Just a few months ago, Crooked City Cider looked to be hitting its stride. The Oakland-based cidery, a one-woman company founded by Dana Bushouse in 2014, was growing. Not only was Bushouse getting requests from more Bay Area bars and restaurants to carry her dry cider, but she received a loan that allowed her to buy new equipment that greatly increased her production. Working out of a shared space at Two Mile Wines in Uptown for the last two years, Crooked City was running smoothly and Bushouse was busy working on opening a cider tap house in Jack London Square. She was in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for its buildout when she got some bad news.
Two Mile Wines had found a new tenant, another winemaker, to share its space. Crooked City Cider needed to be out of the facility in two weeks, including all of its equipment. (Nosh contacted Two Mile Wines for comment, but had not heard a response at the time of publication). Bushouse told Nosh she had spent $150,000 for production equipment, and without a place to move it to, was forced to sell it all in a fire sale. “I didn’t make nearly as much money as I paid for it; it was essentially brand new,” Bushouse told Nosh in a phone conversation. Even more pressing, cider production was completely shut down.
Although Crooked City’s WeFunder profit-sharing campaign reached its maximum goal of $107,000, Bushouse said that all the capital raised is going to the bar. She has identified a couple of spaces in West Oakland and Uptown that would be ideal for production, but at the time, she doesn’t have the funds — about $100,000 — to make it happen. And, Bushouse said, she doesn’t feel comfortable starting another campaign. “It’s not the right time. I won’t be able to pay the investors back until we generate revenue. It would be a slap in the face to those people waiting,” she said.
For now, Bushouse’s options are limited. With a dwindling amount of cider left to maintain her accounts, she needs to either find a partner who’ll help get her into a new production space pronto, or go the custom crush route. That is, a contract winery would take Crooked City’s recipe and make the cider at its facility. It pains Bushouse to go with the latter option because she’s always been so involved with Crooked City’s cider making, and so far, she’s only been able to find wineries outside of Oakland who could make her cider.
“I’m in this really horrible position — I have a limited amount of cider left to maintain my accounts,” she said. “I want to be an Oakland-based small business that produces here in Oakland… My branding is all about Oakland and I’m passionate about staying here.”
Bushouse recognizes that although not ideal, a custom crush facility may be the most feasible to continue her restaurant and bar accounts and ramp up production for the cider bar. Still, she’s not ruling out the possibility of bringing on a partner.
“Up until now, it’s just been me. I wouldn’t complain if I had a partner,” she said, but added, “I’m not desperate. I’m still being mindful about who I’m bringing in to the company.”
In the meantime, Bushouse is moving forward, focusing on finishing the taproom. The final touches will be done by the end of the month, but then the bar must undergo final inspections, a process that can delay the opening (her fire inspection, she said, was three months behind schedule and stopped all progress on the space while she waited). If all goes as planned, the 2800-square-foot space at 206 Broadway will feature a bar with 25 taps of cider, along with a cozy lounge with couches, a game room with darts and “every board game you can imagine,” and a dog-friendly patio. The tap house will host monthly events, like a movie night and Drag Bingo. It will be a family-friendly space for “well-behaved adults with children,” Bushouse said.
There’s also a plan for food. Bushouse had partnered with Red Door Catering, who helped bring in chef Stella Piranio, formerly of Stay Gold Deli and Bull Valley Roadhouse, to open a snack shack inside the taproom. Dames @ Crooked City Cider was set to offer a menu of stuffed brioche buns, sandwiches, red beans and rice, and other bar snacks.
But then Bushouse got more bad news.
A few minutes after wrapping up our phone conversation, Bushouse called back. Reign Free, the founder of Red Door Catering who recently reopened the Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, was pulling out of the Crooked City project, meaning Dames wouldn’t have the financial backing to open.
Nosh reached out to Free, who said it was a hard decision to make, because she and Bushouse are friends, but that her recent involvement with the Bear’s Lair was the reason she had to bow out.
“I kind of overcommitted myself, and the UC Berkeley opportunity contract is a lot… It’s a little bit more than I thought it would be. I’m very conscious of being all-in, so if I don’t feel like I can be all-in, I don’t like to be mediocre,” Free said. “I know that [Crooked City’s taproom] will be great. I just want to make sure she has the best.”
Because Crooked City’s ABC license requires it to have a food vendor to open, Bushouse will either need to find a new investor to fund Dames @ Crooked City Cider, or find another vendor that can operate in a hoodless kitchen to sublet the space.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Bushouse said, “This is all happening and I’ll know why. I will sure as hell will know why someday.”
For now, despite all the setbacks, she says she’s still dedicated to Crooked City Cider.
“We’re still here, we’re still committed to Oakland, and to the local cider community,” she said.