Risking his steady, viable career in finance, Steve McFate converted his passion into vocation by quitting his job to open his own brewery in Arizona.
McFate, who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in business finance, said he was never sure what he wanted to do, noting that he tended to bounce around between jobs in his early days. “I wanted to be a truck driver. I was infatuated as a very young kid with big-rigs,” McFate said. “As I got a little bit older, I honestly had no idea…but finance kind of intrigued me and that’s where I ended up landing.”
After a huge involvement in bicycle racing throughout high school and early college, he worked at a bike shop in Tempe. McFate said this is where he transitioned into the world of finance. “I got into the habit of asking customers – if they were driving something nice or seemed to have their life together – what they did for a living,” McFate said. “One of the guys that I asked said he was working as a contractor in charge of liquidating bond portfolios. We struck up a conversation, and he said they were looking for entry level people to handle their research. So, I went down and applied. It was Lincoln Savings and Loan which was one of the biggest failures of savings and loans, so that project ended up lasting about nine months.”
McFate noted that this experience allowed him to get his “feet wet” in the bond market, so he transitioned into the finance industry afterwards. However, McFate said that he was drawn back into the world of bicycles, and partnered with a childhood friend on a bike shop called Racer’s Edge in Tucson.
Shortly after, McFate noted his boredom kicked in, and he converged back over to the world of finance, entering an appraisal program at Arizona School of Business and Real Estate. This led him to a role as a lender. “That’s where the bulk of my career ended up being, in residential finance,” McFate said. “I probably worked in that industry a total of 15 years or so, the last four or five on my own with a partner.”
McFate said when the market got tough around 2008, he began to enjoy his career less, so he took a year off to become a beer tourist. “I had been a homebrewer all the way back to the bike shop days – admittedly never a great homebrewer – but I enjoyed everything about it,” McFate said. “It was a fun process. It was fun to hang out and brew with your buddies…I loved everything about the craft industry, the people that you meet, and I thought wouldn’t it be kind of cool to explore that.” This passion metamorphosed into McFate’s two company locations, McFate Tap & Barrel and McFate Brewing Company.
“What I think really helped me in our overall success is hiring people that are excited about the craft industry itself,” McFate said, noting that his main goal in opening was to do something he would enjoy and create a fun and exciting working environment where “the paycheck doesn’t quite matter as much.”
Travis Pack, McFate’s nephew and manager of McFate Tap & Barrell, said this environment is what enjoys most about his job. “From the very beginning, Steve wanted to create a family atmosphere among the employees,” Pack said. “I think this contributes to a lot of the success we saw early on. When our guests saw how much fun we all have together, they became excited to be a part of it…I’d say that’s my favorite part about working here – aside from getting to try so many delicious beers – the sense of family and community we were able to build with fresh, good beer as the catalyst.”
Owning and operating two locations has not come without its challenges. McFate noted that a huge challenge occurred when they had to change their name. McFate’s brewery initially operated under the name Fate Brewing Company, but after nine months, another company in Boulder, Colorado began the permitting phase under the same name.
“I did file for a trademark, but trademarking is incredibly complicated,” McFate said. “Even though we were first in use and operation, their application beat ours. We coexisted for almost three years, but the minute I opened the bigger location, they said they’re going to file a lawsuit if we didn’t change our name.”
Rather than enduring a long, complicated and financially burdening legal process, McFate said he decided to change the name of the brewery to his full last name, noting that it was still financially taxing to change every piece of merchandise, signage and collateral.
On the positive side, McFate said their relaunch party after changing their name became their second biggest day on record due to the huge fan base they had already developed.
McFate said most of the other challenges were in his startup. During his time as a beer tourist, he travelled to a small brewpub in Ridgeway, Colorado, where he met owner Tom Hennessy who became an impactful mentor to him. Hennessy had recently developed an immersion program to educate people who are intrigued by opening their own brewery, and McFate said he became his third student in 2010.
“My intention was to take that knowledge, come back, and try to find a space to open up,” McFate said, noting that his biggest startup challenge was finding a budget-friendly location that had the proper infrastructure.
After returning to Ridgeway to work with Hennessy for another year, McFate ventured back to Arizona in 2012 to open his first location, currently McFate Tap & Brew, which opened its doors in November 2012.
The secondary location – which McFate noted incidentally used to house a breakfast joint that he and his childhood bicycle gang frequented – opened in 2015 to take over a majority of the brewing, because the small size of the initial location’s brewery could not keep up with the demand that stemmed from their immediate success.
McFate said the company has had a stable core of employees over the years they have been open, and noted that even as some of them are moving on, he still loves going into the first location and seeing those original, familiar faces. “That’s why I love that little environment,” McFate said. “It’s developed into such a family.”
Editor’s Note: McFate Brewing is located at 1312 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85257