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Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter
Business profile

Small Business Tour: Crowns & Hops Brewing Company

Names: Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter

Location: Inglewood, CA

Business: Crowns & Hops Brewing Company

What did you do before starting your business and what made you become an entrepreneur?

Beny: I think I came out of the womb as an entrepreneur. I don't think there's ever been a moment where I wasn't trying to start my own business somehow, some way, even as a young kid with a lemonade stand or just something as simple as that. But before I got into craft beer, I worked in advertising and creative marketing. I worked at all of the big agencies, producing TV commercials. I left New York when Beats by Dre moved me to LA to build their internal creative team. I think I've just always been in this creative world.

Teo: I was in commercial print and production primarily for the entertainment industry. So I worked on everything from studio billboards to DVD packaging—you name it. And it's funny, as Beny says, that kind of DNA of being an entrepreneur has always been there. Maybe it's ancestral DNA calling us to just really take the reins and do what's what we're coded to do.

Can you tell us about Crowns & Hops? What was the inspiration and how did you get started?

Teo: Crowns and Hops Brewing company is dedicated to racial equity in an industry that has more or less struggled with it for generations. We were literally becoming a change that we wanted to see in the industry. I’m a craft beer lover, and I just did not see my reflection in craft beer. So not only did I enjoy the product, but there was a problem to solve. 

Beny: One of my favorite quotes is “necessity is the mother of invention.” And we saw a necessity to build space, to build community, and to create this world and introduce this world of craft beer culture to this community. And it's such a welcoming place. It's such a warm place. It's such a family-friendly place. And we both loved it so much. We just wanted to bring it to our communities in a way that had never been done before.

Teo: You can go anywhere from Atlanta to New York, to Scotland and London, and see all these amazing pubs and public houses—but you never saw that in black and brown communities. Instead, it was always liquor stores or it was always fast food joints. It was nothing that said the city owns this and Beny and I were like, yeah, we're going to give that to our cities. And we're going to drop bread crumbs for others that want to create it for their cities. 

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

Teo: The most surprising thing is how many other businesses you have to collaborate with in order to be a successful business. It really shows you that, as an entrepreneur, you're so important to what it means for other people to fulfill their dreams, as well as yours. You know, you're hiring attorneys, artists, accountants—you name it. And it's so important especially to have tools like QuickBooks that allow you to have a common thread to communicate and to make sure that people are taken care of. There's no better quote in sales than “fast pay makes for fast friends” and I think that's one of the cool things about being an entrepreneur. You get to work with and pay your friends.

Beny: You do. I think Teo brings up a good point. We thought we were getting in the business of, you know, maybe just beer. Turns out we're in the business of restaurants. Now we're in the business of hospitality, we're in the business of merchandise, product sales, creative marketing. Being an entrepreneur forces you to be an entrepreneur in a thousand different industries and perfect each and every one of them to the best of your ability.

What are some of those hiccups and challenges? What were some of those harder things that you had to sort through?

Beny: Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. Everybody wants to start their own business. But a lot of people don't necessarily know how to do that and create something that sustains and lives in generational wealth. There's so many factors and verticals inside that you have to really master to create a sustainable and successful business. And I think we didn't really realize that until we were right in the middle of it. The information and the skills that you thought you had from your previous job don't necessarily apply to being an owner of a company or a CEO because you were working for someone else. When you work for yourself, it's a lot more responsibility. There’s a lot more dedication and a lot more understanding of how everything works together that you're not necessarily privy to when you're just an employee at a company.

Teo: One of the reasons why we created a nonprofit, The 8 Trill Pills Initiative, was to really get into some of those nuanced areas that entrepreneurs and business owners weren't being exposed to—especially black and brown owners. I think in our first year of operation, we didn't even realize how many attorneys we would have to secure, how many accountants, how many times we would have to have our books looked at, and how organized our books would need to be.

Can you tell us more about your nonprofit?

Teo: Our 8 Trill Initiative is our nonprofit that we based on the concept of, if we start focusing on racial equity today, our country stands to see an impact of $8 trillion to the national GDP. It turns the conversation around racial equity and inclusion and diversity from being a charity case to an investment conversation. And one of the things that's important for us is to showcase different tools and different paths to be able to be a more productive business. QuickBooks, without a shadow of a doubt, is a tool for a more productive business. 

What's next for your business and this space?

Beny: This is our flagship location. It's 14,000 square feet, right in the heart of Inglewood, right down the street from the Forum, the SoFi Stadium, and the new Intuit Dome…we’re very excited. This is going to be our central location where we will really form roots in this business and really ground ourselves. So people can physically come and get a pint, bring their families, enjoy conversation, have delicious food, drink fresh beer—all in your community, right in your backyard.

Teo: Having a public house that belongs to the community is extremely important to us. I think there are many towns and cities around this country where a lot of black and brown people feel like they're losing their city, that their cultures aren’t being represented and that they're not represented in industries and products that they consume. Our goal with Crowns & Hops is to change that and to just really be a beacon of not only hope for an industry, but for communities that ultimately saw their culture being dismissed.

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You have to trust your team. You have to trust your advisors and your mentors.

Can you talk a little bit more like opening a brick mortar location? That is such a major milestone for so many small businesses.

Beny: It's very daring to create your own space. But we know that the end result is gonna be very fulfilling, not even just for us, but what we're creating is for the larger community. And we hope that this location will be here for years to come and it will be a fixture in the heart of Inglewood.

Teo: Everything that this space will become is also a compilation of phenomenal advice from people in the industry. We're taking all that into account. Everything that we're doing is not just about what Teo and Beny want, it’s about applying the advice of a brewer saying “Don't go too small. You'll never be able to get that price for property again, get as much square footage as you can because you'll run out of space quicker than you think.” It can be a little intimidating. That liar called fear tends to be whispering in your ear at night before you go to sleep—but you have to trust your team. You have to trust your advisors and your mentors. 

Beny: We've been very intentional about aligning ourselves with allies and advisors that can help us fill the holes where we know we don't know that information. Those kinds of things are really important to understand as an entrepreneur. If you don't know something—it's okay—ask for assistance.

How do you engage with other businesses in the neighborhood?

Teo: We have such an incredible network of businesses and entrepreneurs that we work with in Inglewood. A lot of times, there's invaluable lessons that you get from businesses adjacent to you, or even completely different from you. I think the support system that we've created from a compilation of other businesses in the community—like a coworking space in La Create Space, a coffee house like Sip & Sonder or Hilltop, an ice cream shop like Jamz Creamery—these are all individuals who are able to tell us about their stories about dealing with the city, dealing with investors, dealing with expansion, and scaling. We share resources. It’s a pretty incredible network to be a part of.

What do you think is still needed to foster more small business growth in Inglewood? 

Beny: I think there's a level of awareness that still needs to happen to understand the opportunity that is here. I think bringing Crowns & Hops here is going to help with transforming the culture of black ownership in the city of Inglewood. When you see this 14,000 square foot facility owned by two black people, one born in the city, you'll feel like you can do anything here as well. I think that's one of the most important parts and purposes for us being here. To create that awareness and let people know if we can do it, you can do it, too.

How and when did you start using QuickBooks? 

Teo: We started using QuickBooks pretty immediately. I think as soon as we formed our company and spoke to an accountant, she was like: “What are you using to keep your books? What are you using to stay organized and to know what you're spending?” At the time it was an Excel sheet. I mean, we didn't have an answer that was efficient. We didn’t have anything comprehensive. She signed us up for QuickBooks Online immediately.

How has it helped your business be more successful?

Beny: Finances are the most important part of your business, in my opinion—just being able to go on and see our P&Ls on a monthly basis and understand how we're spending, how we're making profits…it changes how we build the business in its entirety. Without knowing that important information, how can you possibly grow? And it allows us to share information with other businesses as we collaborate too. It’s paying invoices, it's tracking money that we have to pay out or that we owe. Everything around finances is easy for us to manage inside of QuickBooks. It’s such a robust software and programming that just keeps us completely on track every day, all the time. And, you know, I can be honest. I'm not very good in finances, but QuickBooks makes it extremely easy for me to manage my business as the CEO.

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