Know Your Neighbors: Chris Valleau of Exit Strategy Brewing Company

With the new year, comes new goals. For many, this might mean creating an exit strategy- a way out from a job you dislike, a bad habit you can’t shake, a relationship that has run its course.

Forest Park residents (and spouses) Chris and Katherine Valleau developed an exit strategy. According to exitstrategybrewing.com, they went from lawyer and teacher (respectively) to “business owners, furniture rehabbers, construction helpers, semi-semi professional painters, makeshift handymen but above all…they’re brewers.” In 2015, they opened Exit Strategy Brewing Company, Forest Park’s first brewery where they serve handcrafted beer alongside a locally sourced food menu.

We were excited to talk to Chris Valleau for the first Know Your Neighbor piece of the year. Read on to learn more about Chris and Katherine turned a hobby into a business, what life is like outside of ESBC, lessons learned as a new business owner, organization tips and more. It could be the inspiration you need to create your own exit strategy for 2016.

Around Oak Park
You and your wife Katherine are the owners and operators of Forest Park’s first (and only) brewery. Tell us a little more about how that came to be.

Chris
Katherine and I started planning Exit Strategy back in 2012, a few months after I started home brewing. I knew early on that brewing was something I really enjoyed and was a great creative outlet for me. After four kit batches, we were designing our own beers and sending them off to homebrew competitions around the country. Contemporaneously to all that brewing, we drafted our business plan, scouted out equipment, and located what would become Exit Strategy’s future home. Construction started in November 2014, and we opened our doors for good on April 15, 2015.

We pretty much live and breathe Exit Strategy these days, especially as we’re in our first year of business. Katherine manages the day to day operations of Exit Strategy Brewing Company handling a litany of responsibilities that are too numerous to count. I am responsible for all of our brewing operations and distribution plus I get the added perk of dealing with all of the paperwork. I am also continuing to practice law with my firm on a part-time basis.

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Chris
A friend of mine from law school was a home brewer and I always thought that sounded awesome. So with some encouragement from Katherine I purchased my first homebrew equipment and supplies, a couple of really good books about brewing and got to it. I quickly found brewing to be a balance of art/science/math that I really enjoyed, and the end result is beer. How can you lose?

AOP
What prompted the decision to take home brewing from a hobby to a business?

Chris
The brevity of life. We knew we would never regret doing it, no matter the outcome, that we would always regret not doing it. We both wanted to do something we were passionate about and that was our own. So we planned, brewed and worked our way towards our goal until it was a reality.

AOP
What do you enjoy doing when not brewing and sharing great beer?

Chris
In all honesty, there’s pretty much no time that we’re not working. In those rare moments we’re not, you can find us mostly at home or around town. We are foodies so when we can we always love to check out new restaurants or old favorites and, of course, breweries. We do love to cook, and hang out with our French Bulldog Rufus.

AOP
You have a great space. How did you find your brewery’s ‘home’?

Chris
We passed by 7700 Madison almost daily. It had been vacant for almost a decade if not more when we took it over in November 2014. It needed a lot of work but had great bones for a brewery.

(Forest Park is) where we live and there was never any other place we considered setting up shop.

AOP
How did you and your wife meet? How long have you lived in Forest Park?

Chris
Katherine and I met in college at Ohio University. She’s originally from Detroit, and I’m a Cincinnati native (although my dad grew up on the north side of Oak Park at Euclid and Berkshire). We moved to Oak Park shortly after we were married in 2000, for work. At the time, I was in IT and she was in retail management.

We moved around Oak Park a bit and then settled in Forest Park where we’ve been for the last 10 plus years. During that time, Katherine earned two Master’s Degrees in education and taught in the Forest Park School District for a decade and I attended law school at DePaul and was in private practice for about 7 years before we opened Exit Strategy Brewing Company.

AOP
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running ESBC?

Chris
Probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned is the value of a great staff. It’s a simple truth that a business will not run well without good people. We definitely went through several rounds of finding the right people, but the crew we’re lucky enough to have really are the heart and soul of Exit Strategy.

AOP
In your opinion what is the top thing one should consider before starting their own business?

Chris
I think by far the time commitment. When you work for someone else, at some point you can stop thinking about work, but when it’s yours, you are constantly on the clock and at its beck and call. It really does get easier over time to get a little separation, but it’s always there. Another consideration is the impact it will have on your lifestyle and relationships. especially early on. It’s easy to let your routines and relationships slide because of the all-consuming demand a startup can be.

AOP
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

Chris
I think all of us have experienced failure in one way or another, whether it be in business or in our personal lives. The most important lessons I have learned from my own have been that it’s not really the failure, it’s what you do after the failure that matters and that no matter how bad things look at some point, they will get better, you will survive it and there are brighter days ahead. Those are not always easy to see or believe when you are in the middle of things, but I try to remember that.

AOP
You definitely have a lot going on. How do you stay organized? Any tips?

Chris
Organization is a constant battle. We try to keep a master calendar of where we’ll be when, what the brew schedule is, when Katherine is on shift, etc. Lists help a lot. I also try to avoid multitasking and get one thing finished before going on to something else, otherwise, I end up with a dozen half completed items.

AOP
One last question! What is your favorite season?

Chris
For me, it’s always been fall. I always have loved the changing leafs, and that crispness in the air. Unfortunately, my least favorite season follows immediately afterward and sometimes never seems to end.

To try a great craft brew, delicious food and/or to get in touch with Chris, visit:
Christopher Valleau
Exit Strategy Brewing Company
7700 W Madison
Forest Park, Illinois
Email: chris@exitstrategybrewing.com
Phone: 708-689-8771
www.exitstrategybrewing.com
Twitter: @ESBrewingCo

About

Kelli is a contributor for Around Media Group. She also (intermittently) writes about the restoration of her 100 year old Oak Park house (and other stuff) at downwithop.com. In her ‘real life’ she works as a Marketing Research Director. And in her free time she loves hanging out with her husband/friends/family, wine, comedy, design, biking, organizing, traveling, meeting new people, taking classes and exploring OP/RF/FP – not necessarily in that order.

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