Profile: Sierra Nevada Brewery


Around the world, Sierra Nevada’s craft brews are ranked among the best. Around Chico, Sierra Nevada is known as much for their restaurant and Big Room concerts as their beer (which we also revere). Their Oktoberfest tickets sell out within mere hours.

Sierra Nevada’s sustainability efforts are also legendary. The EPA named them Green Business of the Year in 2010. Their innovations go well beyond the 10,751 solar panels installed in Chico. You will find locally raised livestock that were fed on spent grain from the brewery on their menu. The Chico facility boasts its own waste water treatment plant and a 2MW microturbine system. If you drive by at the right time of year, you will see sheep conducting weed control in the demonstration hop yard.

Founded in Chico in 1980 by Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi (who later sold his shares to Grossman), Sierra Nevada opened a second brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, in 2014.

Q&A with Sierra Nevada founder, Ken Grossman

What are you best known for?

Sierra Nevada is best known for our Pale Ale—the green label provides easy recognition. As proud as I am of that product, I’m even prouder that we’re known for producing beers that are consistently of the highest quality. Being able to make a product on the scale that we do without flaws or variation is difficult—we do a great deal of quality control to ensure that Pale Ale, and all of our products, tastes the same no matter where you get it.

How did you end up in Chico?

I landed in Chico after a post-graduation bicycle tour and have been here ever since. I was initially drawn to the town for its bicycling and other outdoor activity opportunities, as well as its laid back feel. When I decided to open my own brewery I knew it would be in a small, rural area in California. I looked at other options but found that Chico met our needs the best. Being situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range was also definitely part of the appeal.

Tell us about the early years.

I was motivated to start Sierra Nevada by my passion for brewing and a sense of restlessness when I was in my twenties. I spent my first years in Chico running a bike shop and then opened my own homebrew shop. I enjoyed both pursuits, but there came a time when I knew I’d never be satisfied if I didn’t open my own brewery and see if it could be successful. There were very few breweries in America by the 1970s and most of them produced some version of a bland pilsner. I wanted to make the kind of beer I wanted to drink—hoppy and flavorful. I knew it was a long shot, but I had to try.

The first few years were really hard. My partner and I thought we had a good business plan, but we underestimated how much capital we needed to get the brewing equipment we needed. I took classes in welding and refrigeration at Butte College so that I’d have the skills to retrofit old dairy equipment into brewing equipment; using salvaged equipment saved us money, but it also took a lot more time and effort. It took us much longer to open than we anticipated, but I was determined not to start selling beer until we could produce our Pale Ale consistently. When we finally got there in the spring of 1981, my partner and I made our first sales calls in downtown Chico, carrying an ice chest of beer with us.

How has Sierra Nevada changed over time?

Sierra Nevada has grown drastically since 1980. When we brewed our first batch of beer we had three employees (myself, my partner, and a part-time employee). Now we have more than one-thousand employees spread across the country and two breweries. Even though we struggled financially the first few years, a lot of that stemmed from needing to find a way to increase our capacity. Brewing infrastructure is not inexpensive, so we put a great deal of what we made back into our original Gilman Way brewery. Then, in 1986, the San Francisco Examiner featured an article about Sierra Nevada in their Sunday magazine. “The Beer That’s Making Chico Famous” was really a turning point for us and we were in a constant, frantic state of growth after that and soon had to look for a new location.

Still, when we originally designed the 20th St. location, we thought we’d be lucky to get to 60,000 barrels per year (for reference, we’ve since crested one million barrels per year). Our pace never really slowed down, so neither did our growth. The 20th St. brewery has changed enormously from when we opened it. It feels like we’re in an almost constant state of construction. These days, much of it is driven by our need to create work space for our growing employee body. For a long time, we didn’t do much marketing and relied on word of mouth promotion instead. As the craft industry has taken off and the number of American breweries has grown exponentially, we’ve had to readjust our thinking and bring on a bigger sales and marketing staff to help us compete and remain successful. It’s certainly a change in how we operate since we were a production-focused company for so long. I think we’ve grown into the shift in the last few years and have found a middle ground between production and marketing that works for us.

Describe your company culture.

Our company culture remains very driven by our humble beginnings. I am innately frugal, a trait that helped a lot in our early years when money was constantly short. We’ve always lived by the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”—at first because we had to, but now because it’s just the right thing to do. I’ve always been determined to find a way to leave the smallest environmental footprint as possible. The brewing process is inherently resource intensive, but my employees and I always look for ways to use less. Saving energy and water has always played a huge role in how we work. I’m also happy to invest in new technology that might help us be more sustainable—sometimes doing the right thing is more important than return on investment.

Some people have described Sierra Nevada’s company culture as “work hard, play hard,” and I think it fits. We demand a great deal of effort from our employees, but we also try to celebrate our successes.

Being able to maintain Sierra Nevada’s culture was something our leadership team talked about a lot when we decided to open a second brewery. We knew it would be hard to replicate what we’ve done here, but one of the things that drew us to Asheville, North Carolina, was how similar it is to Chico. It has the same small(ish) town feel, emphasis on enjoying the outdoors, and pride for local products.


Profile: Cascade Orthopedic Supply, Inc.

Cascade Orthopedic Supply, Inc. is the largest independently owned orthotics and prosthetics distributor in the nation. The company distributes a broad range of products from 300 suppliers. Cascade is committed to providing their customers with the service and support they need to improve the quality of life for those affected by limb loss. The company was founded in Seattle in 1974 and moved to Chester, California, under the ownership of Jerry Leavy in 1977. Cascade’s headquarters relocated to Chico in 1999. They have four distribution facilities located in California, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, allowing overnight delivery anywhere in the contiguous United States at published ground rates. 

Q&A with Jeff Collins, President of Cascade Orthopedic Supply, Inc.

Share a bit of company history.

The company was originally founded in Seattle by a bilateral, upper extremity amputee named Jerry Leavy. In the 1950s, Jerry filmed “A Day in the Life of an Amputee” in order to spread awareness about his challenges as an amputee.

Jerry was an avid pilot, uses body-powered hooks for his extremities, and still resides in Chester, California.

What are you best known for?

Cascade is known industry-wide as the largest independently owned distributor, supplying a broad range of prosthetic and orthotic products to clinicians across North America. Cascade has more than tripled in size and remains dedicated to offering friendly service, reliable delivery, and streamlined operations. We have been serving the O&P industry for over 40 years and continue to grow and adapt our operations to provide enhanced value to customers and growth and development opportunities to employees.

Cascade supports and funds initiatives across many amputee advocacy groups like the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA), the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation (OPAF), the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), and the Shriners Hospitals for Children. I currently hold leadership roles within the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA) and the California Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (COPA), demonstrating our legislative commitment to the industry.

How did Cascade land in Chico?

The Cascade HQ was relocated to Chico in order to provide the service and support necessary for our customers. By moving to Chico, Cascade was able to secure a location next to the UPS Transit Hub for maximum logistical efficiency. Chico also provided Cascade with access to a larger recruitment pool of personnel.

What is your favorite part of living in Chico?

Chico is a great place to raise a family, run a business, get outdoors, and stay connected within the community. Chico residents benefit from a lower cost of living, improved quality of schools, accessibility to recreational activities, and decent proximity to more urban areas like San Francisco.

Chico is focused on supporting local businesses and driving revenue into the local economy. The Farmer’s Market, Taste of Chico, and other local events capture the essence of the people who make this community so unique.

Cascade is locally known as the “good citizen,” actively staying involved in the community, whether it be by providing input on the city’s general plan or fueling economic development activities. Local initiatives have been focused on bringing PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) funding to the North State, actively serving on the Chico Chamber Board, advocating for community neighborhood groups, and supporting the development of the Comanche Creek Greenway.


Profile: Klean Kanteen

Since its invention in 2004, Klean Kanteen has become widely recognized as a leader in reusable water bottles.  Despite their tremendous growth and product distribution spanning the globe in 42 countries, Klean Kanteen is still very much a family company. 

             Michelle Kalberer & Jeff Cresswell                                        co-owners and siblings

             Michelle Kalberer & Jeff Cresswell                                        co-owners and siblings

An idea was born

It all started when inventor Robert Seals saw the health issues associated with plastic and lined aluminum reusable water bottles before they became widely known and publicized. He knew there had to be a healthier alternative and soon came up with the idea for a vessel for personal hydration made out of safe, leach-free stainless steel. 

Cobbling together a prototype made from items found at the local hardware store, Robert paved the way for stainless steel as a safe, durable alternative and launched the first 27 oz. Klean Kanteen in 2004 to a receptive audience. A revolution was born.

2005 was a pivotal year for the brand. Robert, as an inventor, wanted to see his product bloom. His mission was to provide a healthy, safe, on-the-go drinking vessel and having done that, it was time to let the brand soar.  He connected with the Cresswells, a long-time Chico family, who had an established distribution company.  What started out as a business proposition turned into so much more. The Cresswells soon realized how important the product was as a vehicle to talk about the negative health effects of plastic and, eventually, the battle against single-use waste. 

Siblings Jeff Cresswell and Michelle Kalberer took the reins firmly in hand and together, with the mentorship of their father Darrel Cresswell (“The Dude” as he’s fondly known around the office), embarked on a life-changing journey that has forever shaped the way we look at reusable water bottles. Things were about to get interesting.

And then it happened….

In 2008, the green industry burst wide open. An Inconvenient Truth was released two years earlier bringing attention to global warming and igniting a firestorm of attention to all things green. BPA (bisphenol-A), a chemical found in hard plastics and food and drink can liners, was garnering a lot of media attention as the reality of its adverse effects on the human body became public.  At the same time, the war on single-use waste was ramping up. Both of these scenarios placed Klean Kanteen in a prime position to capitalize on a receptive audience and continue to spread their message.  Through boots-on-the-ground marketing involving events, media appearances and outstanding messaging, the company saw sales soar. 

As the company gained traction both in the US and abroad, Jeff and Michelle, vowing to keep the family feeling within the rapidly growing company, realized the importance of culture and began implementing programs and activities that were fun, impactful and aligned with their mission to give back. 

Making an impact

Klean Kanteen leadership believes strongly in encouraging and supporting consumers in making sustainable and healthy choices. They also hold themselves to the same goals within their company.

Klean Kanteen is a member of 1% For the Planet and as of 2014, they have donated one million dollars to charities dedicated to preserving and restoring the natural environment. On a more intimate level, Klean Kanteen sends employees to places like Yosemite to help with park clean up and participate in youth programs that encourage exploring and enjoying nature.

Opportunities to partner with other environmentally committed companies are abundant. Clif Bar is one of those companies. Klean Kanteen sends 2 employees each year to participate in their projects such as restoring wetlands, creating community gardens in the Bronx and building straw bale houses on reservations around the country. The best part of all this? Klean Kanteen employees are eager to participate and apply for the honor of attending one of these outings. Their enthusiasm and commitment to make a difference in all they do is infectious.

In 2012, they proudly joined the ranks of Certified B Corporations. The standards are rigorous including performance, accountability, and transparency – all things Klean Kanteen holds strong in their beliefs. In addition to adopting business policies that support environmental and fair labor practices, they partner with like-minded nonprofits and environmental organizations working to educate the public about health and environmental issues.

When asked what their brand is best known for, co-owner Michelle Kalberer doesn’t hesitate. “Authenticity!”. She says they are known for being real. They walk the talk, understand it’s not about being perfect but more about being committed, and they take every opportunity to start a conversation. 

People and Planet

Ask any of the 62 team members and they’ll tell you the culture at Klean Kanteen is fantastic. Leadership has embraced the idea of work hard, play hard.  Team members enjoy a monthly social hour, camping trips and pretty intense bowling matches. People are happy – the average employee tenure is over 5 years.

Each team member receives 3 paid work days per year to spend volunteering at the organizations of their choice. Some choose their children’s school, others opt for park and creek clean-ups or helping at a local shelter. Whatever their choice, Jeff and Michelle feel it’s important to give back to the community and support their team members in how they wish to spend their time.

The top 3 reasons team members love working there?

1.       Family.  It’s at the core of their culture.

2.       Brand.  Employees feel connected and passionate about what they do.

3.       Fun.  Employees enjoy what they do and love the culture. 

Why Chico?

Why not? Michelle and Jeff grew up here and have chosen to raise their families here.  Michelle remembers riding her bike through lower Bidwell Park as a child, playing at Caper Acres and frequenting local swim holes as a teen.  As avid cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts, both Michelle and Jeff love everything Chico has to offer. Their employees enjoy an active lifestyle and Chico is a bike town providing ample trails and pathways to travel to and from the office.

What makes Michelle most proud?  The impact Klean Kanteen has had in changing people’s lives, the amazing team that she works with every day and the relationships with nonprofits who share the same goals.  

Chico grown and Chico proud.