The first thing to know about Jay and Sandy Boss Febbo is that their stories are best told when both of them are there to tell them. Where Jay remembers things in sweeping panoramas, Sandy recalls details like specific dates and measurements, pivotal moments in a conversation, and how the light looked as it reflected off the bright greens of a northern Michigan hop field during harvest. Separately, the information informs. Told in unison, it sings.
Jay and Sandy are a team—in life and in business. In fact, until a few months ago, they were the sole employees of Bang Brewing Company, which opened in September 2013. Owners, brewers, taproom staff, janitors, social media managers (for Twitter, at least; they’re still avoiding Facebook and Instagram—“waiting for it to go away,” as Sandy puts it): they did it all. Where most breweries consider a team of five or six employees small, Bang Brewing had just two. For two years. Matt Friesen joined them in November 2015, tasked with handling packaging, building tables and crates, and helping with other odds and ends jobs around the taproom. But other than Matt and a few of Jay and Sandy’s friends who pitch in around the taproom once in a while, it’s still just Jay and Sandy. And they’re okay with that.
“We do things the hard way,” Jay laughs. He’s referring to having Matt build from scratch the crates that will soon showcase 750 milliliter bottles of Bang’s beer in liquor stores around St. Paul. But he might as well be referencing everything the couple approaches, together and individually.
As a student at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Jay switched his major from biology to finance and marketing, and still graduated from the Carlson School of Management in four years. He proposed to Sandy while running the 1994 Twin Cities Marathon. (“I probably could have picked up another couple minutes,” he says slyly.) He taught himself how to write code just because—and then ended up working as a software engineer for Wells Fargo, eventually creating software that made their operations system vastly more efficient. All on his own time, naturally.
Sandy graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in art history and English literature, and worked for two years as an unpaid intern for the Minnesota State Arts Board. Two-and-a-half months after Jay’s run-by proposal, they got married and moved to New York City. They moved back to Minnesota a year later to be with Sandy’s ailing father. But instead of returning to Minneapolis, where they’d lived before New York, they chose St. Paul. “We specifically said we’re not moving back to Minneapolis so that we don’t fall into the same habits,” Sandy says. “One thing we did in New York was put a list on the inside of a kitchen cabinet of the things we wanted to see. I wanted to bring that home—to live like a tourist in your own town. Don’t just have a routine. You’ve got to mix it up.”
Back in Minnesota, Sandy realized she didn’t want to go back to school to become a curator like she’d originally intended and started looking for another way to use her love for the arts. She started leading tours at the Walker Art Center (which she continued doing until 2012), and then, on a whim, decided to launch into the world of advertising as an assistant at Carmichael Lynch. “I thought it would be a fun group of creatives to hang out with while I got my feet on the ground,” she says. “And I never left.” Sandy moved into production after a year-and-a-half; today, 20 years later, she’s an executive content and art producer there—all on top of her other full-time job: Bang Brewing.
Despite the whirlwind events and constant onslaught of new projects and bigger ideas that define Jay and Sandy’s lives, there’s nothing about the couple’s demeanor that hints at either of them feeling overwhelmed or off-keel. Even when they tell stories of the most chaotic moments in their beer careers thus far—driving overnight to Michigan to pick 100 pounds of hops on very little sleep, then turning around and driving back to brew their first-ever fresh-hop beer on even fewer hours of sleep, for instance—it’s with an air of acceptance. Such is life. Acknowledge it, then move forward.
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