For Shawn Ellis and Karl Townsend, brewing beer is a labor of love. In fact, the pair met eight years ago at a local tech company, where they discovered their mutual love for home brewing. The friendship grew from there and in 2019 they joined forces to launch their own brewing company with plans to open their doors in 2020.
“Then COVID. So, we had a bit of a panic moment, but we decided, you know what, let’s stick with it. Let’s go ahead and open,” said Ellis. “We shifted gears into just production and we started selling direct [to the] consumer.”
ShaKa Brewing launched in November of 2020. It is based in a small warehouse at 175 San Lazaro Ave. Suite 140 in Sunnyvale. While it’s not the fancy storefront the pair first envisioned, it turns out it’s exactly what they needed.
“We wanted to stay local because we want to focus on the community,” said Ellis.
ShaKa has touches of both Ellis and Townsend throughout. The brewery’s name is a combination of Shawn and Karl, while a majority of the beers feature pieces their everyday life.
The Sunnyvale lager is named after the business’s location. While the Riley Red ale is named after Townsend’s golden retriever Riley. Yardbird is a golden ale that features a picture of Ellis’s chicken Coco on the can.
Right now, ShaKa’s menu features five beers but the duo is always looking to expand. They test new beers in a smaller brewing station on site and get a helping hand from customers.
“If it’s horrible, we don’t feel so bad about throwing away 10 gallons of beer. It just didn’t work,” said Ellis. “Although that never happens because, surprise, surprise, beer gets drunk by somebody.”
ShaKa Brewery is only open on Fridays between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. because Townsend and Ellis continue to work their day jobs. However, they do what they can to make sure customers receive top notch service.
“If people want to buy beer online, and they can’t make it on a Friday to come pick it up. All they have to do is email us,” said Ellis. “We meet people down here all the time. So, we’re super flexible. We even deliver beer. We throw beer in the truck and drive it around. If they live in the area, we just text them.”
The system is working. Not only are ShaKa’s beers served at local restaurants like Dish Dash and Murphy’s Law, but locals are buying as well. The company is already looking to move to a larger space.
“We’ve already outgrown this space. So, we’re looking for a bigger space,” said Ellis. “We want to stay in the area…because like I said, we want to be part of this community.”
Looking back, Ellis says while opening during COVID seemed like a bad plan, it actually helped the small brewery find its way.
“COVID threw everybody a curveball. We feel lucky that we were able to kind of roll with the curveball,” said Ellis. “In fact, it opened up opportunities that maybe forced us into a little more uncomfortable place than we planned. That’s worked out quite nicely.”