From left, Evan Wood of Devil’s Club Brewing; Meta Mesdag of Salty Lady Seafood Co.; Kaila Buerger of Alaska Probiotics and Ken Hill of Juneau Bike Doctor. They were invited to speak for an Entrepreneurship Panel at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Moose Family Lodge on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

From left, Evan Wood of Devil’s Club Brewing; Meta Mesdag of Salty Lady Seafood Co.; Kaila Buerger of Alaska Probiotics and Ken Hill of Juneau Bike Doctor. They were invited to speak for an Entrepreneurship Panel at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Moose Family Lodge on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Four new Juneau entrepreneurs share struggles, motivations

Local business owners share experience with Juneau Chamber of Commerce

Starting a small business isn’t easy. It’s full of ups and downs and constantly running the risk of failure. But four local entrepreneurs have found a way to make it work, and shared their experience with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

Speaking at the Chamber’s weekly Luncheon at the Moose Family Lodge, brewers, bikers and farmers told the audience what motivates them and what it takes to open a business.

“I like beer, that was most of it,” said Evan Wood, co-owner of Devil’s Club Brewing. “We saw there was space for a tap-room focused brewery in Juneau.”

Perseverance and diligence are some of the most important qualities for a small business owner, Wood said. Wood and his business partners spent four years preparing their business, including renovating a 102-year-old building on Franklin Street downtown before opening in April 2018.

“There’s an amazing amount of points where if things go this way, you’ll go out of business,” he said. “I think diligence goes a long way in not failing at a business venture.”

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Ken Hill, owner of Juneau Bike Doctor, talked about taking his past work experience and the skills needed for his business.

“I worked for Adventure Sports (a since-closed locally owned sporting goods store). As a young person you see things, and you think you can do it better,” Hill said, laughing. Hill opened his bicycle repair business in March 2018 and said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished. Success comes a whole new set of pressures, though.

“I didn’t want to fall short of the (public’s) expectation,” he said.

But Hill said he’s proud that he turned his passion into a business, a sentiment shared by Kaila Buerger, founder of Alaska Probiotics.

“I’ve always had a passion for health,” Buerger said. “I was in Nicaragua and these little old ladies were making this carbonated beverage, and I said ‘I have to learn how to make this,’” she said. That beverage turned out to be kombucha, a fermented tea touted for its health benefits.

“I came back home and started learning about fermentation,” she said. “It’s super magical, fermentation is amazing.”

Buerger said she began brewing in her mother’s kitchen but soon moved to another space downtown more conducive to the sometimes messy process of fermenting kombucha.

“It’s only been the last couple of months that I feel like I’ve gotten my head above water,” she said. The most important things, Buerger said were, “Keeping your eye on what you’re doing. Maintaining the why behind your business.”

Meta Mesdag wanted to start a business she could share with her children.

“I was spending at least three days a week on my computer with my kids,” she said. “I wanted to create a business model that would allow them to be outside.”

Her husband suggested she start an oyster farm, and soon Salty Lady Seafood Co. was born. Mesdag said that asking questions and following leads from more experienced people was critical to building her business.

“I reached out to some of the farmers, one of them said you ought to come out and see my operation,” Mesdag said. That offer found her flying to Prince of Wales Island and boating out to a remote area where the farmer’s family farm was.

“I had a great time, to see what it looked like to live really remotely and operate a farm,” she said. Mesdag said while learning from more experienced people was critical, it was also important to know when to quit.

“Being able to identify when it’s not meant to be,” she said. “I don’t want to be spinning my wheels on something that’s not going to happen.”


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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