Why a brewery?
In 1991, shortly after Scott Sargent graduated from Chico State, he started brewing beer at home. He says he and some friends became frequent brewing partners and always talked about opening a brewery. “Over the next 25 years, I continued to brew and hone my craft and dream about brewing professionally,” Sargent says. But also during that time, he met and married Cindi, had two children and focused on his career with Sisco Enterprises, which franchises Round Table Pizza restaurants. By 2018, he says he had advanced to a senior management position and was growing weary of the extensive travel. He and his wife had been regular patrons of Sutter Buttes Brewing since it opened in 2011, so when Cindi heard it would be closing, Scott says, they decided to have dinner there one final time. “We asked some of the staff why the brewery was closing,” he says. “We were told that it had been for sale for several months, but no one had thus far stepped forward to buy it.” On Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, Cindi contacted the owners and let them know she and Scott were interested. On Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, the Sargents were announced as the new owners.
What about that deal?
Cindi says she read on a post on Facebook that Sutter Buttes Brewing was about to close, so she sent a message to Sabrina Federico, who owned the brewery with her husband, Joe Federico. A few days later, Scott and Joe met to talk about the brewery. “We met again on Sunday,” Scott says, “when Joe and Sabrina, Cindi and I worked out a deal that would work for all of us and hopefully save the brewery from closing.” The following day, Scott says he gave his CEO notice that he would be leaving the company, and on Tuesday, the Federicos told staff and customers the Sargents had bought the business. “In short, over the course of five days, I left a 30-year career to take on turning around a suffering business on little more than a handshake,” Scott says. “Cindi and I discussed for years opening our own business, so when this opportunity came up, it was the perfect fit.” Scott is Sutter Buttes Brewing’s president and CEO (“and occasional bartender, brewer, etc.”) and Cindi is the corporate secretary and director of marketing. Cindi also is a science and math teacher at Yuba City High School.
In the early months, Scott says he had to make decisions to cut costs in order to get the business on “a firm financial footing.” He says it helped that he was able to retain most of the staff, including head brewer Chris Pickens and kitchen manager Bryan Hamilton. “We also had to ramp up beer production again,” he says, “because the brewery had not brewed in over three months as the prospect of closure became more of a reality.” Scott says the biggest challenge in the second year has been “transitioning from a life-support mode of operation to one of expansion.” The brewery, whose signature beer is the Water Tower India pale ale, recently opened the patio (a process that took a year, he says) and the Sargents are planning a brewery upgrade that will allow increased production. Most important, he says, “we have been blessed with great community support and a tremendous number of very loyal guests.”
Why Yuba City?
The Sargents both grew up in the Paradise area, and they moved to Yuba City in 2005 to be closer to Cindi’s teaching job. Until they purchased the brewery, Scott says, he didn’t spend much time in Yuba City due to the travel demands of his job. “Our connection to the town has never been greater (than) since we bought the brewery,” he says. “I very much feel a part of the community. … The downtown vibe is great and getting better.” But they also feel a connection to their hometown. The Camp Fire started just two weeks before they purchased the brewery, and Scott says Cindi’s childhood home and the homes of many family and friends were destroyed. “The first beer we ever brewed as owners of Sutter Buttes Brewing was Resilience,” Scott says, the IPA collaboration between Chico’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and more than 1,400 craft breweries to raise money for victims of the fire. “We are very proud of the fact that we were able to donate over $10,000 from the sale of that beer to help our former community.”
What about the future?
As of October 2019, there were more than 1,000 independent breweries in the state, according to the California Craft Brewers Association, up from 300 in 2012. That hasn’t kept the Sargents from thinking about expansion of Sutter Buttes, despite the highly competitive industry. Scott says Sutter Buttes has draft handles at Dhillon’s Pizza, Round Table Pizza and The City Cafe and Bistro, all in Yuba City, and it also supplies beer for the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox games in Marysville and the Hard Rock Cafe at Fire Mountain in Wheatland. “I definitely envision an expansion of our brand, especially in the local area,” Scott says. “Long term, I would like to expand our presence in the craft beer market to regional distribution. Our focus will remain local, but we are, of course, always looking to bring our lineup of great brews to a wider audience.”
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