• SEAchange

Byrdhouse, Benefit Corporation, and Beer

This week’s episode of The Stream of Conscience Podcast features Greg Ptacek, owner and brew master of Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company. Greg started Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company in Wayne, Nebraska after falling in love with the city during college. Johnnie Byrd is Nebraska’s only brewery to operate as a benefit corporation and became the fifth overall benefit corporation in Nebraska. Greg, and the rest of Johnnie Byrd, works hard to bring benefit to rural Nebraska through a passion for people and beer. Tune in to Greg’s conversation with SEAchange co-founders, Graham Pansing Brooks and Kyle Cartwright, to hear more about Johnnie Byrd’s journey.


Listen to this episode here!

Scroll down to view this episode's transcript:


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If you haven't noticed the world is changing. Consumer and talent demands are evolving and businesses are being held accountable to a broader purpose. This is The Stream of Conscience Podcast, where we celebrate the businesses that are prioritizing purpose to achieve both financial returns and greater impact.


These stories, highlight business as a force for good and good as a force for business.

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[Kyle] Hey there, it's your co-host Kyle Cartwright, and I'm glad to be here with you again, along with my partner and purpose Graham Pansing Brooks, we really appreciate you all listening. You know, we think we're building something pretty special here and you listening and sharing these conversations means the world.


Graham and I are also co-founders of SEAchange. the company that brings you The Stream of Conscience Podcast and we're thrilled to be in the virtual studio today with Greg Ptacek of Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company. Greg is Johnnie Byrd's, owner and brewmaster a title Graham and I both aspire to, I think I can confidently say. The brewery is located in Wayne America and under Greg's leadership has been working to benefit rural Nebraska through a passion for of course beer, but also for people


Johnnie Byrd is Nebraska's first brewery to incorporate as a benefit corporation and was the fifth overall benefit corporation in Nebraska. We're excited to hear more about the company's trailblazing vision and how the company expresses its purpose-driven values. So welcome, Greg.


[Greg] Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to talk today.


[Kyle] Absolutely. We're excited to have you. So do you want to just start us off by giving, giving listeners a little bit of context, a little bit of background on you, the company, the values of the company, kind of wherever you'd like.


[Greg] Yeah. So Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company has been around for, um, we're in our fifth year right now.


Um, I had a short stint in economic development in a small town and just fell in love with the idea of starting a business, um, driving purpose for a small town and just kind of building that community. And so that brought me to, um, thinking like, what kind of business would I like to start? And it always came back to purpose for community and how can I impact the community and achieve some of my life goals. Um, and brewery was always at the top of that list. So just kind of taught myself how to brew, um, fell in love with it found out I didn't suck, um, and then decided to pull the trigger and we thought Wayne would be the perfect community to be able to open a brewery.


And my wife and I went to college at Wayne State. It always felt like home. Um, we had some ties still at Wayne and decided to pull the trigger, um, in late 2017. Um, and it's been an awesome, uh, an awesome thing. So far, we fell in love with the community. It's kind of one of those progressive bastions in rural America.


Um, it's, it's got a little bit of, uh, it's got a small college. That's about the perfect size, um, to have just some progressive ideas, but still has that small town.


[Graham] That's awesome. And what a great, you know, I think again, from a standpoint of, of the community values that you're sharing, how great to be able to have that being wrapped into a brewery where people are coming together and gathering and building that community, um, around a beer.


[Greg] Yeah. You know, like one of the taglines that we had thought about for doing with the brewery was like elicit conversations. Um, and so we've thought like, oh, like that's super cool double meaning, you know, like double entendre. So it's either got, you know, like. Like, maybe we should, maybe we're talking about things that we shouldn't be talking about, like having some of those tough conversations, but then we're also like trying to entice out those conversations from people, um, providing that awesome venue in that medium to actually have some of these deep conversations.


Um, and that's really. Um, one of the core things that we really like to do is just in how we build community. Like we build it around beer, but we're also building community by offering that venue that people can have different conversations. Um, maybe have some of those tough conversations and have it in a venue where they know they're safe.


They know that things aren't going to be taken out of context. Um, but just, uh, people from all different walks of life, just having some super awesome conversations together.


[Kyle] Yeah, that's just, it's just, uh, edgy enough for a college town. I like that.


[Graham] And as Kyle mentioned, uh, Johnnie Byrd is, uh, is a benefit corporation here in Nebraska.


And, and so I'm, I'm curious to know what the impetus was for deciding to incorporate as a benefit corporation and, uh, you know, especially so, so early on in the history of Nebraska benefit corporations.


[Greg] Yeah. So when I was doing economic development, You help businesses get started and you kind of look at the structure of why businesses are doing what they're doing.


Um, you look at the different tiers of, of what kind of businesses are going to be like, is it going to be a micro enterprise? Is it going to be, um, you know, different tiers of entrepreneurship and one thing that always. Kind of boggled my mind as I was looking at different benefits structures was this idea of entrepreneurial stewardship.


Yep. And so I was like, this is dumb. Like, why are, why are we having to talk about businesses doing this? Um, and it really came back from like, I grew up in a small town. Um, I always wanted to be in that rural community that kind of small town feel. And so every single business that operates. In that medium was just inherently practicing entrepreneurial search ship.


Like they were taking care of the community because they knew that like, if they didn't, didn't give money to the softball team, that there just, wasn't going to be a softball team that if they didn't support the city council, if they didn't support the dog park, um, then those things didn't happen. And so like when I was actually researching entrepreneurial stewardship. It's like, well, this is this inherent thing that we take for grounded in rural America, um, that our businesses are just out there supporting our community. Um, and that maybe doesn't happen everywhere and doesn't happen in some of these larger communities.


And so when we looked at like, how were we going to organize the brewery? We said, Hey, Like we want to from day one, say that these are our core values, these are our mission. This is what we hold, hold very dear to our hearts. Um, and we wanted to do that in a legal structure. And so we wanted to say like, no matter what, we, this is what we stand for. These are our values. Um, and we really found that like benefit corporation was going to be one of the easiest ways to do that. Um, when we looked at starting the brewery, we thought about just doing it as like a nonprofit brewery. Um, and that was going to get super weird with the tax man.


Um, you know, they're always wanting their pound of flesh and then doing that as a nonprofit was going to get like really weird, especially in a very fiscally conservative state like Nebraska. Um, and so we said, well, benefit corporation is going to allow us to do this public good that we want to do.


Um, well, operating more as a for-profit business. Um, and then everybody's happy, like the, the tax man's going to be happy. We're going to be happy cause we've got this greater purpose. Um, and so that's really why we decided benefit corporation was right for us. Um, and, uh, it was just a little bit extra paperwork for us.


Um, but for the most part, like it's, it's been pretty easy to navigate it within Nebraska.


[Graham] That's great to hear, um, and looking at, well, one, I, I love the concept you use for the terminology, the entrepreneurial stewardship. I think we might have to adopt that a little bit. You know, we we've often talked about how rural, rural America, um, there's just the sense of interdependence.


Right. And so the community and the businesses and every private citizen, every, every sector of the community recognizes the, the dependence that they have on each other. Um, and so it's a really special place to build a business. And, uh, I'm thrilled to hear that you've, you've found that, and I love the terminology that entrepreneurial stewardship,


[Greg] That's weird, you know, cause like, uh, I don't know if we do recognize it is the weird thing, because it's just, it's this ingrained in us that like, if we don't support them, um, then you know, they're gonna lose their 25 employees.


And then, but like, I think stepping back and actually looking at it and saying like, this is why we're doing these things. It's something that I think would benefit. And I think we've done a little bit better job in the last 20 years. Um, but knowing that like, this is why we need to do these things, this is why we need to support that and then celebrating it because this doesn't happen everywhere.


Like that's the thing that always boggles my mind is, you know, coming from a small town, like, oh, oh, that's just the way that we do that. Like we just support each other. Um, Uh, we just lift each other up. We support the, the softball team, um, you know, like, but that really doesn't happen everywhere. And that's crazy to me that it's just something are something special that we just take it for advantage or take advantage of.


[Kyle] And take for granted. Yeah, absolutely a hundred percent,


[Graham] And that's one of the things that we talk a lot about on this show and, and, and, and SEAchange too, is, you know, we want, we want Nebraska to be recognized as the purpose-driven capital of America and, and, and it just needs to be recognized.


How do you, how do you add those levels of intentionality to what you're doing. And, you know, there's a, there's a, a humility that, that exists here. There is a, there's a humble nature, um, of, of doing the right things regardless. Um, but how do we find ways to help elevate that? And so, um, uh, you know, I, and I think what you're doing and, and being able to align yourself with a benefit corporation, I think, starts to help bring some of that layer, those layers of intentionality to doing good in our communities.


[Kyle] Yup. Yeah, I have, I have to believe that just about any business in Nebraska could, uh, structure itself as a benefit corporation. Right? It's just so natural here, wherever you can go.


[Greg] So well, this is weird. Cause I tried to explain this benefit corporation thing to people and they just look at me like I got like three eyeballs, cause they're like, whoa, doesn't every business do that.


And I'm like, yeah, they do. Which is really cool. But like we made the, like, we, we wanted to structure this from day one. We, we made sure that this is how we were doing it. And then I'm like, you know, we need to celebrate these other Nebraska businesses because they are pretty much doing this.


[Kyle] Absolutely.


Absolutely. Yeah. So, so in looking at your three tenets, and if you want to share those or I've got them in my notes, show notes here. If you'd like me to share them, um, we get the sense that how you talk about business and the activities you engage in that focus on the people and purpose it's, it's so natural.


Um, and, and as we've just discussed, it's. And embedded into our DNA here in Nebraska. Right. Uh, but that said, I'm wondering how the incorporation as a benefit corporation has enhanced or changed even perhaps the way that Johnnie Byrd conducts its business.


[Greg] Yeah, you know, I'm a pretty organic person in, in how I like to do relationships.


And so, um, usually I don't like to have that big framework. That's going to be like, this is, this is what we are like, I like to, I like to know where we're at, um, 10,000 foot level, right? Like this is. The map that I need to be on. And then these are some of the roads that we can take to get there. Um, but life doesn't happen that way.


Um, you know, like, it'd be awesome if I could just be like, Hey, I'm going to, I'm going to buy this from you. Um, we don't need to have a legal agreement in place. We're just going to shake hands. Um, here's your contract to buy this? Yeah.


But it's super easy to, um, you know, like this is the society that we live in.


And so having that binding reminder to us that we're going to go out there and do good in our community. Um, just make sense from the structural society that we live in. Um, and so like having that legal framework really helps. To show, like just kind of shaping and, um, and really guide where we're going to be.


Um, you know, I'm, I'm a vision person, like the vision matters and the why matters. And so having that in writing just kind of helps us remind even in the bad times, even the crazy times. Um, that's when we need to like double down and help as much as we can. Um, you know, maybe a lot of other companies that might not be structured as a benefit corporation.


Um, you know, come COVID time, they might not have like doubled down and tried to help as much as they could, but we really took a look at our core values and we're like, no, this is the time that we have to help. Um, this is the time where we need to dig deep and we need to go out there and try to, um, maybe, maybe we don't have the finances to do this, but we can be the fulcrum in that we can build the framework for a lot of other people to go out there and, and help as much as they can.


[Graham] You know, Greg as, you're talking about this, the, the conversation piece I think is, is around that we've been talking about is, is how doing good is prevalent here. Um, and, and I like your notion there, of, of how you specifically are looking at this and changing that paradigm of, you know, this isn't something that is a nice to have.


This is something that is very much ingrained and embedded into the very foundation into the crucible, the DNA of your organization. You know, how have you seen that manifest itself in the Wayne community? I mean, are there over there over the last four and a half, five years, have you started to see people recognizing or understanding more effectively sort of this, this structure, this, this, uh, you know, benefit corporation, uh, engagement that you're you're, you're, you're running.


[Greg] I think they get it, but I don't think they get like the core aspect of it. Um, like I think they get the extra small little things that we're doing, but I don't think they see it as the aggregate. Um, you know, like we've got, uh, a Byrdhouse, which is just kind of a little lending food pantry, um, that we launched during COVID.


And I think, I think a lot of people see that benefits support that, um, want to help with that as much as they can. Um, but I don't. It kind of goes back to that. I think they just all take this for granted that this is how businesses are going to operate. Um, I think we were a little bit different because right in the height of COVID we saw a lot of people pulling back and being like, man, I don't know where our finances are going to be.


We really can't help with this. We can't do this. Um, and then that was the time that we actually decided to launch the Byrdhouse. Um, so I think that puts us a little bit different. Um, but yeah, I still, I still don't think people, I, I, I think people take it for granted on this is just how a Nebraska business operates.


Um, I think they see some of the small things that we're doing, um, you know, just from the Byrdhouse and then just trying to reduce some of our, um, our waste, uh, like we've got, uh, reusable hand towels in the bathroom. So they're just like washcloths. Um, and it, right before I was coming onto the show, I was like, well, I'm going to actually do the math on like how much impact that's had.


Um, and we have probably stopped about four and a half yellow school buses worth of. Uh, just trash, um, from going into landfills, just by reusing our washcloths, um, or. And so like, I don't think, like, I think people go into the bathroom, they're like, oh, that's really cool. And kind of quaint. Um, but I don't think they really see that impact.


And I think we've done a bad job of trying to like sell the impact 10, tell the story of what we're actually doing. Um, just because we think like, oh wait, we're just so busy doing and trying to do some of these cool things, um, that we really stopped. Like we forget to stop. And say, Hey, like, this is why this is important.


Um, you know, four and a half yellow school buses, like that's a lot of trash. Um, and it's not that big of a time commitment for us to be able to do the laundry, fold them up into towels and then put them back into the trash bags, but that's a big impact for our community. And so then I think we forget how much of a trickle down that can be, you know, like, Hey, maybe you shouldn't be using paper towels at home. Like, could you just use some really crappy, like, um, washcloths to be able to clean up that spill, throw it in the washer and then, you know, just take care of it and not have to worry about that impact that you're having on your community.


[Kyle] Yeah, I think it's when you can tell that story in aggregate and also kind of in the school bus analogy there, I think that's what can start to inspire other people and other businesses, which, you know, we're, we're in the business of businesses, right? We, we believe that by inspiring businesses, you can have this net huge humongous effect on.


The wellbeing of communities and our environment and, uh, you know, livelihood of people. And so I, I think, I think you're onto it there that we have to end in Nebraska. We have to be willing to tell that story better in aggregate and, and, you know, a layer down as well.


[Graham] So, and Greg, you know, kind of transitioning a little bit and putting on that, the old workforce development hat, you know, how, how do we start celebrating this more effectively. How do we start sharing these stories more effectively? And how do we change the narrative of workforce development here in Nebraska? Because across the country, people are looking for purpose oriented work and it's happening here. So how do we, how do we start transitioning that mindset of what Nebraska is and what's happened?


[Greg] Yeah, that's a big question. Um, like I, I think this, this podcast is a great first step. Um, I think, you know, I think just keeping that in mind with people that like, just showcasing that this doesn't happen everywhere. Um, this purpose, uh, there's a greater vision of supporting the community, um, is. Maybe not just unique to Nebraska, but like, I think Nebraska does a better job than most other places.


And it's just a hundred percent ingrained into who we are, how our businesses operate and then what our people expect from our businesses. Um, but I think just, yeah, I don't know how you tell that story better. But I think just trying to keep that ingrained into people's brains that like, like, just step back for a second and look at this and know that it doesn't happen everywhere.


[Kyle] Yeah, and we got probably, you know, I think humility is a great quality, but I think there's a, there's a comes a, a line where we've got to just bang the drum and be proud of, of who we are as Nebraska. So, so I'll, I'll ask a final question here and then offer, you know, any opportunity you want to kind of promote kind of what's going on at, uh, Johnnie Byrd, but so what's next for Johnnie Byrd. What's what goals and accomplishments do you anticipate engaging in over the next few years?


[Greg] Yeah, so, you know, if we look at our three tenants, um, so our first tenant is just fair and honest wage for employees. And then second is that all of our beers going to be made with a hundred percent renewable energy.


Um, so we've really accomplished those two tenants, but our third tenant is that we're going to reinvest 10% of our annual profits back into Nebraska. And then at least half of that will be driven by our employees. Um, So we haven't shown a profit yet. Um, so like, that's, it's tough to say that like we've actually accomplished that goal, but we're, we're getting pretty excited to, um, Reinvest that back in we've reinvested a lot already.


Um, just through like our Byrdhouse different things that we've done. Um, just through kind of like the natural course that Nebraska businesses operate in by helping the baseball program, um, you know, helping the band boosters. But one of the things that we're kind of excited about is, is maybe stepping back and saying, okay, we don't have to be the check writer on a lot of this stuff.


Um, so one of the reasons that we decided to do the Byrdhouse is during COVID, um, COVID hit really, right when. Um, it was just about Easter weekend. And so my wife is a schoolteacher and, um, so food insecurity has always been really important to her because she actually sees it every day in our kids. And so one thing that's always boggled my mind is that, um, you know, maybe on a three-day weekend or a four day weekend, um, those kids are losing maybe four solid meals that they wouldn't have had any other time. Um, you know, like they might depend a hundred percent on getting that meal at school. And so it broke our heart. When, you know, a lot of that just school stuff. And then they had Easter weekend. And so a lot of these families weren't getting maybe that solid meal.


So we decided to do a Easter supper or an Easter lunch for everybody. And so we, we pulled together and we just made, um, meals for about 250, 300 people. And so we just had people just drive up to the brewery, were all messed up and we just gave him an Easter meal. I just asked him how many we needed. Um, got a lot of other support from businesses.


Um, and just did that. And so one thing that broke my heart was that there was a car, it was a crappy Easter Sunday, and there was a car that drove by maybe seven times. And so you could see driving by and trying to rationalize, like, can I go in, do I really need this, that bad? Um, and there was no other reason for that car to be out on Easter Sunday during COVID.


And so they drove by that many times, and then we gave him double meals and we're like, Hey. Well, we wanted to do this Byrdhouse, um, because we wanted to kind of erase some of that stigma around food insecurity, um, help that person be able to get some of the access to, to maybe food if they were just having a bad week, um, get some of those things done.


But the thing that was like really people is when we decided to do the Easter meal. We had people contact us and say like, that was a great idea. I'm like, what? Like, how can we help you with this? Um, you know, what do you need from that? And like, these people were making like my wife and I don't make a ton of money because, you know, she's just on a teacher salary and I I'm an entrepreneur, uh, who, who maybe, you know, is, is waiting to get some of the loans paid off before I can actually get a paycheck.


And so these people would make like three times the amount of money as us. And so we're like, okay, we can be that, that, that mechanism that they can just write a check to us and we can go out there and do some really cool things. And so that's really what we wanted to do with the Byrdhouse. And so what we've taken is like, we can be, we, we might not have.


So if you think of, of, of fundraising and donations and foundations, right? Like you have time, talent, treasure. And so we have time and talent. We don't have a lot of treasure, but we can go out there and we can be that, that mechanism that the people with the treasure can give to us, um, can have that mechanism to be able to go do something cool.


And so what we want to do is maybe do some mini fundraisers, um, where it's, uh, You know, maybe we partner with the fire department, um, because they might need XYZ. And so we just maybe do some limited release beers that a hundred percent of the proceeds go to the fire department. Um, and so instead of having to just write that a hundred dollars check to the fire department, we can be like, Hey.


If, if you'll help promote the promote, this will get people in the indoor establishment drinking the firehouse red. Right. Um, and then the proceeds of that are going to go towards your equipment. Um, and so really be in that fulcrum that can get people into our establishment, be thinking about community a little bit differently.


Um, and then see, like just engaging with each other over this common interest. Um, and we think that'll be like a fun win-win for people. Um, maybe we're just kind of. Refocusing the lens on fundraising a little bit differently in our community. Um, and then we've got just a smaller fundraiser that's coming up, um, that we're thinking is going to, um, help increase many Byrdhouses.


Um, so we've got a really big burden. Um, that's our mini food pantry, but how cool would it be in our community to have like 15 of these? Right. Um, so ours is right across from the post office. Um, there's really no reason for like, like people can go in there. Um, and there's, there's not really a stigma with it because nobody really knows if you're dropping off or picking up.


Um, and so, but that'd be really cool to have a lot of the. Maybe right in the, um, entryway to the schools so that a kid can just grab some easy Mac, Mac, and cheese, and then head out, um, and just have like a lot of these different, um, options and venues to be able to get, um, the need, the help to people that need it.


Um, so like that's one of the things that we're working on. And then, um, just from a company standpoint, um, so we're doing, we we're a brewery, but within the next couple of weeks, we're actually going to, uh, Be offering spirits. Um, so during COVID we decided to buy a still, um, and we're like, Hey, let's just do some cool things.


So we've been playing around with that for about a year. Um, but we'll have our state license here within the next couple, hopefully the next month. Um, and then we're going to be launching some, um, Nebraska made vodka. Um, we've got some cool things where, um, Nebraska actually makes most of the sugar for the Midwest.


Um, so we're going to be making a Nebraska made rum. Um, just a hundred percent Nebraska molasses, uh, and, uh, then just to be doing some cool things that, um, maybe we'll refocus Nebraska and a little bit different lens. Um, and let people look at, um, Nebraska is, you know, not only a cool beer state, not only a cool, uh, Uh, benefit corporation, like, uh, entrepreneurs for externship, uh, but also like, Hey, we've got some pretty sweet distilleries that are coming online too


[Kyle] Yeah. Yeah. Great, great resources and finding local local connections there. I love it. So where can folks find you, Greg, if they want to connect with you on LinkedIn or, uh, learn more about Johnnie Byrd online? Uh, maybe give some information about where they.


[Greg] Yeah, so you can check us out on most of the socials.


We've got, um, a pretty active Facebook page in Instagram phase. Um, it just @JohnnieByrdBrewingCompany, um, we have a Twitter page. I don't know if we've ever actually posted on it, but, uh, the Instagram and Facebook are really our two most popular ones. Um, you can also find us online JohnnieByrd.Beer. Uh, that's our website.


We keep that pretty up to date. Um, And it's got at least at least our news beer offerings. Um, and then we're working on trying to develop some sort of newsletter so you can sign up on there. Um, get access to a little bit more of what we're doing. Um, some of the cool projects that we're working on, but Facebook and Instagram are really our two major, um, ways that people can connect.


[Kyle] Awesome. And if people want to support the Byrdhouse at, that'd be a way to do that as well.


[Greg] Yeah. So there's actually a link on our, um, on our website. Uh, and so we can take PayPal donations on there. Um, it's pretty easy for people to just, uh, give us a nice donation on there and then we'll take those proceeds and just go, try to buy some food for it.


And then if people in the area just want to drop off food or toiletries, um, we find that, um, toiletries is a huge necessity that so maybe you're not getting met in any other markets. So, um, toilet paper, so toothpaste, um, those don't even last a day in there. Um, they get put in and then they're just instantly gone.


[Kyle] Great. Well, thanks for the work you're doing Greg. And thanks for your time today. It was really, really a treat for us to have this conversation. We're excited to share your story.


[Greg] Yeah. Thank you for trying to promote, um, something that maybe most of Nebraska takes for granted.


[Kyle] Absolutely. Yeah.


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