Before they owned and operated their own cidery in Auburn, CA, Ashlee and Jon Hoag were home brewers with strong opinions on what makes good cider. After a trip to visit friends in Colorado, where the cider surpassed what they could find in California, the couple decided to take matters into their own hands. “We asked ourselves, ‘where are we going with this?’” Ashlee recalls, reflecting on their 13 years of home-brewing. “Why don’t we just make the cider we like here?”
Knowing that they could use their experience and techniques to innovate the local cider scene, the couple pivoted their careers to full-time cidermaking and launched Ponderosa Cider. With a loan from California Capital, Ashlee and Jon opened the Ponderosa Cider Company cidery and taproom in Auburn in March of 2023, and quickly became a community staple known for their lively events and commitment to local agriculture.
A Sweet Spot to Start
Inspired by the possibility of redefining California cider, Ashlee and Jon decided to operate in Jon’s hometown of Auburn, California, where they knew they could take advantage of the region’s diverse and abundant fruit to craft truly unique ciders. “We want to take the historic fruit industry of the [Sierra Nevada] Foothills and repurpose it,” explains Jon, adding that they have been able to use fruit from seemingly fallow orchards and even repurpose a peach orchard’s unused fruit press. “We’re hoping to build that industry while also building the cider industry.”
To elevate their technical prowess as cidermakers, Ashlee and Jon each completed hands-on courses through Cornell University and UC Davis. The pair was confident in their expertise, but without direct experience in the manufacturing industry or as business owners, finding the financing to fund their start-up costs was tricky. They were eventually recommended to California Capital and worked with a business mentor before moving forward with applying for a loan.
“We thought it would just be a way to vet our business plan for other application, but we learned so much,” explains Ashlee. “We fine-tuned our financial projections and reevaluated what it would actually cost to start the business. It was a great education.”
Success is Brewing
With support from their mentor, Ashlee and Jon were able to secure funding from the California Capital Lending Center, which they put to use right away. They used the funds to purchase industrial brewing and manufacturing equipment, secure a lease on their location in Auburn, and hire and train a fulltime cidermaker. “We now have over 135 wholesale accounts from Tahoe to Vacaville,” Jon says, reflecting on their first few months in operation. “That has been a great way to build our brand.” In addition to establishing a statewide presence, since opening the cidery and attached taproom, Ashlee and Jon host an array of community events, from half-marathon finish lines to weekly trivia nights.
“We want to make sure we’re bringing people with us as we go,” Ashlee says. Moving forward, the founders are excited to continue to demonstrate just how good cider can be, one bottle at a time.