Kevin Ryan was born to serve. He served his family. He served his country. And now he serves beer.
His story has it all. Beer. Love. Leadership. Heartbreak. Partnership. Triumph. And beer. (Did I mention that already?)
So how did a West Point grad and former Headquarters Commander in Iraq end up starting his own successful brewery in Savannah, GA? There are many twists and turns to his journey but ultimately it all comes back to one word: service.
Kevin Ryan was born in Kansas in 1974 but moved to the Washington, DC area with his parents and older sister in 1977. His father was a healthcare management professional (more on that later). His mother was a vice-principal at Richard Montgomery High School, who formerly served in the Naval Reserves.
His parents had always taken pride in service. It was part of Kevin’s upbringing. So when he was approaching graduation from Georgetown Prep High School, there were only two real choices for college: The United States Naval Academy and The United States Military Academy.
In the Spring of 1992, Kevin made it official. He was off to four years at West Point!
Serving His Country
Kevin embraced the Army lifestyle. It was exciting. It was addictive. It satisfied his hunger to compete and his desire to serve. After 4 years of preparation, Kevin was ready to be an officer. His true service was ahead of him.
Upon graduation from West Point in June 1996, Kevin was off and running. He went to Anchorage, Alaska in April of 1997 with the Alaska 1/501st PIR and then over to Fort Carson, Colorado with the 3rd Brigade 4th Infantry Division in February of 2000. Through it all, he displayed a toughness and leadership quality that did not go unnoticed by his peers or his superiors.
September 11th, of course, changed everything. The mission sharpened. The training was more intense. The bonds were stronger. The global threat was more severe. And leadership was more valuable than ever.
In early 2002, Kevin was promoted to Company Commander and led the C/1-12 Infantry. There were 135 men under his command with 14 well-armed fighting vehicles at their disposal. His Company was a well-oiled fighting machine.
As such, his unit was needed on the front lines. In April of 2003, after years of preparation, Kevin was sent to a one year tour of duty in Iraq. He would spend his 29th birthday leading his soldiers through Bagdad and on to Balad.
In July 2003, shortly after settling into combat, Kevin was awarded command of Headquarters Company 1-8 Infantry. Kevin now had 300 men under his command. His first sergeant was Dan Dailey, a legendary non-commissioned officer, who is the current Sergeant Major of the Army.
Kevin Ryan executed flawlessly on his tour of duty for the Army in Iraq. It was the pinnacle of his Army career. He was energized. He was precise. He was doing what he loved. But he also knew he was at a crossroads.
Kevin Ryan had served in the Army for 8 years. But some part of him felt it was time to make a change. He returned from Iraq in April 2004. Could he serve outside the military?
He was about to find out. On October 1, 2004, he made the official transition to civilian life.
A Partnership Built on Service
While Kevin was distinguishing himself in the military, his father, Don Ryan, was serving a different mission. In 1994, Don founded CareCore National, a small company offering radiology benefit management services. In 10 years, the company had grown to 300 employees and expanded its services to include cardiology, oncology and sleep apnea.
Kevin and his father had always been close. When Kevin’s time in the Army started winding down, working together seemed the PERFECT fit.
Kevin knew little about the company and even less about IT work. But he was not afraid to jump in and passionately learn the ropes. And if it meant spending more time with his father, that was all the motivation he needed!
In May 2005, Kevin officially started at CareCore National. This was the ultimate form of service: service to his family.
The partnership worked. In the ensuing 6 years, CareCore National grew from 300 employees to 1,200 employees. Kevin moved down to South Carolina to be closer to his parents and closer to Headquarters. He was living the dream.
But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare on one fateful September evening.
Adversity Strikes But Love Provides a Spark
There was no illness. There were no warning signs. On September 17, 2011, Don Ryan died suddenly in his home in Hilton Head, SC.
The weeks that followed were a blur for Kevin. He had to deal with the grief. He had to deal with the shock. And he had to deal with the reality of working at CareCore without his father at his side.
He quickly realized that his motivation at CareCore was the thrill of working with his dad and family. With that gone, Kevin had an obligation to wind things down professionally, but no longer felt the passion to stay in the business.
He was lost. But, shortly thereafter, Kevin received what proved to be a fortuitous gift from his fiancée, Meredith Sutton. On Valentine’s Day 2012, a full year after his father’s passing, Meredith bought Kevin a home-brewing kit. A week later Kevin brewed his first batch of beer. He was instantly hooked.
Achieving the Dream Together
Brewing beer provided the perfect outlet for Kevin’s engineering background. He was also energized by the fact that no two batches were the same. It was different. It required leadership. It required an enormous amount of fortitude. And most of all, it provided the perfect outlet to serve!
Just like everything is his life, Kevin Ryan was not afraid to leave his comfort zone and dive right in! He was starting from scratch. But he tirelessly researched on the internet. He spoke to close friends and advisors. He tinkered and tweaked his recipe and his technique.
And he leveraged his military background to stay positive and relentless:
“I will not take the easy path!”
“I don’t know how, but I know I can do this!”
“I will defend this dream with my life!”
Within 7 months, Kevin had put a business plan together. When he convinced 23 investors (MOST of whom had military background) to believe in the mission, his dream became a reality.
And just as Kevin had relied on his men to help get through the difficult days in combat, he now relied on Meredith to help launch the business. Meredith was with him every step of the way. Offering encouragement. Designing the labels and the logos. Laying the groundwork for success. They were equal partners and would win or lose together.
Turns out they would win.
On July 24, 2014, Service Brewing Company held a launch party to celebrate the opening of their beautiful 28 thousand square foot brewery in Savannah, GA!
Beer as a Platform To Serve
From the very beginning, Service Brewing Company was not your typical brewery.
Kevin and Meredith viewed beer as a platform, not just a drink. The brewery provided a place for people to meet, to solve problems and to come together as a community. But beyond that, giving back to the veterans was always the driving force behind the business!
Service Brewing donates a substantial portion of its profits to help veteran causes. “Home For Our Troops”, “Rescue Dogs/Service Animals”, and “The 200 Hundred Club” are just a few veteran charities that benefit from the brewery’s philanthropy. And from the sponsorship of the Army-Navy Football tailgate to the hosting of veteran’s groups in the Tasting Room, our troops are never far from Kevin and Meredith’s thoughts and actions.
Kevin Ryan had been lost in his life. He had been heartbroken and struggling to find his motivation and passion. And always, he kept moving forward, jumped in with both feet, and tapped into his military experience and personal relationships for strength and guidance.
Everyday heroes are not concerned with changing the world. They are just trying to make their corner a little bit better. And Kevin Ryan is serving his corner of the world with beer and passion!
How Do You Serve?
There is a huge chalkboard in the Tasting Room of Service Brewing Company with the phrase “How Do You Serve?” Civilians and veterans fill out the board with the various ways they serve their families and serve their communities.
And it is a fair question for all of us. What is our passion? Are we wiling to leave our comfort zone and take the difficult path? What are we willing to defend with our lives? And how hard are we willing to work to make our dreams come true?
Resilience is the ability to passionately move forward in the face of loss or adversity. It takes courage. It takes a belief in ourselves that will sometimes vanish. It takes a strong partner. But more than anything, it takes the guts to jump into the great unknown believing we will land on our feet.
Kevin Ryan was born to serve his family, his country, and his customers. We all have that same ability to serve inside us.
How do you serve?