Owning a bottle shop and bar wasn’t what Melissa Myers was supposed to do. She was a trained brewer—and a good one. Her first job, at a now-defunct Pennsylvania brewery back in ’96, turned into a cross-country road trip. The destination: California, where everything in beer was happening.
Halfway there, a job in Colorado materialized, and she took it. Eventually she made it all the way to the Pacific, where she logged time in one California brewery after the other: Magnolia and Pyramid, Iron Springs and Drake’s. After more than a decade of working in the industry, she knew she wanted a brewhouse of her own.
But when it came time to open a brewery, fate zagged. It was 2008, and one by one, every would-be investor declared bankruptcy. Cash was scarce. And so, after a fallow period, she found her way back into beer—but this time by way of the front of house.
Five years ago, following a crowdfunding campaign and the support of untold friends and beer-industry peers, The Good Hop Bar & Bottle Shop opened its doors in Oakland, California. Today, it’s one of the best places to drink beer in the East Bay. Not just because of its fridges filled with 450-odd bottles and cans, or its 16 tap lines, or its beer tastings and community events. But also because Melissa Myers is a natural, consummate host—and The Good Hop has been made in her image.
That said, brewing isn’t out of the picture just yet, and it’ll be part of The Good Hop’s next phase, if things go well. For now? Serving as the pivotal intermediary between brewers and drinkers, translating customer expectations into full glasses—that’s all enough to stake a career on.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Claire Bullen: “I wanted to begin by saying that I watched your crowdfunding video from five years ago, and I really liked that moment where you said, ‘Proposals or breakups will happen in The Good Hop Bottle Shop. Major decisions will be made while sitting in front of the bar.’ How have you worked to cultivate that kind of hospitality?”
Melissa Myers: “Basically, I'm a corner bar. I'm a neighborhood corner bar that just happens to have this crazy huge beer selection. All of my bartenders know that that's the ethos, and so when we open up a tab for somebody, you make sure you get their first name, not just their last name. We have regulars who come all the time, and we know when they go home to visit their mom. Or hey, they just went on this trip. Or indeed, they got proposed to in the bar and got married, and we helped send beer to their wedding. So I pick my staff very carefully, but I make sure that they understand that you're not just slinging beers, you're getting to know a bunch of people.”
Claire: “What kind of role do you play in the local community, and how does your location impact your approach to hospitality?”
Melissa: “Because of my non-interest in being a part of gentrification and more a part of a neighborhood, immediately, when I started working on construction of this place, I got to know my street regulars. They're people that are out on the sidewalk all the time, and they're probably never going to be my customers, but I see them every day. And so for me, and also what I asked of my bartenders is—those people all have names. Ask them how they're doing. I think, through that, we've gotten to know the neighborhood fairly well. And I think that that's all part of not just coming in and like, the gentrification of burn it down and rebuild it, right? Or kick those people out and make it different.”
Claire: “Have you launched any initiatives or events on a community-wide level?”
Melissa: “Initially when I opened, I went to all those bars that were around me and I was like, ‘Hey, let's do something fun together.’ My idea was, let's do something called the Disloyalty Club instead of the Loyalty Club. Everyone gets a card, and you get two punches from one bar, and you get two punches from another bar, and we get everyone to move around the neighborhood and show that we're all with each other. We're all very different. We have a high-end cocktail bar and we have a kind of grungy beer garden bar and we have an Irish bar and we have my bar.
It totally didn't go ahead. Two of the bars had no interest, and then I got open and it was like, ‘Yeah, I don't have time for this.’ But since then, we do a chili crawl once a year. This one brewery sponsors it, and every bar picks one of their beers and you make chili with it. And then on that day, you get a card and you go around to all of the bars and try the chili, and then you vote for the ones that you liked the best. It definitely makes people go to the other bars.”
Claire: “This segues quite nicely into my next question. You have everyone from people who are totally new to craft beer all the way up to industry pros coming into your space. What do you do to bridge that gap, and ensure that people of all knowledge levels are being catered to?”
Melissa: “I work really hard to make sure my bartenders do not ever portray that snotty side of beer. So while I require them to have a ton of knowledge, I always ask them to approach anybody with, ‘Hey, no, we don't have Budweiser, but let me taste you on a couple things and see if you like them,’ instead of, ‘Ugh, no, we don't have Bud.’
We also have something called Sipping Sessions. Basically we take five beers off the shelf, depending on what topic we pick. So we've done Saisons. We did Imperial Stouts once. We usually do a fall tasting. And it's $20 for basically a flight. It’s a way to introduce people either to the style or to something in the cooler. And it's super casual. Then for each brewery that we pull off the shelf, we talk about where they're located and when they started, and any interesting information from them. It’s a great way to, on a pretty low budget, try a bunch of beers that you might not ever touch.”
Claire: “As a bottle shop and bar, you’re an intermediary between breweries and the public. You're on the front lines educating consumers, pushing certain breweries, maybe choosing not to carry other breweries. Do you feel that there are pressures inherent to that role?”
Melissa: “I do, actually. It's interesting to come from my background, which is as a brewer, right? A new brewery was looking to start packaging their beer and I told them, ‘Bring your design team in and look at what's on the shelves.’ I'm happy to talk about what sells and what doesn't, literally based off of what the cans look like. I see them all the time. We are a rotating museum of labels. I can tell you, ‘Oh, you know why that doesn't sell? Because it's a black can and nobody can see it.’ I always invite breweries in to come ask me why I think something sells or why it doesn't.
Then on the other side—we are the voice for all those breweries. We have staff meetings once a week, and I have my staff try anywhere from eight to 12 different beers. If they try something and they're like, ‘Oh my god, this is really good,’ then when a customer walks in, they’ll recommend it. And that's not education coming from the breweries. Here's our chance to educate ourselves.”
Claire: “Over the last five years, how has your business approach altered in ways that you might not have expected when you first started out?”
Melissa: “When I opened, I did not offer any wine. And I was pretty adamantly against it, because we're a beer bar. But it turns out, if you got a group of four and they're all going out together, and one person is not a beer drinker, they're going to sway that group to go somewhere else. So it took me about a year, and then I caved. Honestly, we don't sell a ton of wine. But we can offer the other options so that it does allow people to come and experience us.
I think the other thing is that, when I initially opened, I was like, we're not gonna be beer snobs, but we're definitely going to be ‘beer, beer, beer,’ and it became clear pretty quickly that what this neighborhood needed was a neighborhood bar. While we still have a ton of beer selections, and I'm very proud of that, I don't flood customers with crazy nerdy beer knowledge unless they are asking about it.”
Claire: “You've alluded to it separately, but it sounds like employee training is a really important part of conveying your ethos, and making sure people feel welcome. What do you think bottle shops and bars need to be doing in terms of training their staff?
Melissa: “I think, hands down, the beer knowledge coming from each bartender is key. I'm not hiring someone who can only just work at McDonald's, you know? You have to have more knowledge than that, and you have to specifically have knowledge about beer. When I hire people, I do a blind beer tasting with them, which I've been told is very, very daunting—and it's never meant to be! I give them two beers that are fairly similar, so I'll give them two light beers. And the goal isn't that I expect them to be like, ‘This is a Kölsch and it's by this brewery.’ What I want to hear is how they talk about the two beers in front of them. If I'm a customer and I say, ‘Hey, what do you have that's light?’ I want to hear how they're going to tell me the difference between those two beers. The biggest part about being a bartender isn't pouring a beer. It’s extracting information from the customer so that you find for them the best possible beer, the best possible experience or the best time that they can have here.”
Claire: “And a key part of that equation is making sure that the liquid that you have on hand is as delicious as it can be. How do you choose who gets shelf space and a place on the draft lineup? What would be a dealbreaker for you, in terms of not wanting to pursue a relationship with a brewery?”
Melissa: “That's like the million-dollar question right there. I deal with roughly nine distributors, and every Monday I get anywhere from 60 to 75 emails from individual breweries. And that's every week.
We tend not to talk about politics at all, like brewery politics here in the bar. But if a brewery is behaving poorly or has sold to a larger conglomerate, we tend to try and focus on independently owned breweries. And we don't make a big stink about it, but I just will quietly stop ordering beer from them. Often my customers are very savvy, and I'll notice that the sales will drop drastically on those products, so that when it's actually gone I just don't bring it back. It's driven by the customers.
Then there are the hot breweries, and obviously you want to flood your shelves with them, but there are also the little breweries, and sometimes they have a beer that's amazing and you put it on and you're like, yes! And then the next beer is not so amazing and it's a drag. But I try to remember every beer is different and sometimes even every batch is different.
90% of all the bottles and cans on my shelves are California-based. And that's not to say that there's not amazing beer being brewed all over the country or the world. But my contacts are all California brewers. I've been brewing out here since '99. So it's really nice to support the people that I know, and I know that they're making great beer.”