Making money or doing what you love? It’s a polarizing choice that inspires continued conversation among young and old alike. For many, this choice seems unable to become a compromise.
Grappling with this question is where Ian Dowling found himself after entering a stable career as a nuclear medicine technologist. He was good at the work, but unfulfilled. His partner Marlaina Renton, an energetic interior designer and fitness coach with a fierce enthusiasm for life, forced Ian to truthfully answer the question: “What do you really want to do?”
The answer was simple. “I want to brew beer.” Ian had been homebrewing beer since 1990, and seven years later he opened his first brewing company in Montpelier, VT. He learned from the somewhat failed experience, but hadn’t returned to the industry. As the couple had no professional space and little money to support the endeavor, some may have seen the idea of brewing beer for a living as impossible. Not Marlaina and Ian. They kept their full-time jobs and began selling beer out of a shed in their backyard on weekends. The response from the community was overwhelming. Even though they were operating out of a postage stamp of space and had no food license, they were technically still the first brewery in Bethlehem.
With business literally exploding out the door, they began searching for a larger building in spring 2017. “Our mentality is always, ‘let’s see what happens,’” laughed Marlaina.
When the couple found their beautiful, current location in Bethlehem, they spent everything they had to make the purchase and get their business going. Their loan officer at Passumpsic Savings Bank introduced them to Bob Walker, and they have since gone through two funding cycles with GRDC, who helped close the gap on two different loans. “GRDC funding allowed us to consolidate bills and take care of the down payment,” said Ian. Their first phase of renovations included a kitchen expansion, recovering their deck, and enclosing their porch for more winter seating. They are currently in the throes of a “Phase 2” expansion, which will provide a bigger brewhouse, an additional “beer only” bar, more seating and restrooms, and an event space.
Reklis has come a long way since its fixer-upper beginning. When they bought the place, the vibe was light and open, almost residential. “I like to feel hugged and warm in a space, not open,” Marlaina said. She used her interior design skills to create a funky look she dubs “Bethlehem chic” with naked lightbulbs, bright yellow bar chairs against dark wood, and chalkboard walls. The atmospheric “hug” seems to be working almost too well. “One of our issues is people wanting to stay forever,” said Ian. “It feels like home here.”
IT’S A FAMILY
Ian and Marlaina have a core group of employees who have been with them since the beginning, many of them young men in their twenties. In a culture of “try it and leave it” for young people, the encouraged sense of ownership and empowerment at Reklis seems to be a magnet. “I want to help them achieve their potential,” Marlaina said. They give their managers full benefits and employees who work over thirty hours a week get 50% of their insurance paid. “There is record low unemployment in this area, but we have not had problems staying fully staffed. We have created a culture where people want to work,” Ian said. As the couple spoke with the employees they had milling about the place, it was clear they were bursting with pride for their workplace “kids,” and the work family shared a deep respect for them as well.
Ian and Marlaina want to inspire a culture in Bethlehem where business doesn’t die in winter. Many places close seasonally or have unpredictable, limited hours, which doesn’t create consistency for the customer. They have already seen Reklis inspire people to move to Bethlehem and buy property by providing a fun, homey, and funky space, and they hope that that shared “spice of life” only continues to grow in their little town.
They have also started a video series online, which covers people who “live reklisly” – meaning they make a lifestyle change to do what they’ve always wanted, similar to how Ian and Marlaina themselves got started.
Maybe you can make a living doing what you love. Go to Reklis, sip on a beer, and ponder the question for yourself.