About almost a month ago exactly I worked on a blog post draft with Matt that was meant to be a few things. Most importantly it was some form of a business update considering our last blog post was nearly a year ago when we did a writeup of zoning in the City of LA which actually got us quite a few emails thanking us for details. The business update part was sort of us waiting for a bus that had no timetables. The majority of the post however was a long and detailed story of our experience in applying for an alcohol license with the State of California. It was pretty potent with direct excerpts of email and voice conversations without revealing anyone’s identity specifically (except ours, obviously) and our emotions and reactions to what on paper seemed like sometimes ridiculous situations. We wrote the post, thought about it for a few days, and decided to publish it despite the fact that we were basically evoking a volcano that we lived at the bottom of. At the time of writing it seemed like we were going nowhere and that was a way of both communicating the truth but also somehow emotionally dealing with the at-sometimes immense depression that can be generated by putting a lot of personal time and money into a major endeavour and having it all suspended by a process that is nearly 100% opaque (the opposite of transparent if you’re not a scholar or Photoshop nerd).
We published it with a sort of “fuck it” attitude and a number of people read it. The reaction was what we expected -a candid “wow that sucks, guys, sorry” sort of reaction. The post sort of floated out there in the cloud as we fully awaited that shortly one day somehow the ABC would see it, be infuriated, and our nine month process would explode into who knows what. About three days after posting I was riding my bike around 7pm and my phone rang -it was the ABC. It’s after hours for a government job so I’m already thinking shit this is it. I didn’t answer; mainly because I was riding my bike and also because I felt still somewhat committed that what was written was written and if you want to trash can our whole application process because the truth sucked well it wasn’t going to matter if I picked up the phone or not. I got a notification of a 1+ minute voicemail. Great. But within another minute my phone rings again -its the ABC. “Wow,” I think, this is gonna suck. Another voicemail about 30 seconds in duration. And yep, a third call again from the ABC, this time no voicemail. Now you might wonder why didn’t I just answer the phone but you have to understand riding my bike is a medicinal process so to have that interrupted by what has been a source of major anxiety and unhappiness was like sort of suffering another defeat and I figured the ship has sailed anyways so whatever.
I get home 20 minutes later and first thing I do is dismount and listen to my voicemails. This has to be the firehose of rage in the first voicemail followed most likely by additional brief rage and sentencing of how our application is completely hosed.
The first voicemail is an explanation that some other review shit had gone awry and asking if it’s possible to come into the office tomorrow to get one last document so things can move on. The second voicemail was just a followup hoping that I’d answer and that they were working late and hence hoping I’d answer on a third try.
The voicemails were the opposite of what I expected and another shooting star of hope that had appeared throughout the months long night of this entire process. Could this actually be concluding? And was the emotional honesty of our blog post worth further compromise? And also was what we said really fair? The answer to is/was the post worth it? No. Several of our friends immediately pointed out the fact that flaming the ABC at this point wasn’t a good idea and they were right but we did have our reasons. But was the multi page essay on dysfunction and failure fair? Probably no as well. People sometimes can only do their job well enough with the tools they’re provided. NASA engineers don’t do calculations with protractors and abacuses; conference calls aren’t recorded with written transcripts, even Amazon has written logic to evaluate whether your unhappiness with a product is worth their time and freight to restock it or you can just have it for free instead. The California ABC on the other hand has very little of this. This is an entirely printed paper process with wet signatures, notaries, and written-in elements. Files are not recorded electronically and then processed through some automation -they are overnighted daily to an HQ in Sacramento where they are again hand reviewed. Additionally, as I learned in my onsite meeting I talk about later, the LA metro office covers downtown LA, K-town, West LA, Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice, all the way south through the beaches to Long Beach, then east into Inglewood, Compton, Gardena, then back to South LA and literally everything in between. That compromises easily the densest parts of LA undergoing the largest expansion and economic development compared to any other parts of LA. And how many people have to work the caseload for applications? FIVE. Do they have Salesforce or JIRA or some other tool to automate a massive workload? NOPE. The Department requires them to collect nearly 50 pages (on the small side) worth of printed and hand signed documents to process a single application and that’s for non retail. If you’re a restaurant or public place you could easily double that document load. If there’s any rant to be made in this post it’s that the department expects its employees to process hundreds of applications per month with almost no digital automation infrastructure or modern document tracking systems.
So all of the outrage I had experienced re-doing countless documents with minute details and updated drawings or explanations of the space -did our licensing agent want that? Or were they doing that to help complete a process their superiors relied on in order to successfully process licenses? It’s the latter as I’ll explain in my story in a bit but that’s the main reason that original post wasn’t fair and we took it down the day we got those voicemails. We painted a picture that was largely unfair to the individual dealing with our application on account of the process they’re subjected to and this is our take 2.
November - Signed a lease
December - Celebrated concluding 6 months of searching for a lease and felt a sense of accomplishment thinking we were really on a roll. Dead wrong. Spent month preparing ABC paperwork thinking we’ve done similar before at another company and it’s gonna rock. More dead wrong.
January - Submitted ABC application. Good story about that one. Got our public notice poster up on the 17th. Matt and I head to EU for 2 weeks of meeting with Dutch, German, and Belgian brewers to learn how much we don’t know about beer.
February - Fingerprints of ourselves, spouses, friends, pets, goldfish, and any other digital records sent to the FBI to confirm we’re not felons. We’re pretty sure they’d know already anyways.
March - Snooze.
April - ABC radio contact: Take a number.
May - Filled out some stuff wrong. Need some pictures for some forms. Hold the line.
June - We’re working on it.
July - We’ll get right back to you.
August - City confused themselves. Confused the ABC. City figured it out.
September - Trade Enforcement.
Trade enforcement? City confusion? How, why, where?
At the end of May we had a spell of good news -it seemed as though it was possible our license application was going to move to final approval in Sacramento. We started to ramp some things up, think about production schedules, sorta get our shit together in general. The month of June went by and we heard nothing until just after the 4th of July holiday that there’d be an issue where the City confused themselves on whether we needed a conditional use permit just to sell beer retail in the first place (we think -not sure other than whatever was considered wasn’t needed). Then whether our zoning status as manufacturing was valid. All to conclude that no, we didn’t need a CUP for something and yes we’ve been manufacturing status thankfully since the 70s.
Okay, so that’s figured out- what’s next? Well, the next transmission didn’t come until our previous blog post mid August which leads to the conclusion of the story on why I needed to come into the ABC office.
I got into the ABC office around 11am and and sat down in the row of chairs as is the custom because if you stand there like a lost child no one will acknowledge you. I sat staring at the first person at the nearest desk until they finished typing something slowly and they said “we’ll be with you shortly.” I’m just here to see someone. I have an appointment. If they had just asked what I needed the person I was there to see could have been called. Now it makes it look like I was late to an appointment I cared very much about being on-time to. Whatever; 10 minutes later (yes, 10) I was escorted to a conference room. I sat down in a pretty dull room with three chairs at a table and one chair that literally faced a blank wall (I choose one that sat at the table) and noticed a very large pencil holder on the desk filled with a massive array of colors. Like literally any color pencil plus pens and highlighters. I kind of wish I had that selection in my own home sometimes. I thought to myself -what could be the purpose of all these colors? The universe has a sense of humor.
I met with our licensing agent and they explained two things. 1) In the detailed photos we’d sent I included one photo of pallets of wine we bought from a vineyard who had their stuff imported by another importer who went out of business and was fronting the warehouse bill themselves in NY. If we agreed to pay the freight we could potentially use that wine for demos on a new import of a new vintage. The ABC saw this and thought we’d illegally imported it. Crisis averted and I’m an idiot for taking a picture of that. 2) The floor layout diagram (Form 257 front if I recall) which had our floor plan needed to have squares drawn around which parts of the building were going to be used for beer production and which parts for wine wholesaling/importing. We’re not allowed to use the same space for more than one license type -the wine must be in a physically separated room from the beer business. And consequently that illustration needs to be colored on the diagram so management and the folks in Sacramento can clearly see that. DONEZO red and blue pencil’d! A nice conversation ensues after and our agent hopes we’ll have our license by labor day (its around August 16th currently).
Every night at 12:01am Adam refreshes the ABC license website, Status: Pending. Labor Day comes and goes, Pending. We take off for a week to the UK for a wedding and on Friday the 8th low and behold the status gets a new exception: Trade Enforcement. While this doesn’t sound good it actually is -our application finally made it to Sacramento. Monday the 11th our licensing rep drops us a note asking for a digital version of the color version I did in the office and said Sacramento had told them “within a week” we’d have our license.
It’s September 14th. Talk to you all next week :)
That was written September 14th, it’s October 3rd, stay tuned for the next installation of what happened in between.