A few years ago, while sharing a pint with Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette, he made an interesting comment as we looked out on the then-newly-remodeled patio and the full crowd enjoying themselves out there.
“Man, Jamie saved this place,” Guilmette said. “I almost thought about walking away, but she turned it around.”
Any fans of Canteen and Zach’s amazing beers can go ahead and raise a pint to general manager Jamie Schwebach the next time you see her working hard to keep the taproom humming at the main location. She has helped bring the brewery to life, with changes big and small, all to help improve the experience for customers and staff.
We caught up with Schwebach last week for our latest entry in our series focusing on women working in the New Mexico craft beer industry. While we have talked to her plenty of times about the brewery, this was our first one-on-one interview, which she admitted she was reluctant to do at first. The other women in the industry helped convince her to accept our request.
After earning an MA in medical anthropology from New Mexico, Schwebach moved to Albuquerque in 2006 to intern with the New Mexico AIDS Services and Women’s Health Project. Needing a little more money to help pay the rent, she also picked up a job at Two Fools Tavern in Nob Hill. It was there that she managed to leave a positive impression on co-owner Tom White, who is also one of the owners of Canteen along with Rick Post and Greg Atkin.
Schwebach worked for various nonprofits, from Make a Wish to New Mexico Youth Rugby, before returning to Two Fools on a full-time basis. When the Canteen general manager position opened up, White offered her the job.
“Tom gave me the opportunity to come work here, and working for Tom, Rick, and Greg has been very fortunate for me,” Schwebach said. “It’s been a pleasure. I’ve learned a lot, and they’ve given me the opportunity to learn. Coming in with Zach, and Zach is a very patient human, it’s taught me a lot. His connections and knowledge has been amazing; he’s taught me a lot. I still have so much to learn, probably much to his frustration.”
We kind of doubt that, considering how often Guilmette sings her praises, but ultimately it was the other people at Canteen that earned the praise from Schwebach.
“I’m very fortunate for that leadership team, and then also just the rest of the guys in the back, as well as all of our front-of-house staff,” she said. “This is probably the best front-of-house staff we’ve had in a long time. We’ve got such a hard-working group of humans, but they also really care about service, they care about our customers, they care about or team, they care about beer.”
Finding a staff that cares is huge, especially in the current state of the industry as it climbs out of the year-plus of pandemic restrictions.
“They care, (and) I think that’s an element that we forget,” Schwebach said. “We try to make sure we’re taking care of our staff, too. I think that’s why we’re so fortunate in the beer business in New Mexico, everybody really does care about their team. And, hopefully it’s going to keep everybody working and happy, and we can continue to get through the challenging time that is right now.”
Keeping Canteen moving forward was enough of a challenge for Schwebach, but then she went and piled even more on her plate, joining the New Mexico Brewers Guild board of directors.
“Which is fun!” she said. “When I started, because I didn’t know anything about beer, and I came in as such a newbie, except for just the experience of drinking it and going to beer festivals, I started volunteering first for some of the festivals, because I thought it was the best way to learn, and to get to know people in the business. It was great, and (former executive director) John Gozigian was so awesome in terms of letting me volunteer and meeting everyone who was on the board at that time. Having the opportunity to join the board has continued to teach me a lot, which has been great.
“I’m in my second term. Just serving with the men and women on that board has been great, they all have such different experiences and expertise. It’s taught me a lot and also continued to teach me what a great community beer is in Albuquerque and in New Mexico.”
The Guild is now back to full operational status in terms of starting up its own events again. The golf tournament fundraiser was last week, and Schwebach said it went great for everyone involved, bringing in brewery staff members from all over the state.
“That was the first fundraiser the Guild has been able to do in a year-and-a-half,” she said. “Just getting everyone together was really nice to see.”
Working with current executive director Leah Black and the other women on the board has also been a plus for Schwebach.
“We’ve got a great text thread of women in beer,” she said. “We’re all communicating and check in (constantly). That was such a savior through all of this. It was a little olive branch, if you will. Even though we can’t see each other, we’re all still there supporting each other.”
It is the people in the greater craft beer community, from staff to customers, who present both the best and most challenging parts of the job, especially in the era of COVID-19.
“I think the best parts of the job are definitely the people, but those are also the greatest challenges,” Schwebach said. “If you think about the challenges and the best parts now compared to a year-and-a-half ago, they’ve changed. You know, the best part is the staff we work with is definitely amazing, and the customers who drink here, you get to know them, and that’s amazing.
“Some of the greatest challenges are (certain) customers, I think now more than ever, because they have some expectations that are unrealistic. I see that in some places that have a more heavy food menu, and that’s hard. I think it’s a challenge not to take reviews personally. But, the best part is you know there are people coming in here from all walks of life, whether they drive heavy equipment or are a fancy lawyer or anything like that. They’re coming in here to share a pint, and beer brings people together, and that’s beautiful. Having bar seating back again (means) seeing strangers communicate again.”
Schwebach said some of the Canteen regular customers from before the pandemic did not return, in part due to health reasons. It has made her focus even more on making sure everyone is doing OK, especially her front-of-house staff.
“It was hard last year to let your staff go, and worry what they were going to do, and then trying to make sure everyone (that stayed) is OK,” she said. “I think still we have (those concerns). Now I worry are people working too much, or is the public being too mean. I’m really worried a lot more about emotional and mental health for everybody, which I’m glad people are talking about now. It’s about time.”
That conversation on a national level has now grown to include how women are treated in the industry, both by male co-workers and customers.
“I feel fortunate stepping into this role, even though our owners are male and Zach is male, that they welcomed me and I never had an issue with that leadership team of being female,” Schwebach said. “I also feel, when I worked in rugby, I probably had more issues running rugby leagues as a woman than I have in a leadership role in beer. Maybe that’s just sport versus beer, though both are male dominated. But, in both cases, in both rugby and in beer, there are a lot of women in leadership that are strong and powerful and welcoming.”
While no specific negative incidents came to mind, Schwebach said that oftentimes it is just the little moments where women have to deal with various aggravations and signs of disrespect.
“You still have moments when what you say isn’t counted, because you’re not a guy, and that sucks,” she said. “No, I actually know my job, and I know about what I’m speaking, and I’m not going to speak that I’m not aware of. Don’t say can I talk to someone else, can I talk to your supervisor, can I talk to your brewer.
“I think it still bothers me how often I hear hey sweetheart, hey honey, any of those pet names. I think if we can, as a society, as a culture, not do that. Whether it’s female servers, female owners, female bartenders, if we could just not refer to that, treat each as humans, treat each other as equals. I think there’s a whole generation of humans out there who are trying not to demean women, but I think (for some) it’s how they were raised.”
That cannot and should not still be an excuse, however. It is something that needs to change, but there are no easy solutions as to how it should change.
“I wish there was an answer,” Schwebach said. “I worry (and) I hope I haven’t been blindsided or glazed over the fact of anything happening in terms of how women are treated. I hope and feel they’re treated well here, but that makes me worry, too. I think that as women, we also need to make sure we’re looking out for each other, both men and women, in our industry, that we’re all being treated equal.”
Schwebach has seen some positive signs that the industry, and society as a whole, is beginning to change the more people are willing to open up and talk about the many issues in regards to equality.
“I think the group that was started here, Cheers to Change, is such a great thing that is going to drive, hopefully, a better industry here in Albuquerque and New Mexico,” she said. “I give incredible props to those individuals who started that group, and continue to start that conversation. I think that we can all do better to make it a more inclusive environment for everyone.
“I don’t know how we fix it, I don’t know how we make it better, expect continuing the conversation, being open to it, and not being afraid to have the conversation. But, also to have a conversation where we’re not being defensive and angry, but also constructive, and being willing to see our own deficiencies as well as to do better, and help others. We can’t keep pushing it under the rug.”
At the end of the day, Schwebach said it is up to everyone, staff and customers, to work together to make the beer industry a better place.
“I think everybody, we’re all working harder than we’ve ever had to work before,” she said. “I think we’ve all been taking on more roles because we had to, and as we look at staffing and everything else, we’re all just doing what we has to be done to get it done. I think that’s everyone in our industry. We’re all working harder. I just hope consumers are patient and kind, and we’re so thankful for everyone coming out, but it’s harder, it’s a harder business than it’s ever been. But, we’re also fortunate to still be here.”
We can all raise a pint to that. A huge thanks to Jamie for the interview, and the pint of Helles Awaits.
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