Jaime Dietenhofer, MESM 2002
Owner and Co-Founder, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
As a third-generation entrepreneur, Jaime Dietenhofer knows that he sees the world differently from how others see it. As owner and co-founder of Figueroa Mountain Brewing, he has worked to infuse his business with an ethos that embraces sustainable practices. But this green approach is just part of the difference in how he thinks about the world.
“As I was growing up, I always saw my dad and grandfather looking at ideas other people thought were crazy,” he says. “But their response would be, ‘Well, why not?’ They knew something might be a bad idea, but they used an exhaustive process to rule it out. And sometimes that led them to discover there was an opportunity there. So I learned that approach early on.”
Jaime used that approach of asking Why not? as early as his senior year of high school, when he told his father that he wanted to open a brewery. His father told him to continue his education, so Jaime earned an undergraduate degree in environmental science and politics. The dream stayed with him, however, even as he moved back to Santa Barbara, where he took his first job with the City of Santa Barbara Planning Agency.
“I started doing urban planning and home brewing,” he says. “They were these two concurrent things. One I thought was a pipe dream and one I thought was more real and applicable. And as I was working, I heard about the Bren School. I thought that was a great track for me, looking at a career in land use, and I wanted some more pertinent skills in analysis and economics. Then the rest was history.”
That history included time working for land-use policy firm Solimar Research Group, and then starting his first business: Garage Envy. “Bren taught me to weave environmental principles and practices with my business,” he says. “Not everyone I worked with believed in those, though, so instead of trying to force what I wanted to do, I would point out how it was accessible, reasonable, and economical. That way I could get buy-in from my contractors and the homeowners.”
And still, Jaime asked himself, Why not open a brewery?
One possible reason? Jaime describes himself as a bit of a “mad scientist” home brewer. But his time at Bren had helped him see a way around that. “I realized early on that I wasn’t technical or patient enough to be a brewer myself. But I said, ‘Not a problem. I’m going to hire really well.’ I learned these management and problem solving skills at Bren,” he says.
“As an owner, I can’t dive into every single problem of my business. I’d get nothing done. So I have to be able to hire well, to delegate, and to communicate with a clear message. That organization skill has been very helpful.”
With those skills he learned at Bren, honed from running his first business, the time was finally right. In 2010 Jaime and his father, Jim, founded Figueroa Mountain Brewing. They started with one location and a handful of employees. Ten years later, there are six taprooms along California’s Central Coast, and the beer is sold at retailers throughout California. Over a decade of growth and change, the company has remained consistent in its dedication to environmentally sound practices.
“There’s so many aspects,” he says. “We put in wind and solar energy and variable speed drives and carbon dioxide capture. We have a reuse program to minimize wastewater. We don’t want to do damage, we want to leave a smaller footprint, and we want our customers to know this is part of our ethos, and we hope they see why we do it.”
I would have loved to have someone tell me about their experiences—not just about their successes, but about the thousand things they failed in. That’s how you learn how you manage a company, how you hire, how you problem solve.
As entrepreneurship offerings at Bren have grown into the eco-entrepreneurship MESM focus, Jaime has stayed in touch with the Bren community, speaking to students at the brewery and giving feedback on group projects. “I get a lot out of going back,” he says, “because I would have loved to have someone tell me about their experiences—not just about their successes, but about the thousand things they failed in. That’s how you learn how you manage a company, how you hire, how you problem solve. That’s the valuable stuff a lot of people just don’t tell you."
He advises future entrepreneurs from Bren to seek out these honest learning opportunities through the Bren network and beyond. “You have to get exposure to someone running a company. You have to see what it’s like to be willing to be laughed at and thought you’re crazy and still push forward.
“You have to see firsthand the kind of wacky things that are thrown to an entrepreneur. What it’s like to never leave work, and have it never leave you.
“There’s a lot of people who would love to have a smart Bren student alongside to teach them that.”
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