Starting A Business In Costa Rica: Perrovida Craft Beer

Shannon Enete interviews Kyle Kersey, Perrovida Craft Beer

Who are you? Tell me a little bit about your family.

I’m Kyle Kersey from Washington D.C. area. I grew up there. My wife and I went to high school together. We joke that our relationship is a homecoming dance that never ended because our first date was sophomore year’s homecoming. We got married our freshman year of college and moved to the subburbs, where we had 3 sons back to back to back. This year we will be celebrating our 15 years anniversary. We spent about 10 years in rural Virginia where I established myself as a government IT worker just in time to be bitten by the bug to move to Costa Rica.Had you visited Costa Rica prior to moving there?

My wife and I came to CR for the first time in 2011, with my previous employer and fell in love with the sharp contrast from Washington D.C. My employer sponsored the trip as a reward for maintaining high sales numbers.

Where, when and why did you and yours move abroad?

Manuel Antonio, is where we landed. It is also where my boss sent us on our first trip to Costa Rica. Since my boss had a real estate business here I had immediate opportunity for work. Since Manuel Antonio is a tourist driven area there is much more english spoken which really helped our initial transition. Ultimately, we’d like to be out in the country somewhere, but the convenience of a private school for our kids learning spanish and with our learning curve Manuel Antonio was the best landing point.

We wanted to transition out of what I felt was a profitable but unfulfilling career. At the same time we worried about our young kids.

We believed we had a very short window to make a move since our oldest was in 1st grade. We tried on many ideas. I left my ten year 9a-5p job in February 2012 with two ideas in mind. We would either stay in the United States and purchase a 30ft tow-behind trailer and travel to all of the national parks or move to Costa Rica. We believed that Costa Rica would be a good place to grow and learn. We had friends that went to Costa Rica to learn permaculture. Doors started to open towards Costa Rica. My phone rang on February 20th, only 18 days after I left my job. It was the owner of the company. I told him not to ever send his top sellers to costa rica because it made me want to move there. Our conversation continued through June. We talked about me overseeing some of his Costa Rican businesses.

We took a month to test the waters of an international move paying special attention to education, safety, and our language barrier. We spent June and July in Manuel Antonio with our kids. Everyone fell in love with it. We decided to put a stake in the ground and move there by September. After arriving back to the D.C. area we moved into my step-mothers basement, rented out our home, disconnected our minds from our things and began to get into the travelers mindset. It was a very emotional time, but it felt like the right thing to do and the right time to do it. Even so, it makes you really uncomfortable. We all have an irrational attachment to objects in our life.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Our entire first year was a set of challenges. During the move itself, it came down to what to take? We have to setup a life in CR for 5 people, what of our belongings are important enough to bring in our luggage without baggage fees? Anticipating 6 months-1 year worth of things such as: computers, and certain materials are hard to come by (zip ties, duck tape, back up drive, vonage box) was really difficult. Not to mention, the logistics of living in a new place where our spanish was “beginner textbook” not even conversational, and trying to navigate to getting cell phones and kids enrolled in school. Waking up every day with a set of challenges was tiring at first.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We looked high and low. Ultimately, we ended up sitting down with the manager of the real estate office who rented my house out in the states (the company my previous boss owned). So much of real estate in this area is about timing and who you know. There is no MLS and craigslist is hit or miss. Knowing someone that has a real estate office with an agent who has their ear to the ground proved to be our best method. Our first six months was spent in a house with an ocean sunset view on a hill inside a gated community. It had a great yard, fruit trees, and was secure but it’s price tag was similar to what we would pay in the states. As our comfort level with the area and the language increased we transitioned to another place tico-styled place. We pay 1/3rd of the rent we used to and live more like the ticos do. We wash our clothes in the morning and let the hot Costa Rican sun dry them. Less is more, I have really learned this.

Have you traveled much in CR?

Not as much as I’d like to. We have never been to Guanacaste or the Caribbean.We put roots down super fast. We are trying to be portable, with our concept of life to be a “pre-tirement” but our personalities get in the way. We, somehow, find a way to get ourselves involved in activities and businesses.

What do you like about life where you are?

The tourist faces are good and bad because there is a transient tone to the area. Everyday we have an in-your-face reminder of what happens when you take in a powerful energetic sunrise at 90 degrees north of the equator. Add with it moderate tropical rains, time, and the vibrant green life at every corner makes this place unlike any other.

The number of different natural fruit juices, flora, fauna, cool birds (toucans, hummingbirds, caracaras), and monkeys that visit our house every week make this a magical place for me and my family. Plus, there are good waves to surf and a nice beach to enjoy.

Everyday, we feel more connected to our environment and are humbled by what’s around us.

When did you start your path towards Perrovida Craft Beer?

If you have ever traveled through Costa Rica and you’re a beer drinker, you will notice there is not much selection. If you want a draft beer there is even less selection. Out of 100 restaurants in Quepos and Manuel Antonio only one offers a draft beer. If someone put in the effort to create a micro brew there was certainly a market for it.

We met one of our partners-to-be, Mickey, that had land, and a rainforest spring water supply. We told him about our idea for a brewery and found room on the property. We didn’t know how to make beer at the time, so we talked about trading knowledge with brewmasters in the US for a place to stay in Costa Rica. When it came down to it, we just kept throwing it out there. We started proclaiming this goal in February, 2013. We made it full circle through a friend that worked at a hotel in Esterillos. They had a guest that was in the process of creating a brewery in CR. He even won an award for the best IPA in CR. He was looking for space and partners who could speak spanish. He was a glorified home-brewer who had a full-time job in California. We met him at his hotel and fell in love with his beer, it was a match made in heaven. It only took two months to find this third link in our Perrovida chain. We agreed to get back together in May. I freed myself from my employment managing properties and boats. My wife and I apprenticed with Paul for a few months. Paul was the founder of Perrovida. Paul lived 3 hours away (6 hours of driving for each session), so our driving showed him our commitment. By the end of September we moved all of the equipment to Rainmaker Park. Thus creating the jump from glorified home-maker to brewery.

Everything just played out organically. If you just get out of the way and don’t overlook it then doors open and things happen.

Our mentor and brewmaster, Paul Peck is from California, lives and works there full-time.

Had you made beer before Perrovida?

I had never made beer before. Always wanted to, but never did it. All of my friends had done home brew.

How has the process been starting a business in Costa Rica?

We are still in our regulatory phase right now. Costa Rica has different levels of legality to producing alcohol. Fulfilling the requirements necessary to sell alcohol legally is very difficult. It is much easier to brew and sell at your brew location. Other brewers have hotels, or restaurant but the beer does not leave the restaurant. We are working towards permission (permisos) to deliver to other cantons (similar to counties in the US). It helps to be in business with a local. Mickey has owned his business here for 20 years so we were able to walk into the municipality with credibility. It’s best to engage the local population and be part of the community.

Distribution permission for each canton have their own registration process. Also, there is the hurdle of company formation. In the US, you can do this simply online with a few clicks. It takes a long time to register a company name here. You must set up a board of directors, sit with an attorney, make repeat trips to the capitol to sign documents that need to be notarized by the appropriate party. You need physical ink stamps on numerous documents.

To learn more about starting businesses in Costa Rica, read Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica.

What are your next major steps?

1. Getting our beer out to restaurants.

2. 1 liter growler delivery service in Manuel Antonio. (Like the US milk man or Costa Rica propane tank man). People deliver a bottle with the fee of the beer and a deposit on the bottle. Then you can call us aback and exchange for a refill or return the bottle for your deposit

3. Filling stations. Bring your growler or local 2-liter screw cap bottles and fill with beer.

Our capacity is low, so we need a good balance between wholesale sales at restaurants and retail sales through our growlers. Filling station is what we see for the future. It’s less waste with the growler, which is real important for us. There are also some sanitizing systems where we can use the screw top plastic bottles to fill up the 2 litter bottles. Reuse materials that otherwise would be thrown to garbage.

1. We also plan on jumping into merchandising. We already have a large market for t-shirts and stickers. We have had some challenges getting quality shirts made in the country. We just make sure to take a tico-time attitude while running the business.

2. We plan on attending as many beer festivals as Costa Rica hosts.

We are one of only about six legitimate brewers in country. We have already received invites to upcoming festiles due to our social media campaign. We aim for organic growth, let our beer speak for ourselves. In three months of production we have grown to almost 700 likes on Facebook.

3. We’d like to produce some of our own events, like a New Year’s event.

This coming year we really need to learn how we can scale from high season and low season.

What has been the hardest hurdle?

It’s been really hard for my wife and I to remain mentally ok without knowing what was going to happen in the next year, and surrendering to it. Our children didn’t know the language. We worried if they would integrate or be the odd-ball out. Those questions played over and over in our minds. During the transition we did see our kids struggle to communicate with anyone. Parental guilt was certainly present but we felt that we made the right choice. Our children learned communicative spanish within three months, and now our oldest is straight A student speaking fluent spanish. In nine months of school, our younger child is a fully communicative spanish student. Kids are sponges, and the culture we moved to is so accepting, and understands family. Plus, the new kid is special here, cool, not taboo.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I dislike all of the things that remind me that I still have a life in the US. My house and my truck that is just rusting out there. We didn’t make a clean break in our move to Costa Rica. I still have to get my passport re-stamped. The fact that my status is an, extanjero, or stranger doesn’t feel right. The fact that I have to go back to the US to renew my drivers license because it’s been 10 years since they took my picture. We have renters in the house and sometimes the phone rings late, the sump pump is dead, and there is water in the basement. I can’t drive there and fix it. We are away and expatriated but still have a toe in the water. This is an ideal time to start thinking of selling our houses. I’m looking forward to figure out what to do with our life that we packed up and put in my step-mothers basement. We haven’t shipped a container. Our kids first toys and clothes, books, etc.

What advice would you give to anyone moving to Costa Rica or starting a business there?

Talk to the locals. Try to live like a local, embrace pura vida. Pura vida is a mantra that people say here for hello, goodbye, or what’s up, etc. If you bring the same air of metropolitan business, determined to get things done now then you are in for a rough road. Get outside of your comfort zone. There are so many things that you don’t realize are here until you get out of your comfort zones. There are natural juices from 20 some odd fruits here. They come in a plastic bag. It was a bit odd to me. Once I figured out that all you had to do was bite the corner of it to drink it, it ended up being great. You should embrace things as they are here and go with it. Just because it’s different does not make it wrong. Some people trying to live a US lifestyle here end up burning out.

What are your plans for the future?

All of the partners of Purravida Craft Beer have young kids and don’t want work to be the central part of our lives. Our two-year goal is to enable local people to run the business. Down the road we would like to establish a Perrovida Craft Beer in the States and have friends or family run it there.

We are getting ready to upgrade equipment allowing about 3x the output of what we are making now. We are trying to scale it with the market.

Where can readers buy your beer and find out more about Perrovida Craft Beer?

You can check us out at Facebook. Or come down and visit us at Rainmaker park, just outside of Manuel Antonio. Directions can be found on Facebook places. Feel free to email us at: perrovida11@gmail.com for questions, to order t-shirts, etc.

To learn more about Becoming an Expat in Costa Rica read, Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica.

Watch the brew process on You Tube here:

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