By Erik Cassano
Dallas Wolfe IV has been pursuing a dream to become a professional brewer, but it has taken a lot of planning and hard work to make that dream a reality.
By day, he works full-time for the military, and has been doing so for the past 15 years. He has been a huge craft beer fan since 2012, but five years ago, craft beer was very difficult to come by in the Appalachian towns of northern West Virginia.
“I was going to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., to find new craft beers,” Wolfe says. “There just wasn’t any craft beer here.”
To remedy that, Wolfe decided to try his hand at making his own, and four years ago, bought his first home brewing kit.
“My first attempt at making beer was a complete failure,” he says. “I immediately realized that I’d need to start putting more effort into brewing.”
As his hobby became a passion, he decided he wanted to open a brewery. Wolfe knew that turning his home-based hobby into establishing High Ground Brewing required more than great beer recipes: He needed to draft a plan and start taking deliberate steps toward achieving his goal.
It all started with a plan.
“You need to spend time to write a complete business plan,” he says. “Use it as a true study of feasibility, and don't skew the results to prove feasibility. Do the work to ensure everything truly works, which means sacrificing things to ensure success.”
The plan must be realistic, practical, and executable.
“I spent four years refining it until I was confident enough to present it to a financial institution,” he says. “When it came time to execute, there were very few surprises because I spent the time planning.”
But even with planning and confidence, it was not an easy road. Wolfe spent months contacting banks, sharing his vision, and outlining his business plan, but those efforts fell flat.
“I was hoping banks would be supportive of a local business,” he says. “But nobody wanted to even take a look at me. They’d hear me out, but that was the end of it.”
Then Wolfe called Huntington and instantly knew he’d found his banking match.
“They gave me the time,” he said. “They asked a lot of questions, wanting to understand my vision. My SBA loan officer went over my business plan in detail, made sure it was right. and acted as a liaison. He took the time to ensure everyone at Huntington understood what we were trying to do, but he was realistic and said it wasn’t a slam dunk, yet further refinement and an additional equity injection, Huntington decided they could help me.”
There were still hurdles to clear, but in July 2018, Huntington approved a U.S. Small Businesses Administration startup loan1 , allowing Wolfe to build a 2,400-square-foot brewery in Terra Alta, West Virginia.
Just the beginning
Wolfe says confidence was critical to getting his business off the ground.
“It’s key to leading any organization,” he says. “Confidence is knowing where you are going and remaining calm through adversity. As a leader, you can't lose control of your emotions.”
It’s also important to remain calm and collected.
“Turn challenges into opportunities to mentor those around you and personally grow yourself,” Wolfe says. “In the military, we say, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy,’ meaning things will go wrong, and you must be prepared to adapt and overcome all challenges.”
It’s also important to surround yourself with good people, including friends and family. Wolfe’s wife, Jana, is the marketing and advertising director at High Ground. Friend Adam Moats is the second brewer, while his father, Dallas Wolfe III, is sales and distribution manager. High Ground recently hired a full taproom staff, including manager Ky Reckart.
“You will not be successful if you don’t have support,” he says. “Surround yourself with people who believe in your plan and have confidence in your ability to lead them to success. Get to know those who work for the business. You must delegate authority, and you cannot delegate properly if you do not know the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and those around you. People are your most precious asset, so never miss an opportunity to acknowledge that.”
On Feb. 28, 2019, High Ground Brewing produced its first batch of beer and opened a taproom on May 15, 2019. Even with the business up and running, challenges remain. Wolfe still holds a full-time job and is working 80 to 100 hours a week.
“Everything costs something,” he says. “What you don’t pay with money must be paid with sweat.”
Finding the right balance in production is also challenging.
“We are trying to make sure we don’t overbrew or oversell.” he says. “You need to find the balance between manufacturing and distribution.”
As the business continues to grow, Wolfe envisions a day when High Ground is a destination for beer fans, with the ability to share great West Virginia craft beer with surrounding states through distribution.
“But as much as that, we want to give back to our community,” he says. “We are West Virginians, and we are unique in our passion and dedication to helping other West Virginians.”
As he grows High Ground, he continues to be grateful for the foundation Huntington gave him when his brewery was just a dream.
“I want to someday retire from the Army and become a full-time brewer,” he says. “Huntington is allowing me to live that dream. I thank them for giving me a chance. This never would have happened without them.”
For more information, visit highgroundbrewing.co, or find High Ground Brewing on Facebook.