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Lost Province: An Independent Success Story

We sat down with the owners of Lost Province, a brewpub with production and service in multiple Boone, NC locations. The owners worked with United Community Bank to independently finance their growth over the past few years. They answered questions about how they got started, what being independent has allowed them to accomplish, and what they’re doing next.
 

How did the brewery get started?
Andy: I have been home brewing since 1989 and always had kind of a dream in the back of my head that I might want to start a brewery one day.
We were actually reaching the end of what would be our first careers. Lynn was the executive director of our local homeless shelter, and I was a toxicologist. I had been doing forensic toxicology for 30 plus years. It was just time for both of us to move on to something else.
The genesis for the idea of the restaurant itself came from our son. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves at a wood-fire pizzeria in Minneapolis, and he said, “Wouldn't it be cool to do a restaurant where we serve this style of hot wood fire fare and beer made on premises?” They were serving beer, but they did not make it.

Lynne: And we were weighing whether we wanted to be a brewery with a taproom or a brewery with a restaurant. We love craft beer, and we are foodies, so in the end, we decided to wed those two concepts together.
In retrospect, this was a really good decision for us. We are in rural North Carolina. Even though it's a college town, it's not a big metropolitan area. Brewpub was the right model for us to use, because we can pull more people in. It's allowed us to grow the business.
I don't know if it was an instance of genius or insanity, but we decided to do a restaurant. Fortunately, we were quick learners, and it's been an amazing journey.

Andy: Let’s just say the learning curve was steep, sharp, and significant.
 

Lost Province is a unique name. How did you choose it?
Andy: Lost Province is the name that's been traditionally given to the four counties in extreme Northwest North Carolina that are on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
These counties were cut off socially, economically, politically, pretty much completely from the rest of the state for decades. The roads leading to the area were practically impassible.
So, the Lost Province kind of signifies a place where people still want to come and experience the great outdoors in a place where people find rest and tranquility. I ran across the phrase “Lost Province” while researching the history of the area, and it just struck me that that was it. It encapsulates everything we are trying to do.
 

What makes your brewery unique and special?
Lynne: We’re proud of the quality of beer. We have adopted the tagline, “Authentic and innovative craft beers done right.”
We like to brew beer stylistically correctly, but we also like to have fun with them. We do have traditional beers. Right now we have a Mexican lager that we added sea salt and lime to, and now it’s a tyrannosaurus-mex. It's a Mexican lager, but with the twist. We have fun with how we design and brew.
We also have a lot of fun with sourcing food. We source as much as we can locally and regionally. 


Tell me about some of the collaborations you’ve done. 
Andy:  We recently did a beer called “Kiss my Grits.” It’s a southern-style lager because it uses yellow corn grits in the mash. That’s part of the source of the sugar. We tried several different sources for grits, and we found the best flavor came from Lindley Mills in Graham, North Carolina. They’re the super traditional grits that you’ve got to cook for 45 minutes or they’ll break your teeth. We love the fact that they’re also a North Carolina product.

Lynne: We just did a collaboration with a local blueberry farm. They had blueberries from last year that were frozen, and they needed to be used. They contacted us, so we did a blueberry beer. We will be donating a dollar of every pint sold to the Blue Ridge Conservancy.


How have you managed to thrive through the widespread staffing shortages in the service industry?
Lynne: We're very hyper local. We like to source local, and our employment philosophy is about trying to provide competitive and living wages. We use variations of a tip-share model. We provide benefits to our full-time employees, those working 32 hours or more, including paid time off and sick leave, and we just added retirement. We offer health insurance, dental, and vision insurance.

Andy: Our healthcare program is subsidized now so that nobody in the company pays a greater percentage of their wages than Lynn and I pay for health insurance. It’s on a sliding scale.
 

How has your relationship with United Community Bank empowered your business?
Lynne: For me, it’s that we are truly an independent craft brewery, and we are family-owned and operated. Both of our adult children and their spouses are involved with the business. One of our grandsons is already working for us!
We’ve looked at what other craft breweries have. We've had investors approach us, and this ties in to the financing we were able to get through United Community Bank.
We have taken on that debt, rather than doing it through investors who will eventually want to cash out. We have a lot of sweat equity in the business, and failure is not an option.

Andy: I think the great thing about working with the bank is that it gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to do without having to satisfy the whims of other investors telling us how we should run it. That's really liberating.
So, if I had to do it again, in a heartbeat, I would do it exactly this way.

Lynne: We were at the point where there was no extra room for additional production at our current location. Being in a smaller mountain town, there are limited commercial spaces. We eventually identified the one we're in now.
We were in serious discussions with two different funding sources, and after COVID, they wanted nothing to do with a brewery or restaurant. At this point, we fortunately met you! It was the best lending experience that I’ve ever gone through.

Andy:  She has stated that over and over and over again! It was fast, it was efficient, and the people were really easy to work with. All in all, it was just a wonderful experience.

Lynne: Being an SBA loan, there was a lot of dotting the I’s and crossing the T's. Your folks were very good at making sure that happened.

Andy: I think at every step along the way, your people and your bank acted with courtesy and professionalism. And that was a really great experience to have. 


What is something you did during COVID to survive, and how did that alter your path for the future?
Andy: The year before COVID, we did just shy of about a thousand barrels. During COVID, we obviously saw a dip, down to about 8 or 9 hundred barrels. Last year, we ramped it up once we got the new space open. It was only open for part of the year, but I think we did about 1,230 barrels. I fully expect to add a thousand barrels to that this year. The growth plan is to bring on an additional thousand barrels a year over the next two years. At that point, the new facility should be maxed out.
You don't have to be the biggest in the world to be the best. It's not about being the biggest fish in a small pond; we want to be the best fish in the pond.

Lynne: Ironically, COVID really helped launch where we are today. We had to adapt really quickly. We started canning more product, because over two months, we lost the majority of our restaurant and bar accounts. We were still mobile canning then, and we didn’t have our own canning line. We’ve expanded our market now to grocery stores. That was one of the positives of COVID.
We have another new exciting piece of news! We acquired an independent restaurant in Boone to serve as another taproom.

Andy: It gives us great access to new clientele on the other side of town. We are really excited about the opportunity, and we think it is a great move for the company.


What are you proudest of in your journey as a business owner?
Andy: One of the things we decided early on was that we wanted to create an environment where everybody that left us would be in a better place than when they came. They’d be more knowledgeable, more capable, and more confident to tackle their next endeavor, whatever it was. For the great majority of people who left us, they left us in that condition.  

Lynne: We've created a culture here where our staff really like each other. We are trying to professionalize the industry and treat people as valued team members. That's not always the case in the restaurant industry. Paying living wages, providing benefits, and being good stewards of the environment—all of this was stated in our mission and vision that we developed before we opened, and it remains true today.
 

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Jason Sleeman

National Craft Beverage Lender