Max Borgardt was a musician touring with band for 10 years all over the country. Then he and his wife had a child, and she needed help.

"She wanted me to get a normal job. And I think I came back and Jack and I who — my brother, he's in the band with me — we came back after doing all that and we're like, 'We're going to start a brewery,' Borgardt, Eagle Park Brewing Co.'s owner and president told attendees at the Milwaukee Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. "And I don't think that's what my wife had in mind at that moment. But thank God it worked out."

They started brewing beer in his parent's garage and people told them their beer was good. So, they decided to go for it. He and his friend, with the help of a single investor, started out in the Lincoln warehouse in Bayview on a one-barrel system. Their first year in business, they did 130 barrels of beer. This past year, they did 10,500 barrels of beer. When they started in 2017, they had one employee. Now they have 95.

"So, it's been a pretty crazy seven-year stretch," Borgardt says. "We've learned a lot really, really fast and failed at a lot. And every time we failed, we just don't do it again."

COVID, he says, was a wild time for the young business. They couldn't fit enough people in their 100-seat tap room, so they looked to build a 400-seat tap room that they would open in April 2020. But that, he says, got derailed pretty fast.

They were still using cash flow from their Hamilton location to fund some construction. He says things got tight, and scary, fast.

"There was a moment there my brother and I looked at each other on the deck of our new brew house that was brand new, state-of-the-art — we did it, like, in five years, we did what we thought would take 15 — and, we had that look of, like, this might be it," Borgardt says. "We might brew one batch of beer and never do this again. Thank God the FDA decided to release like a wartime announcement that said, distilleries can make hand sanitizer."

He and his brother immediately converted to a hand sanitizer manufacturing plant in two weeks, then began sourcing raw materials and finding customers. They donated product to hospitals across the country, and sold a lot to service companies. It was crazy, he says, but it saved the company.

"It wasn't really a thought at the time," he says. "We just had to do what we had to do to keep the company alive."

He's operated under that idea that there's always another opportunity to pursue. But as president of company, overseeing 95 employees, he's recognizing that he has a lot of lives to take care of — a lot of responsibility. So, he says he always asks himself, is this a decision that's going to tank the company? That especially comes into play with bigger moves.

After acquiring the Milwaukee Brewing Company and the IP of Waukee Brewing Company, they were looking for a location to put a taproom or a brick-and-mortar, customer-facing location to showcase the products. They had a bowling alley under contract recently, and were passionate about the project, but there were structural issues with the building that inflated the budget to the point that it would have been cheaper to bulldoze the building than to renovate it.

They did a brewery expansion recently at their Muskego location to take on the Milwaukee Brewing Company volume. And in the midst of that, he says it made sense to hold off on the project. It was the right decision, he says, because they found another location for the taproom and tasting room that made more sense for them at the moment.

"So, sometimes it's looking in the mirror and just staying patient," he says. "And I think we've done a pretty good job of that thus far."

As a family company, something difficult for him as an owner was to shake the idea that if there are issues with an employee, he can fix it — figure out a way to save them right. But he's learned that's rarely the case.

"A few times, it's really bit me in the ass — having someone that is bad for the culture and infects the rest of the team," Borgardt says.

When he recently had a problematic employee, he says he made a quick decision to move someone out who created issues within one of his teams.

"Those are the biggest things that I've learned is taking the emotion out of it when it comes to employees," he says. "There is a degree where this is my family's livelihood. So, I can't let that cloud the judgment of trying to save someone."

The nature of the company's business means that it's in manufacturing as well as hospitality. And with the company's rapid growth, it means continuing to add people who have much different personalities.

"It's a wide range of people," he says. "So, for us, it's just been managing the teams and learning on a daily basis."