BierWax: Brooklyn Craft Beer Bar with 5,000 Records

March 6, 2018

On any given night in New York City, there are 10,000 different bars to choose from. Whether it's a middle-aged monastery themed bar serving Belgian beer or an aviation-themed bar with some of the cheapest beer in the city, you are bound to find something that suits whatever mood you are in.

But if you are tired of the gimmicky or trite bar scene and want a neighborhood bar with an extensive menu of unique craft beers and over 5,000 records, Bierwax is your bar. 

 

We sat down with Chris Maestro, the owner of BierWax​, a boom bap craft beer bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Chris tells us about how to pair beer with the right music, why his Indiegogo campaign was so successful, and the secret behind the shelves holding all of the records.

 

 

Bvster:

 

Is there a story behind your name Bierwax?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

Beer, spelled B-I-E-R, is the German spelling of beer. We don't typically serve German beer here at Bierwax. We focus on mostly local New York beer but we wanted to really focus on the tradition of brewing and the history behind beer. Of course Germany has rich tradition in brewing so we wanted to use that spelling of beer. Wax is slang for vinyl records. It was a catchy way of combining both of those things.

 

Bvster:

 

I noticed you have a limited menu?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

We are required to serve food based on our license type with the state liquor authority.  We have a tavern license and a beer and wine license. We prepare food here but we do want to really focus on our beer program so it going to be pretty simple. We will have a lot of pressed sandwiches, slow cooked meat, sliders, grilled cheese, and some vegetarian options as well. But we really want to have no more than four to five options. At the same time we want to make sure if someone's hungry and they're drinking beer, that they can stay here and not have to go to another restaurant to get food.

 

Bvster:

 

You mentioned in a previous interview that one of your goals for Bierwax is to build and strengthen both the physical communities and communities of interest that you serve. Walk us through your process for accomplishing this.

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

We've been open for a little over a month and about 70% of our customers are local community folks. People noticed the sign on the door, paper on the windows, and have wondered what we're going to be about. Once we took the paper off the windows, people were pretty excited to come visit. It’s been amazing to welcome a lot of the neighborhood into our space. But we've also experienced a lot of folks that followed our Instagram page and are really either into craft beer or  analog music. So we are focusing on those two areas of interest, both in our neighborhood but also for folks that this will be a destination for because they love the dual theme of both vinyl and craft beer.

 

Bvster:

 

You raised $35K on IndieGoGo, which is a lot of money. Can you tell us the backstory?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

I knew that I wanted to raise some money to go into my bucket of equity. I have a few partners involved but the Indiegogo campaign was really my project to reach out to every single person I've ever met in my whole life. This money was specifically was for renovations and furniture. I studied a lot of different resources before launching the campaign. I looked at everything from webinars to articles to even campaigns that were unsuccessful. From that I made thorough notes to figure out my game plan to launch our campaign. It ended up being successful beyond measure. Within the first week, we almost reached half of our goal. I was really shocked by the very initial momentum that really propelled us to be a success.

 

Bvster:

 

How long did you prepare before launching your Indiegogo campaign?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

It took about six months to prepare. We did the content for the page and filmed the video months in advance. I had to edit the video leading up to it because there were things that were outdated at that point. We shot in front of our old real estate location which was in Bushwick. We thought we were going to take a space in Bushwick so when we found the space here in Prospect Heights, we had to edit some of that part out.

 

We wanted to make sure we had as much ready as possible so when it came time to pull the trigger, we had everything ready to go. That included a calendar of when things should happen, when we should send out e-mails to personal contacts, and when to do a press release. I think part of our success can be accredited to the proper planning and the proper research done ahead of time.

 

Bvster:

 

You managed to open up Bierwax with only $215K in capital. Can you speak about how you managed on such a tight budget?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

To be honest, I'm not coming into this game with a lot of my own capital. I'm a former educator, working in both public schools and nonprofit organizations for most of my career. But I had this dream that I wanted to make happen so I had to get some investors on board for funding.  A lot of my great ideas happen in the bathroom when I'm taking a shower. So I had this great idea that I would get 200 of my friends to each invest $1,000. If I can do that, I'll have about $200K and I think I can make it work for $200K.

 

So I emailed every single person that I knew and I had maybe 12 people come forward with $1,000. So at that point I had $12K and a long way to go. I realized I needed to get some bigger fish involved in this as much as I didn't want to give up equity. So I put this little one pager out on social media and I got a few people to reach out. I took them to my usual place to kind of swoon them Torst, which is a fantastic craft beer spot in Greenpoint-it’s one of my favorite bars.

 

I now have about six partners, all varying loads of equity who signed over several thousand each and trusted my vision for Bierwax. At that point I was at $100K with still a long way to go. The next step was realizing we had enough money to secure a property and to launch the Indiegogo campaign to bring in another $30K. Along the way I applied for a Small Business Administration loan that would bring another $40-50K. It's very challenging to get for a business that doesn't exist because a bank wants to know that you have a prior business and experience in the industry. I went to several banks and they all shook their heads no.

 

But luckily I teamed up with a great organization called The New York City Business Development Corporation. Applying for a loan like this is like applying for a mortgage in terms of the amount of documentation that you need to send in. But I persevered and the NYCBDC persevered with me and I was able to get $45K. As a new owner I was very thankful to them. The extra funds enabled me to buy the furniture that's here. Everything adds up so I spent that $45K within a month. But if it wasn't for that loan I would not be here right now speaking to both of you.

 

 

 

Bvster:

 

Do you have some tips on how to be creative on a small budget?  

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

Definitly. We have a lot of contractor friends and architects but I refused to work with them in an official capacity because I knew that they would charge me what they're worth. I knew that I would have to cut a few corners with certain things and I needed to pick contractors that were more within our price range. So it's really a matter of mixing and matching things that you're going to need to spend a lot of money on verse things you can potentially cut some corners on. So there were things that I wish I would have done but I realized that they weren't as urgent and I could open without them. For example we are still waiting to get our furniture in the backyard. We waited strategically because it's wintertime and we can wait a few months to get those built.

 

Another example with saving money is our record shelves. I wanted custom-built record shelves with beautiful reclaimed wood. We got a few quotes for $12-$20k, which I understand. It takes a lot of time and it’s a lot of weight to hold over 5,000 records so you also have to think logistically about how to hold up all that weight. I spent numerous hours late at night researching online what are other options so we don't spend $20K on record shelves. I found an industrial/commercial company that does cabinets for offices and that sort of thing called Uline. They had these shelves that weren’t even record shelves that fit perfectly. I bought one just to see how it worked and it fit perfectly, literally to inches for what we needed in terms of the specs. 

 

Some of my partners were pushing back and saying that it wasn’t going to look great but I trusted my gut. I knew I was the only one that knew the budget; I knew that $20K would have put us over the edge and in the place of not being able to afford other very important things so I took the gamble. I bought an extra five shelves; they match the black granite so well and are now a critical component of our space. As a business owner you have to trust your gut, even when you have four partners telling you to go with the wood record shelves. But you have to pull the trigger on certain things and make those decisions.

 

 

 

Bvster:

 

Working with the local community board is crucial to getting a license in New York City. Did you run into any issues with this step in the process and can you provide any tips for our listeners?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

When you are applying for a liquor license, you have to go to a state liquor authority. My advice is to make sure you have a really great consultant or attorney that is on point, thorough, and responsive because it's an arduous process. So that's the first step and the second step is something that we quite frankly didn't do. But I've noticed during the process that a lot of other restaurants and bars were grilled for not reaching out to their local block association. It’s a really crucial step to try to figure out who those local block associations are because they are actively involved in safeguarding the neighborhood and being involved in things that are new to the neighborhood.

When you go to the meeting make sure you're prepared to explain to them why you're a good addition to the neighborhood.

 

Bvster:

 

You used to be a history teacher and you were responsible for overseeing a poetry, dance and DJ program for teens. What did you learn from that experience that you were able to utilize here at Bierwax?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

I ran that program right around the time that a new technology was emerging called Serato. Serato is an amazing technology that allows a DJ to use their turntables but with a control record and their laptop. So you don't have to lug your records anymore to do a gig. I believe that when this technology emerged in 2004-2005, it changed the game. Now when you go to a club or go out to a lounge you don't ever see DJs with actual vinyl.

 

But we decided at the Bronx DJ Academy that even though we had the Serato technology, we were still going to teach young people the essentials and start with actual vinyl. It was almost like hazing in the sense of they had to learn how to listen to find the one. The one refers to the one part of four beats where you begin when you are dropping into a scratch and you're mixing. You have to always find the one and it's easier with Serato because you just look at the computer. It's a little more difficult to find the one if you're listening to your headphones and you had to really listen and learn what that means.

 

We are in an interesting time where most people are heading in this digital direction. But people are also realizing that you need to still protect analog, vinyl records and this beautiful culture that still exists. I've gotten seven or eight e-mails recently from folks that spin exclusively vinyl and they want to come spin here. This month we already have four DJs  that are coming to spin vinyl that just want to share their collections with our customers. There’s a lot of talk about vinyls coming back but for me vinyl has been around for my whole life.  I hope to continue to be a guardian for vinyl and for analog music here at Bierwax.

 

 

Bvster:

 

Do you have any parting thoughts for the Bvster Tribe?

 

Chris Maestro (Bierwax)

 

The one thing that I've been reflecting on in this process of recording is, as I mentioned I didn't come into this business ownership with a lot of my own capital. I’ve spent five years making this dream happen and a reality. It was not easy work and it's a lot of sacrifices. I left my job for two years and I was making very little money but luckily I had my wife to lean on.

 

But anyone can make a dream a reality; you just have to really put the time and effort in. You have to be very intentional with your plan. If you have a burning desire to make something happen, it's really now or never. I think part of it too is turning 40 and I realize I'm not getting any younger.  I've been in the education game for two decades and now is the time. So don't be an old man or an old woman and regret not trying to make a dream happen. Even if you fail, get back up and try again. Keep failing and try again. But just try.

 

 

 

Bierwax:

 

Address: 556 Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Phone: 347-533-8449

Hours: Mon-Thu: 5pm-Midnight Friday: 3pm-2am Saturday: 1pm-2am Sunday: 1pm-Midnight

 

 

Do you love beer and want to learn more about spots like Bierwax? Check out our previous article about Wurstbar, a cider, beer and sausage bar in Jersey City. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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