Ep 19. Sam Calagione: Founder of Dogfish Head Brewery
“We recognize that we need to run a professional business, but that doesn’t mean we can’t act like ourselves at work.”
-- Sam Calagione
Sam Calagione is founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, author of Off-Centered Leadership, and most recently a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award. When Dogfish Head opened in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in 1995, it was the smallest brewery in America, making only 10 gallon batches of beer at a time. Now, Dogfish is America’s 13th-largest craft brewer and is “the first American craft brewery to focus on culinary-inspired beer recipes outside of traditional beer styles.” Its motto is “Off-centered ales for off-centered people,” reflecting Sam’s embrace of both non-conformity and community.
While pursuing a Master’s in English Literature at Columbia University, Sam worked at a Mexican restaurant to pay the bills. However, after trying the exemplary beers on tap at his job, Sam quit school (and his original plan to write a great American novel) and started home-brewing. Fast-forward to 1995, when Sam raised $220,000 to open a brewery, and to today: Dogfish Head is a 300+ person company with a seafood-centric restaurant, a beer-themed hotel, and a production brewery in Milton, Delaware.
Stew and Sam talk about how to apply lessons from Off-Centered Leadership to achieve more satisfaction at work as well as the role creative expression plays in Sam’s work and life. Sam sheds light on his company’s unique culture -- including the legendary dropping of “fax machines from the top of our giant treehouse,” tips for hiring for culture fit, embracing non-conformity, establishing partnerships with other niche companies, and more. You can connect with Dogfish by tweeting @dogfishbeer.
Show Notes (times when new topics start)
2:00. The off centered leadership style. At its start, Dogfish Head put an off centered spin on beer recipes to compete with the large brewers. That led Sam and Dogfish Head employees to embrace an off centered style of working.
5:05. Dogfish company culture. Dogfish champions creativity and self-expression. Sam takes beer seriously, but not himself.
7:25. Hiring at Dogfish. Sam is careful to hire people who will add creativity and authenticity to the Dogfish’s culture, not just people with the right technical skills.
9:40. Work/Life harmony at Dogfish. Sam founded Dogfish in 1995. The company has helped him find harmony among the different parts of his life. A key to Sam’s success in doing so is his ability to find roles in which he is both skilled and happy and to hire people to take on the other stuff.
19:05. The Dogfish brand. Sam draws on his interest in poetry, philosophy, and art to craft the Dogfish brand. This interest lead Sam to partner with other artistic organizations (like vinyl record stores).
22:15. Staying true to yourself. Sam doesn’t “let the tail of money wag the dog of inspiration.”