创始人故事 Our Stories
We two, Xia Yulin and Pan Dinghao, are founders of Panda Brew. While studying abroad in the UK and Canada, we’ve tried plenty of good beers. We got home after graduation, only to find it was too hard to have a craft beer in China.
Therefore, we thought why not brew by ourselves?
In 2013, we opened a bar in a hutong in Beijing. The bar were approximately 20 square meters and equipped with only one counter, four taps and six seats. The beers are brewed by ourselves, so is the table made and painted.
We named our brand “Panda Brew” in the hope that it will act as Panda to be the representative of China.
The past few years did witness our progress. We expanded from the initial group of three members to the current professional team, consists of talents and devotees. The small hutong bar duplicated to over 20 bars and restaurants across the country. Started from our first try, the Panda Eyes Honey Ale – which nectar collected by China bee. We now boast dozens of craft beer with citrus honey, strawberries, coffee, peppers, vinegar and all flavors you can imagine.
Still, we’ve been staying true to our mission of ‘brewing Chinese best beer.’
第一款啤酒故事 Our first beer
At the very beginning, we wanted out first brew to be a craft beer with decent taste.
So what would be our first bottle?
First, we wanted to make a beer with Chinese characteristics. Second, we wanted to make a popular and widely acceptable beer for everyone.
Finally, we thought of honey. Honey often reminds people of sweet and delightful things. Also, there has been the tradition of adding honey to beer since ancient times, and until now honey beer is still very popular.
There was another catalyst for our first brew. As President Barack Obama moved in to the White House, his very first demand was to add brewing equipment to the kitchen, and the first beer was made is called White House Honey Ale. There’s been a constant trend of amending and making new beer among brewers after the release of recipe.
Obviously there is noway to steal honey from the White House, instead we add secret ingredients to make ours unique—mixed nectar collected by China Bee. This particular honey is becoming increasingly scarce. The number of Apis cerana is severely depleted by the invasive Apis mellifera ligustica, accounting for only 30% of the total bees raised by beekeepers. For the sake of ecological protection, we insist on the purchase of high-quality nectar from beekeepers that raise China Bee. Our Honey ale has a unique amber color.
Earlier in time, we name it ‘Oriental Red Honey Ale’ in light of its amber red color. At that time, we didn’t even have a designer, so Pan Dinghao had to be play two roles — chief brewer as well as designer. He designed the label for couple days and got a pattern of a seal with character ‘正红(Oriental Red)’ written in Chinese official script. He felt anxious after sending it to the printers, worrying that this label would not be a hit. He urgently called for stop as the printers had already done one-third of the work. Then he spent 20 minutes to draw a new bottle label — eyes, panda nose, as well as the panda eyes.
Just as he expected, the honey ale in bottle with the panda eye label became famous overnight.And it becomes one of best selling Panda brew beer on the market.
我们的公司文化 Culture of Pandabrew
As founders of Panda Brew, we were more of two outsiders at the very beginning, knowing nothing about brewing. If we had to see the difficulty, we would definitely not start at all.
However, the less wit, the more courage. We just got to crack on it.
In 2013, not content with just offering craft beer in store, we decided to make bottled beer. At that time, the minimum order quantity for glass bottle of all suppliers we asked was five million, regardless of the fact that 1000 caps cost only 1 yuan. Our team had only three to four people, working in a small shabby office with desks set up by ourselves. The bottle label was designed curtly in minutes by ourselves. We put all money on the label of our first bottle. It took us several fold costs and time to request suppliers to produce that small batch of bottles.
Because of that batch that we became the very first group people in China who made craft beer. We were also lucky to have caught up with the time when craft beer enjoyed rapid advancement and thus topping the industry within two years. We are now far exceeding other brands in the industry. The less wit we have, the more courage we own. Thanks to our bold action of doing things which others dare not to do, we are now getting better.
To get cracking doesn’t mean to be ruthless, but rather a bold move followed with reflections afterward.
This is an era when cream always rises to the top. Whenever someone gives you a good chance, seize it! Don’t mind whether or not you can make it, just get cracking on it!
Think back to the difficulties we’ve met on the way of making craft beer, I sometimes wonder: are we forced to do this?
No. Ten years ago, I’ve already earned more than a million before Panda Brew was founded. My co-founder Pan Dinghao who came back from Canada, was the kind with deeper pockets but had great aspirations. Our COO, Li Zhigang, got his well-paid job at age of 30, who was the youngest cadre of the People’s Bank of China and would have lived a stable life. Our CCO Lu Min, was a big shot in Hunan’s dining industry who carved out several restaurant and beverage brands that are still renowned in Changsha.
Why did we start brewing while we were all thriving on our own businesses? We were unwilling to embrace the status quo.
Life is too short. It is only meaningful when interesting people gathered to do interesting things.
Just get cracking on something!
None of the executives of PandaBrew had ever made beer. So we all learnt from scratch.
In 2013, I knew nothing about beer. I could have asked my partner Pan Dinghao who was a bit more professional than me, but I decided to learn all by myself. I carefully browsed all the professional websites related to beer, including Brewerassociation, Ratebeer,BJCP. I read more than a dozen books about beer, including the thick four volumes of 《Malt, Water, Yeast, Hops》of BA, and of course 《Business for Punks》written by founder of Brewdog and《Brewing Up Business》by founder of Dogfishhead.
After secretly studying and few trials practicing with Pan Dinghao, I found myself gradually catching on. Since then, I was capable to blurt out things about craft beer with others.
One of the wall in our Beijing office hangs a calligraphy work of ‘学习(study)’ written by Chairman Mao. A boss from Hunan Province, I guess, prefers to retain some revolutionary features with him. Later, co-partner Senior Lu asked for a copy at the office in Changsha, which became the popular place to take photo to welcome new recruits.
My covert studying was far from being totally independent to others. Rather than being half acquainted with it, I made myself bite deeply into it. When you are ignorant, you are easily getting cheated by others; but when you become professional, you can seek truth by yourself.
The covert study was to free oneself from being fooled by oneself.
It’s all My Fault!
Two months ago, on Panda Brew’s Facebook page I accidentally read a message a foreigner left, saying ‘quite simply the worst bar I’ve been to China’. My first reaction at the time was ‘someone’s gonna screw me over’, but I still got in touch with him in hope to know more details.
I got to know that once he came to our Brewery&Kitchen to drink, he saw the staff taking out his beer from a large glass jug but not from the tap. The staff aimed to improve the efficiency, but he thought that affected the coolness of beer as he expected. He then insisted on changing his beer but was refused by our staff. He denied the bill and got stopped by our manager and other staff while he was about to leave with his wife.
He expressed his anger in the message: I have never been treated like a thief. Knowing this, I asked information from our staff, and then sent my sincere apology to him on behalf of Panda Brew and myself. It was indeed our fault.
We will retain that apology forever on Facebook.
After that I kept thinking why haven’t we received any report from our store? It was understandable that there might be criticism and punishment once reported. But the fact is mistakes are always inevitable.
It was his complaint, and the mistake our staff made did we start to improve from the following three aspects:
1. We upgrade the tap, and there is no need to get the beer out in advance because of the excess of foam. This act is to ensure us deliver the beer at the best temperature to our customer at all time.
2. We give the staff permission to change the beer for all customers regardless of reasons;
3. we authorize our bar managers the right to handle sudden situations and to decide for exemption or donation;
A mistake made spurred us to improve and avoid hundreds or even thousands of the possible same mistake in the future.
We hope that each of our members will never be satisfied with themselves. Whether at work or in life, trifles and details are all worth reflections. Improve whenever there’s a chance to make it better. If you ever feel satisfied, that might because you are not aware that you are imperfect. We are optimistic about those who are never satisfied with themselves, those who set higher standards, and those who dare to confess their fault and make a change.
Next time when a mistake occurs, I hope to see someone who can stand out and say ‘It is my fault’.