Certified Public Accountant Cody McCormack began to acknowledge his entrepreneurial spirit while he was at Bryant University in Rhode Island, where he learned the process of business management and planning. Since then, he created a concept for WeHa Brewing and Roasting Company, a café and taproom coming to West Hartford in summer 2021. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Cody about the process of launching his business.
NAN PRICE: How and when did you develop the idea for WeHa Brewing and Roasting Company?
CODY MCCORMACK: I’ve been planning this for about three years. I created the business model based on the trend to support local craft breweries. I wanted to support the movement as much as possible and I wanted a differentiator.
NAN: And that’s the coffee roasting side.
CODY: Right. With more than 100 breweries in Connecticut, I was trying to figure out how we could differentiate ourselves. I think specialty coffee is going to be the next big thing behind craft beer. There’s already a movement with people going to local coffee shops with locally roasted and ethically sourced beans. Even during the pandemic, with coffee shops closed, people continued to buy local.
With WeHa Brewing and Roasting, our intention is to bring craft brewing and coffee roasting together and control everything from raw material procurement to serving the customer. In the mornings, the space will be a traditional café serving coffee and espresso beverages with house-roasted beans. In the afternoons, it will transition to a taproom serving beer made by my partner, who’s an experienced brewer, makes in-house.
NAN: As you’re setting up the business, have you utilized any local resources?
CODY: I worked with Denise Whitford, a business advisor at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), who walked me through my business plan and financials, provided a different perspective, and helped me rethink some things I hadn’t anticipated.
I also got support from other local brewery owners. It was helpful to ask them what I was getting myself into. I connected with a couple of local roasters and brewers, too.
As I was working on getting the business up and running, I applied for a cottage food license with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and the town of West Hartford so I could roast coffee beans out of my house. I’ve been creating different blends and trying different beans so I can perfect my offerings and be ready once we open our physical location.
NAN: Let’s talk business location. Why are you planning to locate in West Hartford?
CODY: I’ve been living in West Hartford for about four years and saw there’s room here for more breweries. There’s a lot of activity and community support in West Hartford, too. That’s the vibe I’m going for with the café and the taproom. The concept has been to create a communal gathering place with a community-based feeling where you can support local. A place to connect with your community, sip craft beverages, and share your lives/thoughts/ideas. While the pandemic put a pause on that aspect of things, I continued to look for a space in the hopes that, eventually, we’d be able to gather once again.
I spent close to two years looking for an industrial building in the Elmwood neighborhood of West Hartford. On March 1, we signed a lease for a location on Shield Street. We’re in the permitting process right now with the goal of opening in early July. We’re excited that the space will have a kitchen on site, so we can offer food in addition to coffee and beer.
NAN: In addition to finding a space, what other startup challenges have you encountered?
CODY: Creating the business plan and the financials was easier for me just because I went to business school and I have the financial/accounting background. The biggest challenge I’ve run into was more about how to get this funded. I had to get creative and explore the different avenues, so I’ve been looking into getting loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), researching alternative lenders like HEDCO, Community Investment Corporation (CIC), and the Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF) and talking to different commercial lenders.
Of course, COVID-19 added new challenges, but it also gave us more time to find the right location. We were determined to open and continue moving forward, despite the challenges.
We kept building momentum with our online business and have been pleasantly surprised about how much support we’ve received from the community. It’s been great because people have continued to support local—and we all know small, local businesses need support now more than ever.
NAN: Any advice to others who are thinking of launching a similar type of business?
CODY: Use resources as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. That was another challenge for me, thinking I can do all of this on my own and I don’t need anyone’s help. Obviously, you don’t know everything, especially at the start. Talk to other people in your industry. Most are open to talking and pointing you to resources to help you start off on the right foot.