Women in Small Business: Olive Pit Brewing’s Christine Cain

LISBON – Christine Cain didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to open a brewery. Rather, it was a long and tortuous journey that brought them to this city of 4,000 people.

The daughter of educators, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale, and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Rochester.

“I never really knew what I wanted to do,” she explained.

A stint with a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC brought home the reality of how difficult it is to make a living on a nonprofit salary in an expensive city. Then it was on to a B2B company where the money and experience were good but wouldn’t be enough. The dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and the company she worked for went bankrupt.

“I was just looking for work and it was supposed to be something short-term, so I figured what I like,” Cain continued. “I like sports and I like books, so that’s when I applied to Dick’s Sporting Goods and (what was then) Borders.”

She accepted the position at Dick’s and soon found herself in the company’s management training program – the beginning of her career as a retail manager. She was soon poached by nearby Barnes & Noble, where she rose through the ranks to become a branch manager over 10 years.

Changes at Barnes & Noble forced her to rethink things further, leading to two more positions at the company and three years running her own e-commerce website.

Meanwhile, she met her future partner, who fell in love while on a trip to visit a friend in Maine. With nothing to lose, the women set some parameters and in 2015 moved Rochester, New York in the rearview mirror and moved to Brunswick. Cain spent the next nearly seven years as a Starbucks executive in Auburn.

She said she’s grateful to Starbucks for making the move to Maine possible, but the work is physically demanding being on my feet all day. “That’s part of it,” she said. “I figured if I work that hard at 50, I’ll work for myself.”

THE ROAD TO LISBON FALLS

Christine Cain fills Sechtel Pink Boots Cranberry Sour at Olive Pit Brewing in Lisbon Falls on September 22nd. The beer went to Smitty’s Game Lab in Topsham. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

In October 2018, an idea started brewing in her head. “We were driving around one autumn afternoon,” Cain explained. “Because that’s what we did when we moved to Maine — to drive and enjoy the scenery — and we happened upon Grateful Grains in Monmouth.” The shop wasn’t even open yet, she recalls, but the brewer was was there and they talked about business. That night Cain had an epiphany. You could do this.

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Cain loves the tasting room experience and trying new things. But one trend in Maine brewing stood out, and not in a good way. Most of the craft brews they encountered were very progressive – something neither Cain nor her wife like. Hops are an essential ingredient in beer, and while they add flavor, hops are also bitter. There is a physiological explanation for their reaction, but for the sake of brevity, the explanation is that females have more bitter taste buds than males. And hoppy beers tend to be more bitter, so it’s not far-fetched to conclude that most women don’t like IPA-style beers as much as men do. That set the wheels in motion. Over the next six months, Cain set about solving problems – could she get the funding working, where would she find a building, can she make decent beer? On her birthday in May 2019, while sitting around a fire pit near Acadia National Park, she decided to open a brewery.

Now consider the odds. A 2021 survey by industry group Brewers Association found that women make up 23.7% of brewery owners in this country, compared to 75.6% owned by men. Taking this a step further, only 2% of breweries in the US are wholly owned by women.

“If I had to offer advice to a group of young women who are contemplating their future, the most important thing for me would be not to let ‘difficulty’ or fear hold us back,” Cain offered. “There were so many times I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is hard’ or ‘This is scary.’ And I kept telling myself that was what stopped me from doing those things before I was 50.”

Brewery school was a must, as was creating a business plan and finding a building in Lisbon Falls, where she bought a house in 2015. There was no brewery in Lisbon and the closest were in Brunswick or Lewiston. She focused on downtown because of her visibility, and when she reached out to city officials, she said the response has been positive. The business development officer at the time was super enthusiastic and supportive.

“So I became more and more committed to the idea of ​​being here in my own community. To be able to walk to work, be creative, bring that Starbucks culture of connection and community and create a third space and bring that to my community.”

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Cain found a building, but it didn’t work. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In September 2020 she was introduced to the owner of the building at 16 Main St. and in April 2021 she completed the sale of the former hair salon which still has rental accommodation above the shop and a huge car park overlooking the Androscoggin River.

Olive Pit Brewing was born and finally opened its doors to the public on New Year’s Eve 2021.

Christy Cain said on the right day she had enough label colors to make a rainbow. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Olive, Christine Cain’s pit bull, is the namesake of her brewery Olive Pit Brewing in Lisbon Falls. Photo by Christine Cain

THE REALITIES OF A WOMEN’S STARTUP

Cain started a business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought its own set of challenges. Then that year, she faced a major downtown rebuilding project that would completely tear up Lower Main Street to install new water and sewer lines, sidewalks, streets, and streetlights. Some businesses in her area, many owned by women, have seen sales fall by as much as 75%, while others may have closed.

Cain and other business owners banded together to throw a Save Main Street block party to generate some buzz and business in the embattled downtown area. The first phase of the project is coming to an end, and before the snow flies, Cain and other companies can expect new sidewalks, roads, and streetlights, and an end to mud, noise, and disruption for now.

When asked what it was like to work in a male-dominated industry, Cain said everyone was welcome, accepting and supportive. Brewers are a pretty tight-knit group of people, and they’re constantly turning to one another in search of a pound of this and that hop or other ingredient.

“I had no problem feeling welcome,” she said. “I think what made that so smooth for me is that you have to be comfortable with some sort of boys’ club. As for me, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I’ve always had groups of male friends to hang out with.”

She has experienced what she has dubbed “microaggressions” where another brewer, in a condescending tone, offered to give her advice on their product. Your Answer? “If I were a man, you wouldn’t have called me to make suggestions.”

The Pink Boot Society is a national group by and for women in the fermented beverage industry, which Cain says serves as an internal support system that has helped her network with other female brewers in the state.

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Beer has long been a male domain in this country, but that is also changing. Industry groups like the Brewers Association conduct annual surveys and more women are drinking beer than in years past, especially younger women in their 20s and 30s, another factor in Cain’s decision to open a brewery.

All in all, Cain said that despite the challenges of its first year, Olive Pit Brewing has been very well received and their main goals are to continue spreading the message, filling the brewery’s calendar with events to attract more cythophiles and putt the infrastructure on hand to start bottling their beers, something customers have asked them about.

Christy Cain takes a break from filling the beer kegs at Olive Pit Brewing to take a look at Main Street in Lisbon Falls. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

REFLECTIONS ON WOMEN IN BUSINESS

“When I think about my friends and my generation, I think we all grew up pretty empowered to do whatever we want,” Cain said, as the discussion turned to the extent of women in business in this country advanced in the last 50 years.

“Women end up focusing on other things,” she said. “When you raise children, you do those things later in life. So the more we are fair when both people in a couple share that responsibility equally and I think that levels the playing field. And I think our culture is changing for the better in that regard.

“My goal, my whole motivation, was to create a full spectrum of beers with a less hoppy focus – more malt than hops up front,” Cain said. “Well, I’ve got an IPA on tap and we’ve got the English Summer Ale, which is pretty hoppy, so I’ve got something for those folks too. I want to create a situation where I don’t want anyone to come in and have the same experience my wife and I had, where there isn’t a single beer they like.”

Is your strategy working?

“Seventy-five percent of the women who come here are like, ‘Oh, thanks for not offering all the IPAs.’ They generally prefer maltier, less hoppy beers.”

What are you partisan about?

“The Pink Boot Sour — that’s huge,” Cain said.


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