“It’s hard to always do it the right way. There’s a lot of short cuts that can come along, and to have a partnership group that says, “let’s not take that shortcut” has always been our saving grace,” says Jim Button, co-founder of Village Brewery.
Born in Germany to a military family, Button had lived in Italy, Quebec, Cold Lake, and Ottawa, all by Grade 4. He studied psychology at university in Guelph to be either a psychologist or in advertising, but took jobs in welding, advertising, and driving, before he finally decided in 1993, at 29 years old, to open his own agency in Calgary.
“I chose Calgary because a) people look you in the eye when you walk down the street, very different to Toronto, and b) wave at you in your car and let you in. If you signal in Toronto that’s a sign of weakness,” he laughs.
“I would phone people and say, I’m looking to start an agency, would you meet with me, and they would meet with me,” he says. “And they’d introduce me to more people – and that’s Calgary. This is a town where my personality fits.”
Financial planning and strategic events followed, before Button became VP of his clients – Big Rock, and ultimately on leaving there in 2009, starting Village, Alberta’s first new brewery in 15 years. It would be two years before they sold their first beers, but it ended up being a good thing. “We invested $2 million to start a brewery, but it meant that we had the infrastructure in place for growth,” Button explains.
“Village is a community-based brewery, I knew it could succeed,” he says. “I’d seen it work. When we started, my partners at the time had about 200 years of experience, and every year it goes up by seven years. We feel a lot of responsibility for this industry because of our experience.”
They started as East Village Brewing Company, located in the Simmons building, but faced with a three year wait for it to be habitable, they took East off the name, and the whole ethos of “It takes a Village” came into being.
“Fast forward six years, we’ve done well and we feel really good,” says Button, and lists some of the many things they’ve been involved in. “We’ve done our part, and that’s the part I’m most proud of.”
And what is Button’s special bottle?
“The first person I met when I came to this city was my wife, Tracey,” he says. “Her great grandfather, Joseph E Seagram, had the highest integrity, he really cared for his employees. He really cared for the city, and he built Waterloo.”
Button purposely changed who he was when he moved to Calgary. He’d never really volunteered, but at the time Tracey’s mother was volunteering at Zoogala. “So within the first month I’d found a volunteer gig, and eventually became the chair of Zoogala,” he says. He credits his wife and her family heritage for his giving back, having now been on many volunteer boards, and helped with around hundreds events.
Button has chosen an old bottle of Guinness for his bottle. “I wanted to choose this because it’s beer, and I believe the Seagram family were responsible for importing it into Canada way back when.”
“They closed the Seagram Museum in Waterloo, and an awful lot of that came to the family members,” says Button. “I’ve got original Joseph E Seagram handwritten recipe books, and bottles of whiskies and gins with his handwriting on. It’s untouchable because there’s nothing you can do with it except just revel in its beauty.”
“I’ll never drink the bottle. I couldn’t imagine it would taste great, but who knows?”