The owner of Druthers Brewing Company just landed himself the small-business equivalent of a Best Director Oscar. Chris Martell, CEO of the pub and brewery, which has outposts in Saratoga (its flagship), Albany and Schenectady, is this year’s recipient of the US Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Person of the Year Award for New York’s Syracuse District, which includes a massive area spanning from Syracuse and the Finger Lakes all the way down to the Capital Region. Martell, who was nominated by the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), will receive the award at the Albany Marriott on Tuesday, May 7, as part of the SBA’s 2019 National Small Business Week Awards Ceremony.
“We were acknowledged with an SBA award in our second year, and this award now is like coming full circle for us,” says Martell. SBA awards are given out annually to companies based on their leadership, growth in sales and employees, and contributions to the community. “The job’s never done, but it’s nice to be recognized for all the work my team and I have put in for the past seven years,” says Martell.
Druthers’ first location opened in Downtown Saratoga in 2012 with a savvy business model to offer delicious signature mac-and-cheese recipes, wood-fired pizzas and other menu staples in addition to its own brand of home-brewed beers, which the company sells in-house and to local retailers and businesses. Currently, Druthers’ beer can be found at nearly 180 Capital Region restaurants and bars.
As popular as it is now, Druthers had an unlikely beginning. Martell grew up near Saratoga and originally had plans to become a lawyer. However, while studying law in southern California, he developed a true passion for home brewing beer and brewpub culture. After receiving his Juris Doctor degree and a Master’s in Law, Martell returned to the Capital Region to practice law, but he brought the brewing bug with him, even spreading it to his brother Brian, who worked on Wall Street as an analyst at the time. It was after the 2008 market crash, that the two began talking about a career change and potentially opening up a brewpub in Saratoga. “I jokingly told Brian that it had to be on Broadway, and it had to have an outdoor space, a near impossible combination in Saratoga,” says Martell. Then, just a few weeks after the conversation, a for-sale sign went up at 381 Broadway, and soon the Martell brothers were transforming that space into one of the Spa City’s most beloved bars/restaurants.
Although the Martells had no prior restaurant management experience in 2012, they were able to obtain a substantial loan from SBA and an NYBDC affiliate called The 504 Company. Since then, Druthers has become a full-blown success story for family-owned businesses, opening its two additional locations and growing to more than 200 employees. Chris Martell says that the business is currently shopping around for a fourth location, somewhere outside of the Capital Region. As for dreams of having a nationwide franchise someday, Martell says don’t count on it. “I can see us opening Druthers restaurants across the country, but selling franchises—I don’t know about that,” he says. “Here I get to work with both of my brothers and my father, and that’s something really special.”