The Union Street fire on Nov. 16 was the most difficult thing Art Oestrike has faced as the owner of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. The blaze stormed a block of West Union Street and rocked several businesses in Uptown Athens, including: Jackie O’s, Bobcat Rentals, Kismet, Jack Neal Floral, Uptown Dog, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop and the Union.
“I have never dealt with anything this difficult in my years as a business owner,” Oestrike told the Columbus Dispatch. The fire forced him to lay off 30 to 40 people at the time, and it took several weeks before he was able to resume full operations.
But Oestrike has a history of staying positive and turning problems into opportunities. I was able to sit down and talk with Oestrike before the blaze, and that discussion shed light on how he handles adversity and seeks out opportunities. His round head was covered by a bandana on top and a scraggly black mustache and beard on the bottom. There was a genuine hunger for success in his eyes. He can be seen wearing anything from a button-down shirt and jeans to a full-blown suit and tie.
While he might defy the stereotype of a successful entrepreneur, Oestrike is just that. He spends a solid 60 hours a week running logistics of the brewery. He also works on distribution, packaging and projections and is currently working to reconfigure the Uptown operations.
Oestrike is a man who prides himself on having been able to sell beer all across Ohio. With Jackie O’s creating roughly 4,430 gallons of beer per week, it’s easy to see how one can reach such an expansive demographic. Oestrike is certainly a man of many crafts, and many beers. Our discussion provides insight into what makes Jackie O’s the business it is and suggests it will rebound nicely from the fiery tragedy.
Andrew “Art” Oestrike , 38, grew up in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. He attended Ohio University and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Russian and a Master of Arts in linguistics. After graduation, Oestrike left the country to teach English in South Korea. After three years, he returned to the community he was passionate about: Athens. It was here he fulfilled his dream: starting his own businesses, Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery and Bagel Street Deli, and teaching linguistics at Ohio University.
DR: What are some of the things that make Jackie O’s unique?
AO: There are a lot of breweries doing the local thing, but I think we’ve been in the lead. Being experimental. The artwork and getting outside of the box is very paramount to growth and success and imagery. We don’t need to make another can that looks like a fuckin’ PBR can. I love PBR, but there are enough of those cans on the shelves. Ours stand out. The quality of the product is another one. Striving for world-class products. It’s not about being the best beer in Athens or best restaurant in Athens. It’s about trying to be the best in the United States. Obviously we’re not there. I don’t think we have that much covered yet, but it’s about seeing beyond our micro-cause and taking it to that next step.
DR: How do you find people to bring into your organization who truly care about the business the way you do?
AO: That’s the hardest part of the whole thing. Treating people as people I think is a big one. Giving people the creative freedom to run their department — their area. No one likes being told what to do. People can be your biggest asset or your biggest problem. I’m losing touch. Every time I go to the brewpub I’m signing someone’s paycheck with whom I’ve never met. I’m not best used in the business meeting the new dishwasher. When they’re coming in on the bottom tier sort of thing, I’ll see them when I see them.
DR: How do you build a successful customer base?
AO: Time and pressure. The longer you’re operating, the more customer base you get. Having a very fluid town like Athens helps as well. Five thousand students graduate every spring. Four thousand of those students stay in Ohio. The students take their experiences with them and share via word of mouth. I think that’s a huge part of our success – the students.
DR: To what do you most attribute your success?
AO: Time and pressure, baby. Keeping an open perspective to hear other’s ideas and thoughts and knowing when and where to pick your battles. Managing your time through people’s ideas. Being able to see the big picture and where you want to steer this thing. It takes a lot of time to turn the ship at this point. I’m not a details person, but the details are important.
DR: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
AO: Apple. In 15 years, they’ve gotten themselves into every third pocket. They’re in every third pair of pants walking around the U.S. and the globe. They’re in your pocket. Unbelievable. I like regional. Supporting our local situation and driving business to an area in need of economic help and development.
DR: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
AO: I probably would have started this earlier — where we’re sitting. I would probably keep things pretty similar to what I’m doing. I like that it’s really just one big gamble right now. Right now everything seems safe and secure like we’re moving in the right direction, but I’ve still got all my financial marbles wrapped into this business and I always have. I keep my day job so I don’t have to take money out of here so I can keep this thing growing and moving forward because I have 100 people who are basing their livelihoods on this place, this business.
DR: Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
AO: I think time will tell. I think becoming synonymous with Ohio beer – Jackie O’s. That’s a goal. A big overarching 10-year plan. We’re getting there, but really it’s not about getting Mystic Mama to California. There are other great IPAs in California. The reason that we can compete with that is because when you go to Kroger in Athens, Ohio, and you want to go buy Mystic Mama, most likely it’s one of the freshest products there because it’s not from 3,000 miles away.
DR: Is there anything you’d like to add?
AO: You have to own your backyard. You have to be synonymous with your backyard. We’re in a very small community, but a very locally engaged, tight community. I don’t know that you have many others that are this much community oriented in Ohio and really anywhere for that matter. Supporting local initiatives left and right and all over the place is so important to what we’re up to. Even if most of the money is coming to us, it’s still coming around here and building that thing where people get to see this lovely little community and talk about the community, not just what we’re up to. I think that helps feed everybody. That puts money in a lot of different coffers. That’s what we’re all about. Without Athens supporting what we’ve been doing for nine years come December, we’re not us sitting here talking to you and you don’t give a shit what we’re up to. A lot of that is from what we’ve done, but how our community has supported us throughout those years.
Daniel Rader is a photographer currently based in Athens, Ohio. He is a junior at Ohio University studying visual communication with a major sequence in photojournalism and a specialization in anthropology. Rader’s work has been featured in professional advertising and has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, online publications and websites across the United States including Newsday, Dayton Daily News, USA Today College, Muse Machine, WOUB and others. His linked in page is www.linkedin.com/in/danielraderphoto.