The Definitive Guide to Business

How America's No. 1 small business got to $10 million brewing beer in Hawaii

Garrett Marrero, co-founder of Maui Brewing Company
Photo by Edward Smith, courtesy Maui Brewing Co.

After college, when Garrett Marrero was living and working in finance in San Francisco, he went to Hawaii for vacation and fell in love with island life. He started thinking, "When I retire, this is where I want to live." Then he started asking himself, "How can I move to Hawaii sooner than retirement?" And then, "How can I move to Hawaii now?"

Marrero also noticed that, when he asked for a local beer in Hawaii, he would be served a beer brewed somewhere else off island. A lover of craft beer, Marrero saw an opportunity.

He quit his finance job to start planning the business. In 2004, at 26 years old, he moved to Hawaii.

It was a risky move, leaving a corporate job to try brewing beer in a new state, but "I was young enough and that invincible youthful male — 'I can't do anything wrong! of course it is going to work!' — bravado that helped propel us initially," Marrero says. "At that time no bank would even talk to us. Well, they talked to us, but they laughed at us usually."

And he had a partner. He and his then girlfriend Melanie Oxley raised a small amount of money from their families and took out a loan to buy their first storefront.

Maui Brewing Company started as a single brew-pub, a small restaurant that served its own locally brewed beer. Doors opened Jan. 28, 2005.

Demand for the beer outgrew the space available in the brewpub and in 2007, Maui Brewing Company started producing and packaging beer out of a separate production facility. It started selling beer in retail stores too.

In 2012, looking to expand capacity even further, the Maui Brewing Company secured a government-backed loan that allowed Marrero and Oxley to open yet another larger production facility, which increased their capacity from 18,000 barrels of beer to almost 40,000 barrels, says Marrero.

By 2013, eight years after launching, Maui Brewing Company was doing more than $10 million in sales.

Currently, Maui Brewing Company has almost 400 employees. By the end of 2018 or early 2019, Maui Brewing Company will have four restaurant locations and expects to be employing at least 700 employees. In 2016, sales were between $12 and $16 million (Marrero declined to be more specific). And this year, Maui Brewing Company expects to surpass $20 million in sales.

Maui Brewing Company's consistent growth earned the company national recognition. This week, the Small Business Administration awarded Marrero and Oxley the award for "National Small Business Persons of the Year."

"Garrett and Melanie have shown impressive growth, expanding in size, sales and scope of their business," says Linda McMahon, the SBA Administrator, in a written statement announcing the award.

Marrero accepted the award at a luncheon in Washington D.C. on Monday. He didn't know, when he arrived at the luncheon, that he was the winner.

To make its announcement, the SBA played a video about the winning business. The first couple of shots of the video showed a beach, and it occurred to Marrero then that he might be the winner, but, afraid to get excited too soon, he tried to stay calm, thinking to himself that Hawaii was not the only state to have beaches.

Then, on-screen, he saw a hula dancer.

Maui Brewing Company co-founder Garrett Marrero with SBA Administrator Linda McMahon
Photo courtesy SBA photographer, Rodney Bailey

"I started shaking, welled up with a little bit of tears," says Marrero, now 38. He immediately called his wife, who wasn't able to attend. He doesn't remember much after that because there were so many thoughts going through his mind. "I kind of blanked out while I was on stage ... I didn't really process the video itself."

The next few hours of speeches and meetings are a blur, says Marrero, but he's honored to be chosen and to have his and his team's hard work recognized.

In addition to the SBA award, just in the past few days, Maui Brewing Company awards for its beer. "It's been a pretty surreal week, for sure," he says.

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