Law was a trial, so now he makes beer

March 27, 1995|By Sandra Crockett

First there is college, then law school, then working long hours as a lowly associate at some law firm. Then, if you are good and lucky and in the right place at the right time, you may get a chance to make partner.

As a 40-year-old corporate attorney, Kevin Brannon had reached that point.

Mr. Brannon did corporate, franchising and trademark legal work for a firm in Portland, Ore. But he was restless.

"About the last year or so I was practicing law, it got to be really routine, mundane," he says. "I thought about doing something different. And I was up for a partnership so I had to make a !B decision."

He decided he'd rather make beer. His wife, Marjorie McGinnis, gave up her own plans to become a psychologist to join her husband in the business.

Both husband and wife had always enjoyed kicking back at the end of the day with a few cold brews. They still do. Only now they knock back with Blue Ridge beers produced by their own business, the Frederick Brewing Co.

"Well, I did have to give up wearing those wing-tip shoes!" says Mr. Brannon, whose work attire now consists of jeans and a T-shirt with the company's logo.

While on a business trip, Mr. Brannon met his future wife, who was planning to enter a West Virginia graduate school for a master's degree in psychology. "My plans were to be a research psychologist," says Ms. McGinnis.

The couple fell in love and Mr. Brannon decided to move East to join her. They tossed around the idea of his opening a law practice or even a fly-fishing shop.

"But home brewing had always been a hobby of mine," Mr. Brannon says. "When I moved out here, I noticed there were not a whole lot of microbreweries, so I thought I would try it."

Ms. McGinnis wasn't too thrilled about joining her new husband in the fly-fishing business, but after doing research on the microbrewery business, she was sold. Most of all, she says, the couple wanted to work together.

"I had some very surprised professors," she says.

They both had dismayed parents.

"Well, my mother at least acted supportive. But my dad thought I was nuts," Mr. Brannon says. His law colleagues felt differently. "They thought this was a natural for me," he says.

The couple had planned on starting small -- very small. "The original idea was for Kevin to brew the beer and deliver it, and I was going to market it," Ms. McGinnis says. However, they sold out of stock their first week in business.

Now, the 3-year-old company has 20 employees, and their parents have gone from being dismayed to feeling proud.

Even with 20 employees, they say they are not getting rich. "But now we can add meat to the beans and rice we started out on," Ms. McGinnis says.

Mr. Brannon feels a satisfaction from earning a living in which the results are a tangible product. He does, though, think about the perks he gave up.

"Sometimes I do think how much money I would be making had I not left the law firm. And I haven't worked this hard since I was a first-year law associate!" Mr. Brannon says.

"But this doesn't really feel like work. Anyway, there's a lot of unhappy lawyers out there." He's not one of them.

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