“It’s always important to do things that terrify you, because that’s when you’re growing.”
Julie Tall, owner of Capitol Cider, is a fascinating individual to talk to. She is full of all sorts of cider-y fun facts, (my favorite–did you know Angry Orchard has 50% of the total cider market?) and business advice. Julie talked to STACKEDD about local ciders, five element acupuncture, and accidentally owning a business.
So, what drew you to the cider business?
I was doing interior design, and I had started a little company–I was involved in alternative medicine before that, for some reason I thought it would be less taking care of other people–which is part of my essential nature–but design is the same thing–dealing with people and their houses and how they live as a whole, still taking care of people, but I love the design part of it.
My son had the idea to open a cider bar so he pitched me on it and introduced me to cider. I helped him with the business plan and the design concept. I didn’t think I was going to be involved operationally, but I ended up running the place!
I knew nothing about running a bar or restaurant. It was a steep learning curve, and this is really the second time in my life I had a steep learning curve, and I really love that all-in, slightly terrified all of the time, having to learn very quickly and sort things out. The analogy that I use is–I’m on board a train that’s going seventy miles an hour down a track, and there’s no conductor, and you can’t stop the train for any reason…no matter what, it has to keep going. I was in charge of figuring out “okay, what’s a train, how does it run, what are the jobs on a train?” I had to figure out everything there was about running a train–that’s kind of what it felt like.
On the design side, I was chairing the board at Gage at the time, so all the art is student art, copies of famous paintings, which I purchased. They pitched me on ideas they wanted to paint, and I told them what the theme was. Building community, building the art community is really important to me–I think my son had a great commercial idea, he loved cider, he thought the time was right for a cider place, and for me, if there’s not some heart to it, there’s no point in doing it. I like to create a place that feeds all the senses, that fuels a sense of wonder, of warmth. Walking in, you can feel like “Oh, cool, I can hang out here, this is nice, the staff is knowledgeable, and warm. We can go downstairs and play games, catch some live music.” I like that people feel this is a place that they can belong to, not just to spend money at.
You mentioned you were in alternative medicine–how do you think that relates to running a cider bar?
The kind of medicine I practice is called five-element acupuncture, and I went to school for a number of years and worked in clinics and had more training and had a private practice and all that, and it’s really a philosophy based on Daoist thought. It’s a way of looking at the world and our interconnectedness that I bring to everything I do, to managing people, to understand what their motives are and where they’re coming from in their life–and then helping them to be the best that they could be–their essential nature. There’s a lot of focus to not reacting to things but just observing, which I think is super helpful in business. This kind of acupuncture you don’t treat symptoms, you just treat causes, so the first thing is to figure out what’s the cause.
You sort of skipped ahead to one of my later questions, about what you think the bar’s place on Capitol Hill is–which you already answered, its place is really a community spot.
I think there’s a lot of places on the hill that are more directed to a certain demographic or age-range, and I’m the least hip person that I know, and I’m probably the least hip person under the roof. So, it’s all ages, all backgrounds, all walks of life, everyone’s welcome. In fact, for the unplugged series, we had a soft launch, and Annie Miles played last week. Her family’s been settled here for forever, so her friends’ parents came, and her parents came, and her parents’ friends came–it was a very diverse age range there. One woman in the bathroom, a young woman, said to her friend “How come there’s so many professors here tonight?” So, anyone with grey hair and glasses is a professor?
And then on Monday nights, we have Entremundos, which is this Brazilian jazz jam session- which starts with, of course, a Brazilian jazz set, but then any professional or aspiring musicians can join in, and it quickly becomes whatever people want to perform–some jazz standards, whatever. They have this incredibly diverse following–racially, generationally, people from all walks of life, and we have a lot of regulars that come just for that reason. It’s wonderful to rub shoulders with people who you wouldn’t meet everyday, and make music, and have fun.
As a big cider drinker, that transcends a lot of stereotyping–that it’s just a cute girly drink. So having a place that is so different from that is really cool.
Yeah, I just got back from Cidercon–the national convention in Chicago–and the demographics are actually fifty-fifty now in the states.
That’s awesome. I will quote that statistic at my cider-hatin’ friends.
Yeah, guys come in thinking they won’t like it, but we’ve converted a lot of people. We have a great beer list too, so people come in thinking they want to drink beer, and end up with cider.
What are your favorite ciders?
Ooh, I’m gonna get in trouble…I hate to single people out, but I do have a couple go-tos. In Washington State, we’re blessed with a lot of cider makers and we have a few, maybe six, that are family and orchard-based cider makers, and I tend to like those best. These people are actually on the farm and growing their own apples, there’s a certain craft that goes into them that’s pretty special. Let’s see, all time faves: Finnriver Cranberry Rosehip, Dragon’s Head Manchurian, Snowdrift Cornice, and I love the Alpenfire ciders, they’re fantastic and Tieton and Eaglemount, those are the six big Washington cider makers.
They all do really beautiful products. We just did a dinner called ‘Apples get Paired’–we have six local chefs, six courses, and six ciders. We partner with the cidermakers, and the chefs are from all over. They each design a different course for a specific cider, and then twenty people sit around a table and eat six courses and drink.
What are your particular favorite pairings for cider?
Well, the obvious things–cheese and cider, pork and cider, go really well together. I’m just working more on more specific pairings–like really matching our menu items to a specific cider–so that’ll show up on the menu in the next couple months.
But sometimes it’s really unexpected! I was trying the Finnriver Solstice Saffron–the farmers next to them grow saffron, so they use the saffron in their cider, it’s a beautiful color–and I’d ordered the ribeye with curry ketchup, and they just went together. that’s definitely one of my favorite pairings.
Now you’re making me hungry. What advice might you have for female business owners?
Well, I think everyone should do the things that really matter to them, regardless of whether other people think it’s meaningful or if it’s going to make money. That’s the first thing: find the meaning in your life and go for it.
It’s always important to do things that terrify you, because that’s when you’re growing. I sometimes feel like I’ve done business backwards, because I really should know how to run a business before I start–there’s all these things that I should have known how to do were I smart about opening a business. Instead, I stepped in and was passionate about creating something, and as I’m creating something I’m learning all those other things, and I think it’s okay to be authentically yourself and bring your strengths into what you do. Lead with your strengths, and they may not be traditional strengths.
Join Capitol Cider this Wednesday at 8pm for the Unplugged Series Launch Party with Tobias the Owl and Wren. No cover.