Like most college kids, Manuel “Manny” Chao really loved beer. It wasn’t until he was a sophomore at the University of Washington (UW) that he learned to appreciate good beer. Back in 1992, he took a girl out to a fancy restaurant and tried to impress her by ordering the most expensive beer. It was the Redhook Black Porter he ordered that day that sparked an epiphany and forever changed his life.
Now 40, Chao is the proud co-owner of Georgetown Brewery with his business partner, Roger Bialous. The brewer is famous for producing the famous Manny’s Pale Ale and Roger’s Pilsner — named after each co-owner, respectively.
Born in the Canary Islands of Spain, Chao’s family lived there until he was 5. His parents moved him and his older brother to the East Coast first, and then his family ended up in Beaverton, Ore. when he was in the third grade.
Chao’s parents owned a Chinese restaurant at the time, and he often spent a lot of time helping in the restaurant because he loved the busy atmosphere.
Throughout his life, his father has been a huge influence and role model.
“I think about the risks he took,” Chao said. “He carted his family from Spain to the U.S. because my parents wanted their sons to grow up here and have an opportunity to start in a foreign country. That takes a lot of guts, and what he’s done has really inspired me.”
His parents are now retired and split their time between Taiwan and Bellevue. Inspired by his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Chao convinced his team to do an operational study on microbrews while he was in business school. They went around and visited local breweries like Red Hook, Hale’s and Grant’s. Chao also spent his summer of 1992 home brewing during his junior year of college and became obsessed with craft brewing.
Chao aspired to find a career that he loved, and realized that everyone should be drinking good beer. He found that there were a lot of opportunities for growth in that industry because it was small and emerging, so he jumped on the opportunity to mix business with beer. Georgetown Brewing Company was incorporated in 2002, and Chao and Bialous sold their first keg of beer in February of 2003.
“Manny’s a super talented guy, and it’s very valuable to have a guy who’s not just talented in on area when you’re trying to start a small business,” Bialous said. “He has a good head for business and a great head for beer.”
Bialous said their flagship beer, Manny’s Pale Ale, was the only product they sold for the first two years because they wanted to focus on creating the right product. Roger’s Pilsner was the next product they created.
“With Manny’s experience working at Mac & Jack’s back in the day, we decided to design a go-to beer for us and hope others would like it, too,” Bialous explained.
The pair sat down and wrote down all the different aspects for their ideal beer, and decided what they wanted the beer to taste like. Bialous said it was after the eighth batch that they realized they were very close to the final product.
Even though Chao believed they created their own luck with the business opportunity, he and Bialous faced business challenges such as cash flow, long hours, uncertainty with the expected amount of risks.
“You never know how people will react to your first business or products; the confidence of knowing is tough,” Chao said.
Nevertheless, Chao is happy with what they’ve accomplished so far. At this point, Chao wants to make sure his employees are being taken care of.
“I love the fact that we built a company that feels like a family. I really love my employees and seeing them every day,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, it’d make things a lot harder to come into work every day. The idea behind the company is that everyone should be able to enjoy a good life, wage and save money for retirement.”
Giving back to the community is also high on Chao’s life for success in their local business.
When Chao was a counselor for Camp Goodtimes, a camp experience for kids with cancer, he befriended Bob Hirsch. When Hirsch past away after his 21st birthday, Chao talked to Hirsch’s family about selecting a charity, and they chose the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Western Washington & Alaska because it’s where they stayed when Hirsch was receiving treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
So every year on May 14, the brewery releases Bob’s Brown Ale, and all proceeds of the sale go towards the RMHC. Executive director of the RMHC, Dianna Finnerty, said that the brewery has raised about $420,000 since its inception eight years ago.
“Manny’s very committed to helping the Ronald McDonald House. He’s got great energy and creativity,” she said. “Manny’s created a great team, and created a business that cares and is committed to giving back.”
In addition to work and community service, Chao loves being outdoors. He loves to ski, play Ultimate Frisbee, bike and travel. In fact, he’s headed to Brazil next month. Chao enjoys visiting other countries and experiencing different cultures to understand how happy and dynamic they are, even when they are less fortunate than Americans.
“I think my cultural identity has made me a better people person and communicator. Because so many times you see things that get lost in translation, and even having that with my family, I think it’s helped me be able to make sure people understand what I’m saying by reading body language and seeing if people are aware,” he explained.
Chao said that he never experienced any type of discrimination because of his race. In fact, he feels that it gives people an advantage because that makes him more memorable.
“Folks have a stereotypical view of what a brewmaster should look like, so when they see a middle-aged Chinese guy, they get a little surprised that I’m not Hispanic, German or older,” Chao explained.
Beer fans can rejoice and drink Manny’s Pale Ale knowing that they will always support a locally-owned brewery, because Chao has no plans on publicizing his company.