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Celebrating Women In The Beer Industry: Meet Priyanka Gupta, Co-Founder, Hops ‘n’ Grains Microbrewery

Priyanka Gupta is a phenomenal serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the award-winning microbrewery, Hops ‘n’ Grains.  In an exclusive interview with Brewer World, she talks about her journey as a doctor turned business-woman, being a proud mother and living life on her terms.

You are a Beer Entrepreneur. Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background. What sparked your interest in the beer industry?

I graduated with an MBBS from Mysore, and although I was keen to practice medicine, I wanted to do so much more with my life. I tried my hand at the business for some time and realised I had a flair for interacting with people, creating a team, extracting work from the team, and understanding individual capacities. My father was instrumental in identifying my capabilities and steering me in this direction. Once I got married to Amritanshu Agarwal, we were driven to build something of our own. And we were attracted to the food industry right from the beginning. Amritanshu understood food, and I had this drive to do something and the risk-taking capacity. Together we scoped Gurgaon and realised this is what can set us apart from the rest of the eateries in the city, and in 2010, we opened Hops n Grains as the 5th microbrewery of India, and the first in the Tricity (Panchkula, Chandigarh, Mohali). 

What is it like to be a woman in the male-dominated beverage industry?

Not just the beverage industry but the entire food industry is somewhat male-dominated. Because of the long work hours and challenges like leaving home and family and working in another city where sometimes one cannot afford to relocate their family, it has come to be a male-dominated sector. I would say it is difficult. I still come across these questions—what do you do? Why did you leave medicine? Do you also work here? People take it for granted that this work must have been inherited by the boy from his family and that he must be in charge. I have been asked this question by my co-worker, who has seen me building the restaurant brick by brick: Why don’t you get back to medicine? I want to raise a few issues with all these people; for instance, why don’t engineers switch to managerial and entrepreneurial jobs? Why is it hard to believe that a woman could have contributed and is capable of embarking on this journey and succeeding?

Hops ‘n’ Grains Microbrewery, Mohali

What challenges did you face when you first entered the industry?

The industry was very new at the time we started our first microbrewery, and there were innumerable challenges. We secured a contract for sourcing the plant from China, but the after-sales service was nil. There were issues in the plant, due to which we incurred heavy losses at the beginning of the project. Customer education and awareness of the concept of a microbrewery and the differences between fresh beer and bottled beer took us a few years. The capital expenditure for the project was very heavy. Honestly, had we had the slightest inkling about the huge cost involved, it probably would’ve discouraged us from moving on. Ignorance was bliss, but it took us three years to repay our loans.

What do you think about the evolution of the craft beer industry in India?

Customers are becoming more decisive and smarter with their choices, flavours, smoothness of beer, etc. But a few craft beer manufacturers are trying to spoil the broth for honest manufacturers. I believe the restaurant and beverage industry is for the passionately driven and not for social snobbery. Only those who are invested full-time in the processes and quality would be able to survive the long haul. Be honest and dedicated to your product, and always remember that the consumer knows the best.

What does your typical day at work look like?

I am the mother of two adorable girls. I love to spend my time with them. It’s not only my responsibility as a parent to be there for them but also my biggest stress buster. My typical day looks like one big hustle. The moment I get a new vendor, I warn them of my chock-a-block schedule and that everything should be planned well in advance. It’s always running from home to the office and then rushing back home. It’s juggling cocktail trials with planning birthday parties while overseeing construction activities at the upcoming site. Yet I feel blessed to have been given a chance to do so much. All this while Amritanshu and I are constantly acting as each other’s sounding boards, troubleshooting, brainstorming, and addressing managerial issues from the start of the day.

Priyanka Gupta, Co-Founder at Hops ‘n’ Grains Microbrewery

You are a working woman, a wife, and a mother. How do you manage work-life balance, and how important is it to have the right balance in today’s time?

Balance can only be achieved if you keep some time for yourself to relax your mind and let in a fresh perspective. After a point, it is most important to take some time out for yourself, calm down, and nourish yourself. As a woman, a mother, a professional, and a homemaker, I have to learn to prioritise my day’s work and my week’s commitments. I have a habit of filling diary after diary while organising my days, weeks, and months. It’s madness for a good cause. But one should remember, it’s never one man’s or woman’s journey. I believe we are launching our girls on a journey of empowerment and forgetting to educate our sons to share household duties.

One needs help to do big things, and it’s always a team effort. One person’s success is a myth. It takes a village to build an empire.

Tell us about the projects you are currently working on. What goals and objectives do you plan to achieve this year for Hops ‘n’ Grains and The Great Bear?

We are planning to come up with a bean-to-bar chocolate experience that is authentic and honest. Food is our passion, and we plan to go deeper and more explorative onto unforged paths. Although COVID was challenging, we are on the path to expansion. Now that we have a core team, competence, and the best beer, we can march ahead with confidence to cover more ground in the future.

Hops ‘n’ Grains and The Great Bear is a go-to place for all beer lovers in Tricity. How do you feel about it? Are there any expansion plans? 

Yes, it’s the expectation of our consumers that has motivated us and helped us this far. We recently got awarded as the best brewery in north India, and at times like this, the journey seems worthwhile, and you forget about the labour and sleepless nights that went into it. There are always a few things in the pipeline, some materialise, and some don’t. It’s sort of the brewers’ itch to keep trying new flavours, and a serial entrepreneur’s itch is to keep testing new grounds and more challenging spaces/markets. 

What would you like to tell women who are looking to start their own business in the beer space? 

It’s a challenging industry, but come to think of it, what has ever been easy for women? Whenever you excel, society automatically thinks it’s either your husband or father behind your success. For me, it’s my daughters. I want to prove to them that they can do anything. They have to make up their minds and march on. Never underestimate yourself. Just go for it. You have lost only when you haven’t tried. 

What is the best piece of advice you received when you started? Has it helped you in your journey?

Dr SC Cariapa was our master brewer when we started. He was our mentor. He told us not to make Hops ‘n’ Grains a place for free drinks for our friends and always have three flavours consistently. We kept building our loyalty based on the repeat flavours, and it all made business sense.