Two Western Oregon University alumni business owners have found there’s a solution to every problem, even one that seems like it is taking them on a wild, stop-and-go roller coaster ride.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered how Dawson Officer ’06 of 4 Spirits Distillery in Corvallis and Angela Anderson ‘99 of Syndicate Wine Bar in Beaverton can operate their individual businesses.
They are both grateful for the lessons and knowledge they gained at WOU and throughout their life that have taught them to adjust quickly to the unpredictability, employ creativity to find a solution and construct a solid game plan to move forward.
Anderson and Officer shared in separate interviews that they have found a balance between adhering to the state’s pandemic mandates while doing everything behind the scenes to keep their customers and employees safe.
Their goal is to continue to make their businesses welcoming places where guests can experience a sense of community.
“We want to make everything seem normal as possible,” Officer said.
4 Spirits Distillery
Officer said his experiences at WOU and in the military taught him how to quickly evaluate a situation and then move forward.
“I am the kind of person who does what feels right and what makes sense,” he said. “I know what I am capable of, and any obstacles I do face, I know I can formulate a plan.”
In 2011, Officer established 4 Spirits Distillery to craft spirits including whiskey, rum, gin and vodka. Officer said 4 Spirits is named and dedicated to four combat soldiers that he served with in the Oregon National Guard 2 Battalion, 162 Infantry Brigade, Lt. Erik McCrae, Sgt. Justin Linden, Sgt. Justin Eyerly and Sgt. David Roustum. These four men lost their lives in 2004 and 2005 serving in Baghdad, Iraq. Officer served in Iraq for an 18-month deployment in 2003 to 2005.
Officer added his company honors all service members by making it a priority to give back to local veterans services in Oregon and other states where the product is sold.
Fear of the unknown is what causes businesses to fail, he said.
“As a business owner, you can’t be afraid to jump, and you can’t be afraid to fail,” Officer said. “You also have to adapt to what you are seeing. I generally have a gut feeling about what I should do, get multiple opinions from different perspectives and then make a plan to do it.”
Officer said the pandemic is causing too many unseen and unknown situations for businesses and individuals. “The ability to adapt to what is happening is half the battle,” he said.
His distillery and tasting room are “off-the-beaten path” so it makes it easier for him to allow for social distancing and having guests sit outside.
Besides Oregon, he distributes 4 Spirits products to Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Michigan. They can sell online and curbside pickup orders.
He appreciates what he learned in his economics class at WOU about project management and forecasting. He shares what he learned at WOU with his staff, and he makes sure they understand every facet that happens in the business, believing the more his employees know, the more they have the power to help make the business successful.
“The best all of us can do is to put our best foot forward and never be comfortable with the status quo,” he said. “I always try to better myself, my relationships and my business. It takes great work to keep a business thriving.”
Syndicate Wine Bar
Angela Anderson credits being raised in a small town by parents who were always eager to give back to their neighbors and community as the source of her creativity and inspiration.
After graduating from WOU, she moved to California where she earned her MBA in organizational psychology.
While she has been friends with her husband, David, for more than 30 years, they have been married for five years. They also own a web development company, Canvas Host, for which her husband started 18 years ago. They have provided web development and business consulting for wineries and restaurants for the last five years. Through Syndicate, they have also worked in partnership with local winemakers to produce their own custom label, Syndicate Wines.
In 2019, they opened Syndicate Wine Bar, a business lounge by day and a wine bar by night.
They were vacationing in California in March when they learned restaurants and bars being ordered to close in Oregon due to the pandemic. Laughing that they don’t sleep in their household, Anderson said she and David quickly created an e-commerce page for customers to order online offering curbside, local or mail delivery, moving their 200-label wine library online.
“We are definitely living in uncharted territory,” Anderson said. “My advice to other businesses is to not let fear freeze you. Yes, change is uncomfortable and scary, but change is what forces you to grow.”
Believing in the importance of building community, Anderson encourages her customers to order food from local restaurants by including on their menu the nearby restaurants’ addresses and phone numbers.
“We have restaurants near us that serve cuisine from around the world. We encourage our customers to order food and bring it to the wine bar where we can suggest a wine to pair the food with,” she said. “Our goal has always been to support others and to lift other people up so they can achieve their goals.”
Anderson has had her share of setbacks and failures in her life and in her career.
“My ability to move forward and grow is due to the lessons I learned at WOU where I learned leadership skills in student government and as a resident assistant,” she said. “I was taught by Tina Fuchs that the best leader is one who listens more than she speaks.”
Anderson has a soft spot for WOU where she made many lifelong friends and learned valuable communication and management skills. “There’s something special about WOU, and I think once you go there, it’s a part of you forever. My parents and other relatives graduated from WOU,” she said. “When I need a pick-me-up, I will drive to campus and just walk around to brainstorm.”
Her goal is to continue to find ways to lift up others and build community, realizing every situation brings an opportunity to learn and grow.
“We created a place for people to congregate as well as assisting other businesses,” she said. “This is a community place, and I get to sit back and enjoy watching people safely interact with one another.”