By AARP Volunteer Sherree Lucas
A couple of weeks ago, I met Charlie Myers at, Keeper’s Cut Meadery, a business he started in Marion, NC. For those of you like me who ask “what does keeper’s cut mean?” it refers to when beekeeper peasants, back in the day, kept a “cut” of the honey they sold (or gave as their payment) to the rulers of the village where they lived.
For those of you who haven’t jumped on the mead bandwagon, it is one of the latest trends in alcoholic beverages. Mead is an adult beverage made of honey, water and yeast. While it may not sound . . . umm . . . delicious, it actually is. And it is gluten free! Another fun fact about mead is its status as the oldest alcoholic drink in history. It had prominence in Greek mythology and dates back 9,000 years to caves in China.
Charlie, 68, and his partner, Kathy Curran, opened Keeper’s Cut Meadery in May of 2019 after entirely gutting and building out the interior of the building they purchased more than two years prior. It is 3,000+ square feet of gorgeousness! The space has beautiful wood floors, high ceilings, and it’s an overall great ambiance for tasting or drinking mead.
The two did almost all of the work themselves, saving a lot of money and making sure it was just the way they wanted. Other family members helped too, building tables and fixtures and pitching in when asked.
Charlie shared how hard these two years and four months of preparations were. “We worked constantly, continually, until we opened. I was there 12 to 14 hours a day, including weekends, holidays, birthdays. The only times I took off were Christmas and Christmas Eve, as well as few other important dates, and that was it.” He told me, “One day I got up and told Kathy I couldn’t work today, it was killing me. She handed me my work boots and said, ‘You ain’t dead yet,’ and off I went.”
For Charlie, this was his “next chapter” career. He had been a chiropractor for 35 years, starting in his hometown of Altoona, PA, and eventually ending up in Greensboro, NC. At 62, he said, “Enough, I’m done here,” and retired. But retirement, which consisted mainly of gardening and bowling, wasn’t fulfilling, even though he was doing two activities he loved. The entrepreneurial itch returned.
In 2012, he met Kathy, an industrial engineer who planned to continue working for a while. What they had in common was their love of gardening, which led to the purchase of their first beehive to pollinate their garden. Well, one beehive led to two, five, and ten until eventually they had 30 hives, with each hive housing from 3,000 bees in the winter to 50,000 at the height of the summer.
It was around this time that Charlie started making craft beer from a home brewing kit. He loved beer, especially the taste of it, but noticed over time that he was developing tinnitus (ear ringing) and experiencing hearing loss. Come to find out, Charlie had a gluten allergy and had to stop drinking beer. His tinnitus cleared up as a result.
So what now? His next experiment was with wine. He started buying grape juice and making his own wine, but there was one big problem: Charlie didn’t like wine that much. What next? Charlie had tasted commercial mead and loved it. And he just happened to have all these bees. He asked himself, “Could I take the honey, add water and yeast, and start making my own mead? Why, yes I could!” And that’s exactly what he and Kathy did.
Charlie freely admits that the first batch he made was awful. He threw it out and started another batch, and then another and another until he perfected his recipe.
It takes one gallon of honey to make a five-gallon batch of mead, which has to age nine months before it is ready to drink. He began by making mead solely for his family and friends.
But remember, Charlie has an entrepreneur mindset! It wasn’t long until he decided to open a meadery and the rest, as they say, is history. Ah, but one more thing. Charlie and Kathy opened the business in May, and have already won multiple awards for their mead –– a pretty good start.
I asked Charlie if there are any words of wisdom he’d like to share with would-be entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a business. Here are the six pieces of advice he wanted to share:
· Choose your passion, your hobby, something you’re really excited about.
· Get educated on what it takes to open and operate a business. Seek out help from others such as your town’s business organizations (Chamber, Economic Development office, etc.).
· Network. Build relationships. Keep the money in the town. Don’t go outside of town . . . buy locally.
· If you think it is going to cost x time and dollars, double it.
· Guard your cash. Do not overextend. If you can buy used quality, buy used quality. Don’t borrow a penny unless you must.
· If you don’t know how to do something, learn. There is much knowledge on YouTube and the Internet, which will save you half the expense.
I also asked Charlie what the biggest surprises were about opening his business. “My biggest surprise,” he stated, “was the time it took from inception to the doors opening. The next biggest surprise was trying to learn and keep up with all the legal requirements in the alcohol industry.”
Charlie loves his new life chapter and running Keeper’s Cut Meadery with Kathy and Charlie's son. They are both partners in the business and claim –– according to Charlie –– that it’s fun, not work. And so far, so good. “It’s turned out almost exactly as we had planned and hoped,” Charlie said. With a big smile he added, “If we grew any faster, we’d have to close the doors.”
Not a bad place to be for a new business. For more information on Keeper’s Cut Meadery, follow them on Facebook.
If you are thinking about your "what's next" and need resources for 50 plus job seekers and entrepreneurs, visit www.aarp.org/work
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