops the better. I was at Marble last week, and I had both their Double IPA and their regular IPA, and both were really good. If it’s a hoppy beer, I’m happy.
* * * * *
The beer industry is like many other industries in that an inequality remains, and because it has been male-dominated for so long, women oftentimes have to work harder to earn their stripes, be more stern to be taken seriously, and prove themselves when sometimes just a beard will do. But what makes the beer industry different, I believe, is that there is more support now, from other women and from men. I think men really want women to succeed in this industry. But, from the women I’ve spoken to, all of whom I admire greatly, it’s clear that they need no one’s approval. They’ve earned their place. And for that, and much more, the Dark Side Brew Crew salutes you.