How we started our business in Crete

Can you believe it? It has been one year that we got the news that we were selected for the program of ESPA to start our business with the help of European Union subsidies (well that last part, we haven’t seen any money yet but patience is THE most important gift you can give yourself in Greece). One thing is for sure, we are up and running and brewing beer! Has it been a smooth path until now? What do you think yourselves? Of course not. We had our ups and definitely our downs through the whole process. Here we will write you down how we started our own brewery in Chania/Crete and the whole path we walked until now.

  1. Looking for a LEGALLY BUILT space

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Let’s start by going back to March 2017. We got accepted for ESPA and then the ball started rolling. We needed to find a place ASAP. Big enough (minimum 100 square meters), not too expensive, nicely located, if possible a nice view, not too far away from our house and last but not least a LEGALLY built building. All the rest was within great possibilities to find. Maybe not the whole packagebut at least a part of it. The last criteria was a bit more tricky.

Did you know that a big number of buildings in Chania are illegally built? In order to have the subsidies we needed a legal building. What a hustle! But we made it. After 1 week straight of visiting Chania from Chalepa to Agioi Apostoli to Souda to Stavros, we found our location in Vamvakopoulo. Just in front the garage where we go for our little car.

The mechanic came to see the place and the deal was round. The owner is a sweat Cretan man and keeps on encouraging us to have a successful business but never to forget that family is the most important thing in life. Well, we can’t tell him he’s wrong. It stays our number 1 priority!

In order to get the green light of ESPA we needed a civil engineer to come over and inspect the place to see if everything was regulated. We worked with a lovely engineer that also opened their doors through ESPA. They knew what we were going through and were a pure joy to work with.

2. Renovation

One thing you should remember in Greece: When you are renovating a place, you have to stay with your workers all the time! They need your guidance and advice every single minute of the day or they will just do it like they think is best (which is not always the best way).

We wanted to keep it simple but stylish so we went for an industrial style and very simple look. It took us only a week to renovate the whole space. You can look at the transformation in this video: Transformation video.

That was for the inside. Everything was ready. We installed our equipment and had our first brew in September. Unfortunately (or fortunately) one rainy day in October became a really rainy day. The amount of rain that fell out that day was the same that could fall down all winter long. Yes, let your jaw fall on the ground. We got a call from our neighbour that day saying that there was plenty of water coming out of the brewery.

We jumped in our car thinking about the worst case scenarios. We drove on the National Road and there we saw finally how much rain there was pouring down. The opposite side of the road was overflowing. I’m from Belgium and seriously have never seen so much water at the same time. It was incredible.

We arrived at the brewery and saw a muddy stream coming out of it. We thought about all the equipment we just installed. Luckily Nothing stands on the floor and nothing got damaged at the inside. Outside of the brewery we have the chiller and the steamer. Both very expensive machines so we were really worried about these.

When we came at the back door we realised where the problem came from. We looked though the window and saw a stream of mud coming from the hill behind our brewery. The rain hadn’t stopped yet and we thought that the machines were totally broken. Michalis went through the window, on his barefoot though the mud to check on both of the machines. We were really lucky. We put both of the them on wooden palets to have a little room for something that could happen. In this case tons of mud flowing down.

We were so sad about it. We had been working so hard for this project and this was how nature was going to help us?! But nothing could stop us of course. We took our courage in both hands and went though with the project. Renovations at Lafkas Brewery was a fact. It is only end of April that we finished with everything. Look at the Renovation Video here.

3. Finding suppliers

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Obviously we really want to work with local suppliers to produce our beer so we tried to find all of the materials here in Crete. This was a lost cause because there are no local producers of this kind yet. So we spread our area to Greece. That is how we found our barley supplier in Komotini: Vergina. They produce their own malt (and they have also their own beer). We get also our malt from there. Beside barley you need yeast and hops. These we get from Nikos from Ale Box in Athens. He has top quality products to work with. Furthermore we need to buy bottles, crowns and boxes. All three of the companies are Greek. We love it that we could work with Greek compagnies to get to the beer that we are producing today. Hopefully one day we can work with all Cretan suppliers, who knows?

4. Getting all the papers

Have you ever lived in Greece? Are you currently living here? Then this topic will be no strange subject to you. When you are doing what so ever here, you need a lot of paperwork done. You need to have a lot of patience and get through a lot of bureaucracy before you even get to produce.

Our biggest advantage by living and starting a business in Crete, Chania, is that all the necessary offices are very close to each other. We could get to a lot of offices in one day whereas that would have taken us 3-4 days in Athens.

First thing on the list is to declare your business name on paper. We are a private business so you take actually your personal name then. Under that you can write the name of your brand of course. Which for us is  LAFKAS BREWERY. The office is called Chambers of commerse. Fun fact: in Greece they love stamps. They love to make something official by putting the stamp on it. So, make a stamp for your company and do not make the same mistake as us if you have a private business. You have to write your name (EX: Aurelie Petillion) and not the name that you choose to call your shop/brand like.

Following to that, to produce beer specifically, you have to get in touch with customs and the chemist (They are handling the alcohol taxes). They all give you a whole list of papers to get. Just follow their instructions. And after doing that you will see that they will ask you even more papers. Do not worry, this is routine here. One GOLDEN tip: If they say we will have to send that paper to that specific office, offer them to bring it yourself. You will see that the process will go way faster that way and you will keep track of where your file is at that moment. You will also get in touch with the people who are handling everything which is a nice way to start your business.

Then you have also to take care of: EFKA  – Periferia – Tax Office – Paper of agriculture. When you click on these words you will find them in google maps or you will find their website/contact page.

The papers took us exactly 6 months. Especially the paper that allows you to produce alcohol is not an easy one. But after running around the whole summer we made it in September to get the permission to produce our very first batch of WHITE MOUNTAINS  beer.

5. Do not get discouraged

If we can say one thing: Do not get discouraged by the mountain of paperwork there is involved. We truly think that when you want something really hard and you put all your passion (and patience) in it, you can find a way to get things rolling. Look at us, if we can do it, you can do it for sure! Get out there and go follow that dream business you always wanted to start.

We are still working hard to get through with everything every single day but it also gets easier every single day. Let’s say that you can compare it with having a newborn. The first months are full of sleepless nights but after that rough path, you will be able to run your business.

We made it to produce our first beer: TRIPLE HOP PALE ALE. Check out our website to get to know the product and especially where you can find the beer.

And at last never forget:

It only seems impossible until it is done!

Relax, have a beer!

Michalis and Aurelie Cartoon

 

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