Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Kristen Arzner Oral History Interview, May 25, 2018

Oregon State University
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00:00:00 - Early Life; Family; Activities;

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Partial Transcript: So lets start with your name and your year of birth...

Segment Synopsis: Kristen was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in the suburb Gross Pointe. She didn't spend much time in the city, when she would leave Gross Pointe it was often to travel up north. When she did go downtown, it was often for school field trips to various museums. Her grandfather owned an automobile dealership in the city, which at one point was one of the largest in the country. Her mother spent time working in the office after high school, but outside of that it wasn't a total family affair. Her father was in sales and advertising. As a kid Kristen explains that she loved school, she was an avid reader and very mathematically inclined. As a family they enjoyed going on bike rides, and they would often try to find warmer locations to visit during the winter.
Kristen and her younger brother were pretty close, and maintain that relationship into their adulthood.

00:22:18 - Detroit; College; Indiana University;

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Partial Transcript: When you thought about that "bubble-ness", what felt bubble like?

Segment Synopsis: Kristen elaborates a little more on what she means by living in a bubble growing up. In high school she shares that she had the freedom to visit and explore the city when she wanted to, they only lived about 10 minutes away so she had pretty easy access. She shares a bit about the economic situation of the majority of people that lived in her neighborhood, explaining that she was fortunate to have the childhood that she did.
The conversation shifts towards her decision to attend college, where she notes that it was never really up for discussion in her family. She began her career as a business student which she accredits to her not knowing exactly what she wanted to do and her family's history in business. One of her biggest criteria was to get out of the Detroit area, along with living in a city. However, she ultimately elected to attend to Indiana University, Bloomington. She was at IU from 2000-2002 but she chose to transfer to OSU. She then reflects on September 11th, 2001 sharing her experience of the national tragedy as a college student on campus.

00:45:28 - Diversity in Classes; Meeting Her Husband; Transferring to OSU; Early Impressions of Corvallis;

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Partial Transcript: What about who was in the classes. Did you feel like the people who were in the classes had different backgrounds?

Segment Synopsis: She shares that her college classes were made up of individuals with much more diverse backgrounds than she had been accustomed to while growing up in her Detroit Suburb. Different ethnicities, home states, and perspectives led to a progression in her worldview during her two years in Bloomington.
She met her husband Nick in the summer of 2001 while attending IU at a music festival in Illinois. They spent time together at the festival before entirely losing touch with each other for a period time. But upon their return to campus the following Fall, she ran into him at a restaurant he was working at, and their relationship developed from there. While attending IU Nick decided he no longer wanted to go to school but instead return back home to Oregon where he grew up and Kristen decided she was willing to transfer schools and enroll at Oregon State University.
Once she arrived in Corvallis, the notion of sustainability throughout the city was really impressed upon her. She explains that it definitely took some time to adjust given how far she was from home and that she knew nobody outside of Nick, but similar to IU, after about two months she found herself in a groove.

01:05:29 - Home Brewing; Introduction to Craft Beer; Intro to Entrepreneurship

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Partial Transcript: What did you think you wanted to make? I'm always curious about what people make the first time when they home brew.

Segment Synopsis: Kristen explains how she was introduced to the home brewing community, noting that she believed the first beer she brewed was a maltier Scottish beer. At this point in her life she had already became interested in craft beer as Nick was a few years older than she was so she had an earlier introduction that others did.
After her graduation she got a job at Sunny Side Up Cafe, and she began to become involved in baking and different beverages that evolved into a hobby. She had visions of creating her own cafe one day, which ultimately evolved into a plan to found a brewery. Prior to the brewery, she made a business plan for a drive through coffee shop with a coffee roaster in Carson City, Nevada. There were many coffee shops in Nevada, but they found the appeal in owning their own roaster to make their coffee on the spot. They founded an LLC, but after her second trip to Carson City she made the decision that she couldn't live there and decided to move on. She shares a bit about what she loved in Corvallis that she didn't find in Carson City, specifically the political climate and the vegetation.

01:19:55 - Early Day's of Block 15; SBA; Finding a Location; Working with Nick

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Partial Transcript: So when did you decide.. not a coffee roaster but we want to make beer

Segment Synopsis: Kristen talks about her transition from the ambition to open a coffee shop and how that slowly evolved into wanting to open a brewery, noting that there wasn't a significant moment but slowly developed over time. She shifts her focus to how they were able to secure funding to begin the process of building Block 15. By the mid 2000's she explains that many lenders were still very skeptical of the brewing industry, and it took 7 financial institutions before she was able to get a loan backed by the Small Business Association from Oregon State Credit Union. Once they had the funding secured, they shifted their focus to finding the right space to open their brewery. When considering what they wanted their space to look like, the first concern was square footage. They wanted to have the ability to expand within the original building they moved into, so their hopes was to find a space that was formerly used as a restaurant.
Kristen and Nick didn't have much concern about whether or not the industry was mature enough for them to thrive as a business, rather their focus was entirely directed towards getting the doors open. She then shares about what it was like to make decisions as a couple starting their own business. Kristen says that Nick is her partner in every way, and it allowed for them to work together very well as a team.

01:36:06 - Communication Chain; Adjusting Menu and Tap List; Competition in Town;

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Partial Transcript: If customers gave you feedback how did you translate that to the back of the house? How did the communication chain work?

Segment Synopsis: Kristen talks about the communication between consumers and management and how they were able to implement and oblige to requests made by the customers. She explains that feedback they receive regarding the food made in the restaurant it is easier to adjust things to suit customer desire at a quicker pace. However, responding to feedback concerning their beer is a slower process that takes more time to be able to add more beers that are requested.
When they first opened the doors they had 28 total employees including herself and Nick, in May of 2018 they had 118. Over a 10 year span Block 15 still has 8 employees that they had with them on opening day, a fact that Kristen is very proud of.
Throughout the years they have maintained the stance that they have to approach each day as if their biggest competitor was going to move in next door, and as a few new locally owned breweries have opened in Corvallis they have continued to perform well as a company.

02:02:59 - Community Outreach; Evolution of Publicity; Diversity of Roles; Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: So what has that been like for you guys? (community outreach)

Segment Synopsis: Kristen quickly learned that as a business owner in a small town like Corvallis, specifically in the brewing/restaurant industry, that privacy comes at a premium. She talks about the community outreach they have participated in, which has allowed them to have a positive impact on the local community while also providing excellent exposure throughout town.
She shifts the focus of the interview to the publicity they have received and how it has changed over the years. Naturally the development of technology and social media Kristen explains that the frequency in which she is asked for interviews and bloggers writing pieces about their brewery has declined dramatically due to the ability for people to post pictures and videos that decrease the demand for formal publicity.
Many of the employees within Block 15 have multiple roles, meaning that she has bartenders that handle donations coordinating, and the general manager does some HR with Kristen. The diversity of the roles within the company allows for them to fill multiple voids with minimal hires allowing for them to cut costs when possible.