ATASCADERO — Atascadero natives and former roommates Kendall Bryson and Brian Vogel, will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of their collaborative business, Tent City Brewing Company, July 1. Just weeks before the momentous event, Bryson and Vogel were found reminiscing over a couple of their own creations on the breezy patio just across the street from Sunken Gardens in downtown Atascadero.
“Ten years ago we were each buying home brew kits separately,” Bryson said. “We were roommates, so barbecuing on weekends turned into barbecuing and making our own batches for parties.”
When asked how those original brews turned out, Vogel laughed, “I’m sure back then we thought they were pretty good but our brewing knowledge and skills have definitely improved over the years.”
The brewery, however, took off from the get go.
“We didn’t really know what to expect when we first opened,” Vogel said. “I think the original plan, because I had a job at the time, we were going to brew and Kendall was going to bartend because we thought it was going to be real slow and I think a month in we realized that a lot of people were coming in and so we needed me to go full time.”
“Yeah, I think the vision before we opened was this tiny little shop that a few of us worked at to make the beer and then one of us would keep it open and just sell a little bit here and there and just kind of have day jobs during, and it just quickly evolved to this,” Bryson added. “We went through a summer of scrambling, working 12 hours a day brewing and working the bar, then my wife even quit her job and came on full-time.”
“When we first opened we were the only place that had craft beer in Atascadero, other than Firestone, on tap,” Bryson said. Starting with three or four of their own and several guest taps, one can walk in today and find anywhere from 5 to 10 of Tent City’s original brews. Galaxy Theaters, Springhill Suites and Streetside Ale House now carry their beers as well.
The guys like to deflect the attention off of themselves and at first glance appear to be just a couple of friends that casually rolled out of bed one day and decided to open a brewery because they just loved to drink beer, but don’t let their casual “devil may care” and “this all happened by accident” first impression fool you. With Bryson’s business degree from Cal Poly and Vogel’s experience as a water distribution manager both bring some serious chemistry and business savvy to the table.
“This was my senior project actually,” Bryson said. “A little tiny brewery, it was a feasibility study to see if you could pay your rent and pay a couple people. I think I got a B. So basically it was a business plan, 40 pages. I don’t think I had ever written more than a five page paper before that. It was hard for me, those senior projects at Cal Poly are intense.”
And as for Vogel’s experience, “I ran small water systems, so anything from testing water to making sure wells are running and pumps are running — but it was more on the safety side of water. So the water does play a lot in brewing. Just knowing water chemistry and the makeup of water. We have a big reverse osmosis system here so we start with a blank slate with our water, so depending on the style of beer we add brewing salts to build it up. It can be anywhere from a dark beer that needs a harder water profile that we’ll add more of a certain…,” at this point the conversation took a serious turn into the actual logistics of the brewing process and as if to reign in the mad scientist from a lengthy tangent, Bryson jumped in, “Water is a huge part of brewing, so that’s his expertise.”
Besides their individual assets, this is truly a collaborative effort. With just the two of them doing all of the brewing in this seven barrel brewery, “We’re brewing as much as we can to keep up with summer,” Vogel said. “We brew 350-400 barrels a year. So anywhere from 14 barrels a week, sometimes even more. We’ve gotten the process down. The brewing is one thing but the cleaning is the rest of it. I would say we both do about a 40-hour week brewing and then there’s all the business on top of it.”
When asked what they envision for the future of Tent City both laugh out loud. “Yah, good question,” said Bryson, “the next step is real expensive. A lot of people that start breweries have money to start with, we found out-- later. We’re kind of doing the slow growth type thing. But I think we’re both into a medium-sized, like a 15 barrel brewery, which is still pretty small. That’s kind of like the end goal for us, we don’t want to be like a Firestone.”
Vogel adds,”But definitely distribute more in the area and eventually have a canning line and sell cans in grocery stores would be kind of the long-term look of what we want to do. We don’t want to get too big where the quality suffers because we want to be everywhere but at the same time have the opportunity for more people to drink our beer.”
“I think at some point, the size, it turns from a like almost romantic making of a product that you love to a factory and I don’t want to do a factory,” Bryson said.
While the guys may have humble aspirations on the business end, the mission of their product is much more lofty. Their goal is and always has been to make traditional, clean, classic beers. You won’t find any fads here, no trends, no fruit infused ales or trendy hybrids.
“We like making drinkable beers,” Vogel said. “We don’t go over the top with trends and things like that. We like to make a lot of lagers, a lot of ales and just make them extremely traditional and tight. The craziest thing we do is a coffee stout once a year.”
With several tables under a sturdy arbor and the fact that you can bring your own food or patronize any one of the food trucks that are often there, Tent City is basically a true beer garden with an urban vibe.
“The location has been super key, this patio is amazing,” General Manager Brian Duncan said “As long as the weather is good we have live music every Friday and Saturday. People come out of other restaurants and bars and can hear the music and just get curious. This whole patio just gets hoppin’ on the weekends.”
Even though live music is a usual occurance here, July 1 promises to kick it up quite a few notches. Rather than having a band on the patio, Duncan says they are planning to close off the entire back parking lot and put up a stage to feature five bands. Three of them were apparently quite popular “back in the day” when they all were in high school 10 to 15 years ago: Siko has members coming in from Florida, Criticnue has its original singer flying in from Texas and all of the original members of Axia will be there.
“It’s like a triple reunion show,” Bryson said. “We all graduated from Atascadero High School. We’re locals. We grew up here. It’s like us old thirty year olds coming back and doing something cool. There were a lot of really cool bands in Atascadero about 15 years ago so it’s like a throwback to that time period.”
And it’s highly apparent that their desire to “do something cool” for the locals comes from an authentic place of gratitude.
“I think our customer base has made this whole thing pretty amazing,” Vogel said. “We have customers that have been coming in since the day we opened and love our beer and love the atmosphere here too so they’ve made it really fun.”
To join in on the fun on July 1, tickets are $15 for the concert in the back. It will be business as usual up front with ins and outs allowed all day. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. with music until 10 p.m.
You can visit the Facebook page for the event by searching for “Tent City 5th Anniversary Party” or purchase tickets through https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tent-city-5th-anniversary-party-tickets-34756009159?aff=eand
Tent City Brewing Company is loocated at 6760 El Camino Real in Atascadero. For more information, call (805) 460-6454.
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]