Photo: Bad Tattoo’s Lee Agur, centre, with parents Janice and Robin
From our Summer 2019 Spotlight on Penticton: Beer Town BC
If you live and work in the South Okanagan business community, you might know the Agur family. Involved in highly successful hospitality and real estate enterprises and well respected for their business acumen, they were able to bring significant experience to the task of creating a craft brewery five years ago.
“My parents Robin and Janice have been amazing role models, and I aspire to create a life like theirs”, says Lee Agur, an accountant by training and the driving force behind Penticton’s Bad Tattoo Brewing Co. “They are extremely supportive, and make life and business significantly easier for me.”
Lee, who manages the brewery, is no slouch himself. This relatively young man is widely perceived to be exceedingly bright, and What’s Brewing has certainly found this over the years when we’ve spoken with him. But it turns out that the brewery has a youthful management group in general. “Four out of five of our main managers are under 35 years old”, Agur notes. “I believe it brings more energy and excitement to the business. We’ve been very fortunate to create the culture that we have.”
Bad Tattoo is among the minority of smaller BC brewers that constructed a purpose-made building (Sooke Brewing and Riot Brewing are other examples). It’s a smart 8600 sq.ft. facility with a spacious area for an expanding brewhouse plus a 115-seat lounge, including a 1000 sq.ft. covered patio.
Aside from five core beers and seasonals, Bad Tattoo’s secret weapon is their menu, featuring only one category of food: quite likely the best brewery pizza in BC. With rotating flavours like Ham & Apple, Spanakopizza and Falafel, the pies from their rock oven pizzeria have become legendary. Their notoriety went up two notches this spring when they launched their Crocodile Filet pizza with real Australian croc meat.
Thanks to their food-primary license, Bad Tattoo is family-friendly, even brewing its own sodas, enabling it to become part of the wider community. As Agur understates, “I think we’re very well embraced here.” When we visited, they had just hosted a couple of birthday parties; one was for a seven-year-old girl, the other for a seventy-year-old woman. Both of the birthday girls got to pick where their families went and both chose Bad Tattoo—a brewery. Think about that.
The compelling combination of hospitality, craft beer and gourmet pizza almost caused a stampede when Bad Tattoo debuted. Lee tells an amazing story of the brewery’s planned “soft opening”, notable for how “un-soft” it was.
“We broke ground January 14th 2014, and we opened six months later, which is very fast for this size of building”, Agur notes. “For the month leading up to opening, we were in here 100 hours a week.”
On July 4th of that year, they decided on a soft opening date the next week. “We had no front-of-house staff yet, so we did a quick hiring round, thinking this was going to be a low volume place at first”, Agur shares. “Our A.C.P. Golden Ale was the first beer we released. We finished kegging it at 2 AM the night before opening.”
Media wanted to cover the event, but they were told to wait for an official grand opening, perhaps toward the end of July. But that day never came. It wasn’t needed.
On Saturday, July 12th, 2014 at 11 AM, Bad Tattoo opened its doors. At 11:05, there was a lineup. “In our wildest dreams, we thought we’d do forty pizzas that day. We served over 200”, Agur recalls with some pain. “We were severely understaffed. I called in my mother to work as hostess, my sister to help take payments and my wife to bus tables.”
It was an unstoppable tidal wave. “At one point, there was an hour wait to get in, and an hour wait to get served. But nobody left.” Agur remembers, “People would walk by on the street, and you’d hope they’d keep walking. Then you’d see them look over and turn in towards the brewery. You’d think, “oh no”, but you’d say, ‘Welcome to Bad Tattoo!’”
During those first weeks, Agur was asking friends who were just in Penticton on vacation to work in the brewery. “We had to buy more food and quadruple the staff. We’d say to guests, ‘Thank you for coming in. Please don’t tell anybody about us for two weeks.’”
After the trial by fire, things got under control, but the visitors’ enthusiasm remained. Lee has talked to out-of-town guests who found Bad Tattoo when in Penticton on a week’s holiday, then came back every day of their vacation.
Naturally, the fact Lee opened a brewery is also popular among his circle of friends. But was it a shock? “I was nicknamed KeggerAgur by a few friends growing up as I always seemed to have a keg of beer with me at parties”, Agur admits. “So, some were a little less surprised than others.”
There is definitely Bad Tattoo beer at Agur family events these days. But they try to keep the shop talk to a minimum. “Family/work balance is extremely important to us”, the Agurs told What’s Brewing. “We try to talk more about family than work.”
Lee isn’t the only Agur offspring with business instincts. “I have three sisters, all of whom are entrepreneurial”, he shares. “We’re able to help each other when problems inevitably arise, which is pretty cool. We have ‘kids’ meetings’ every once in a while to help each other out with personal or business issues.”
Working with family in a multi-generational situation isn’t always easy. Asked whether there have been difficult or awkward times, the family jokes, “No, everyone agrees with everything all the time.” More seriously, they share that “We certainly have disagreements; however, in the end it comes to trust and we all deeply trust each other. So we decide on the best course of action and move forward.”
The Agurs are no strangers to hard work and long hours. Mom and Dad mentioned the time Lee was working late at the brewery when his wife Martina dropped in. She tried to wait for him to finish but fell asleep on some bags of malt in the brewhouse. At 2:00 am Lee needed a break so he poured some beer out of a tank. He ended falling asleep in a chair in the tank farm. The couple had an unplanned overnight at the brewery.
It’s not all grim. Asked what the family likes about the beer business, the Agurs point out that “It’s quite unique in the fact that it is so collaborative. There is a lot of sharing of ideas, and help is always there if you need it.” This is evidenced by the fact that Cannery Brewing, now only blocks away, was quite supportive when the new brewery was in development.
The family concludes, “Beer is a lot of work, but why not have fun, and enjoy what you are doing? It adds a lot of quality of life.” No matter how big or small Bad Tattoo may end up, it seems that Lee and the Agur family have something they can truly enjoy together.
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