For Flying Fish Brewing Co. owner Gene Muller, beer isn't just a beverage, it's a way of life. Before he started the Cherry Hill-based brewery in August 1996, he would take vacations to the West Coast to try new beers. He went to school to become a brewer after leaving his job as an advertising creative director for the Albert Einstein Health Care Network, figuring he would get a job making someone else's suds.
The company, which employs 16, has had growing pains. It recently completed a strategic plan to keep it on track. He said the company was profitable but declined to give specifics. Flying Fish plans to install a $500,000 bottling line in December that the company says will increase capacity 25 percent. It will let the company brew new types of beer and put its product in bigger bottles.
"Please get my title correct," Muller said. "It's president and chief janitor." He then held forth on the virtues of the beer business and demands of quality control (drinking the beer).
Q: Why did you decide to open a brewery?
A: That was a moment of weakness, I think. I was actually looking to move to New Mexico, and on the long ride back through a particularly boring part of Arkansas, we came up with the idea for the brewery. All of our contacts were in the Philadelphia area, so we decided to do it here.
Q: How is business?
A: Our philosophy is to be intensely local. Everything we make, we sell within 100 miles of the brewery. Even with that local focus, we are still growing double digits [in revenue]. Year to date, we are up 15 percent.
Q: Aren't beer sales declining overall?
A: People are drinking less beer, but they are drinking better. Imports are really up, and craft beers are really up. . . . The major brands I don't see as our competition. To me, if people are drinking our kinds of beers, it's good for everyone. . . . Your palette develops, and you appreciate the better flavors.
Q: What about imports?
A: The imports are bit more competition, because they have these huge marketing budgets, and they have the added cachet of being imports.
Q: Who are your role models in business?
A: My role models are the strong local and regional breweries that really decided to stake out their turf in their own area and be happy with that.
How is your brewing different from your competitors'?
A: We have always followed our own path. From day one, we've always designed our beers to complement food. Just like people think of good wine and good food, we think of good beer and good food.
Q: Is owning a brewery as fun as it sounds?
A: Like any business it's a lot of work, and there are a lot of issues, but at the end of the day, I can do quality control, which is sample our beer. . . . I can be at work drinking beer, and people won't look at me funny.
Q: How did you come up with the name Flying Fish?
A: I have lived in New Jersey all of my life, but "South Jersey beer" wasn't going be a big seller. All of the good animal names were taken. We just thought it would stand out.
- Jonathan Berr