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Located just north of Surf City Bridge in North Carolina, Salty Turtle Beer Company is a local favorite and a hotspot for thirsty tourists. Their signature hops-shelled turtle inspired the community-oriented brand—one that commits a portion of proceeds to the endangered animals that the town is famous for. 

Co-owners Daniel and Dean both served in the Marine Corps, and pride themselves on being a gathering place to support fellow veterans in the area. The atmosphere in their brewery is a beach-themed Cheers, focused on creating community and serving good beer. In fact, their Kolsch just won a medal at the 2021 North Carolina Brewers Cup Competition!

We sat down with Daniel to learn more about Salty Turtle, and how the skills he gained from his military background translate to being a leader in his business today. 

The History 

Nancy: How did you find your way into the world of beer? 

Daniel: Homebrewing. Paired with that, I just always wanted to own a small business and I’ve been thrilled owning a small business. I met my business partner, Dean, who is also a former Marine and had his own love of homebrewing, and we’re like, man we could do this together. 

One thing led to another—business plan and all—and it just kind of spiraled uphill in a good way. We did the whole business as a proof of concept. We’re the first brewery in the county. There’s no breweries 45 minutes north of us. Nothing 45 minutes south of us. We weren’t sure how the brewery was going to do in an area where there’s no breweries.

Daniel and Dean at Salty Turtle

From left to right: Dean Kelley, Zachary White, and Daniel Callender, co-founders of Salty Turtle Beer Co. Image courtesy of Salty Turtle Beer Co.

Nancy: How has it worked out?

Daniel: We can’t brew enough! We’re contracting to help with our demand, and we’re looking for about 2 acres of land, so we could hopefully have a production facility to feed the grocery stores. Our mission was to be that neighborhood brewery, so people could connect and come and have a beer and meet the locals and give back to the local community, first and foremost. I think when you get too big, you lose your local touch and feel sometimes. 

Nancy: Tell me a little bit about the name and the history behind Salty Turtle. 

Daniel: We wanted to ensure we were committed to the local community. After some searching, we realized that Surf City is home to sea turtles, and sea turtles are endangered on the island. There’s a huge following of sea turtles within the local community, and we have the largest sea turtle hospital east of the Mississippi. 

So, we wanted to do something turtle-themed and then we realized we had to put an adjective in front of it. Salty just clicked. So we’re Salty Turtle Beer Company!

The first thing we did when we got started was reach out to the sea turtle hospital, talk to the director and say, “Hey, we’re committed to you. We have a turtle-inspired brewery, and we want to commit proceeds of our beer sales over to you every quarter.” 

Nancy: You mentioned both yourself and your co-owner are veterans. First, thank you very much for serving! Can you tell us a bit about your past and your service? 

Daniel: Yes. I knew I always wanted to serve in some capacity. I was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 2012. From there, I was in Quantico for a little bit and then out to Camp Lejeune. That’s what brought me to North Carolina. I spent the last 7 years here in North Carolina. I didn’t do any Middle East deployments, I mainly was in the Southeast Asia region. I enjoyed my time. I went to school for criminal justice at San Diego State, became a Communications Officer that dealt with internet, voice, and data, and now here I am, co-owner of a brewery. 

Dean, served as a Scout Sniper in the Marine Corps from 2007-2012, with combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

As far as a full compass, I think our military training helped us. Not all things you do in the military translate to civilian life, but I think it definitely laid out the groundwork for us as small business owners. 

Nancy: You touched on this a little bit regarding leadership, how has your service impacted how you run your business and how you interact with your community? 

Daniel: It starts with we like to wake up early in the morning and get stuff done. I like to be here at 6:30, if not earlier, be by myself in the taproom to focus and lay everything out. I still carry a Marine book right here and lay out all my tasks. We’re ingrained to write everything down and make sure things are thought out thoroughly before committing. Actions have consequences, especially on the battlefield. 

Thinking before you speak is something I’ve learned really quickly, especially dealing with employees. It’s important to make sure that while your frustrations might be hot at the time, you can’t act on it because that’s probably not the best course of action. 

Nancy: Do you get a lot of military folks in the brewery? 

Daniel: Yes, we’re about 40 minutes south of the largest East Coast Marine base, Camp Lejeune, which is home of the Second Marine Division. And then we have an air base that’s just south of that. Then about 30 minutes north is Marine Corps Air Base. So, yeah, we get quite a few military marines that come down. A lot of them live in the area too. 

Salty Turtle_patio at sunset

The Salty Turtle Beer Co patio at sunset. Image courtesy of Salty Turtle Beer Co.

THE BREWERY

Nancy: Talk to us about the space. What does it look like and feel like? What’s the vibe you’re going for within the taproom itself? 

Daniel: Back when we started in 2017, I think the industrial brewery was the thing—big warehouse and industrial space. Very grungy, industrial-feeling. We’re by the beach, so we figured we want white walls, open up the space, a little bright, but not too beachy. You don’t want to get too cliche with the beach theme. 

Our space is very local-feeling. You come here, and it’s kind of like Cheers. Some of our bartenders have been with us from day one. 

We have a family friendly atmosphere. You’ll find families gathering and keep the kids entertained with some of the games in the taproom. We’re trying to create that community gathering place where you could bring your kids and maybe even meet your next handyman. 

Not only do we have the local scene, but we’re very popular with the tourists. In the summer, you meet all kinds of people from all over! It feels like family, they come back every year. 

Nancy: What kind of events do you have to engage with the community? 

Daniel: Tuesdays, we do Run Club at 7:30. We have a beautiful bridge that’s about a mile and a half from here, and we do a 5K run. They start and stop here at Salty Turtle. It’s grown from five people to upwards of 60 to 70 people, even throughout the winter. They’re very committed. On Sundays, we have a Cycling Club. They meet here, early in the morning. They do a 20 to 30 mile loop around the island and they come back for libations and just having a good time. 

Once a month, we try to do a Pint Night. We donate a dollar of every beer sold to a local charity, and that charity rotates. During November, for Veteran’s Day, we sell branded glassware that features a charity and 100% of the proceeds go to that charity. We’ve been doing that for about 4 years. 

To add to that, we’re getting the Veterans Blend of hops from Yakima Chief Hops. This year it benefits K9s For Warriors (an organization that provides highly-trained Service Dogs to military Veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma.) We release that beer for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, twice a year. 

Salty Turtle & Arryved POS

#ArryvedintheWild at Salty Turtle Beer Co. Image courtesy of Salty Turtle Beer Co.

Nancy: How do you connect with your customers when they aren’t in your taproom? 

Daniel: We are big on social media. Ever since we started, we have had a huge social media presence and we enjoy it. As a business owner, I love it! It’s so easy to get in front of your customers and reach out via social media. I’ve got OCD if I don’t respond to an inbox message or a comment right away. But I think that’s what drives more people to follow us and reach out to us, because we are interactive on social media. 

Nancy: How do you get the word out to tourists who don’t know about you?

Daniel: As old school as it sounds, word of mouth. These people come from all over, and they have that small community of friends they tell about us. There’s also those Facebook groups and Facebook pages that are community-based where people tag us in comments and posts. 

I still don’t believe it when I’m filling merchandise orders on a weekly basis and I’m sending a shirt or a hat to Anchorage, Alaska. Like, really!? That’s awesome. 

coastline Kolsch medal winner

2021 NC Brewers Cup medal winner, Salty Turtle Beer Co.’s Coastline Kolsch. Image courtesy of Salty Turtle Beer Co.

Nancy: Let’s talk about the beer. Tell me what you’re known for on the beer front, and maybe even what’s your favorite thing that’s pouring right now. 

Daniel: We try to keep a variety because like I said, we don’t have a set demographic of customers. Our flagships are a Kolsch (which just won a medal at the 2021 NC Brewers Cup Competition!), a New England IPA, a Brown Ale, and a Stout. Those are the 4 beers that you’re always going to find on tap. We have 10 taps total, so we play with the other 6 taps seasonally, or any special beer releases.

Our clientele drinks anything. Sometimes we get people that want a Bud Light, so we offer a Kolsch that kind of tastes similar. “Here’s your gateway beer to craft beer!” 

My favorite thing pouring right now, I gotta say, is the She’s So Basic, it’s our “pumpkin” beer. I’m kind of a seasonal guy. So it’s a spicy Amber Ale that we hit with pumpkin spiced coffee. We use pumpkin spiced coffee from a local roastery down the street and we add a tincture of cold brew to it. It’s not overwhelmingly pumpkin. 

THE HARD QUESTIONS

Nancy: Is there anything you would say right off the bat that you just feel you really got right that has been critical to your business’s growth? 

Daniel: I think our logo and branding. When you have good branding, it’s such an easy sell. Sometimes you go to a brewery and the merchandise is a little too overwhelming. Merchandise has been a huge revenue generator for us, especially being in a touristy area. During the summer I can’t keep shirts in stock, can’t keep hats in stock. Along with having great beer. I mean, you can’t open a brewery with mediocre beer when breweries are a dime a dozen now. 

salty turtle cans on the beach

Image courtesy of Salty Turtle Beer Co.

Nancy: The flip side of that is, if you had more time and more resources, what are the things you wish you could do? 

Daniel: We’d love to brew more beer and have a bigger space. We’re contracting out right now. It’s not ideal. But since COVID happened, we picked up more grocery stores. It’s a monster, but a good monster, and it just keeps buying beer. We can’t keep up in our small, 7 barrel brew house, so we contracted out to a 30 barrel brew house. During the summer, we’re doing 120 barrels per month, and that was just cans. We’re trying to purchase land to do everything in-house, so we don’t have to rely on outside resources. 

Nancy: If there were folks that were looking to get started in the brewery world, what is some advice you’d give them? 

Daniel: Join your guild! We have a great local guild. Not only our local, regional guild, but the North Carolina Brewers Guild, too. To use the resources of your guild, and being able to connect to other breweries and brewery owners is amazing. And that’s kind of why we started a brewery.

I don’t think there’s any other industry that owners are so willing to collaborate and help each other out. It’s so awesome to see that I could talk to someone I’ve never met, but I know they’re a brewery owner, and we could start talking and share ideas and no one’s trying to keep secrets. 

Nancy: Last year, we all had to make significant changes in our businesses to stay afloat. What are some things you learned that will continue to help you grow?

Daniel: You’ve got to be flexible and be very creative with your business approach. If we weren’t able to open as just a taproom and you had to have a restaurant, maybe we would have invested in a small little kitchen in order for us to stay open. 

Can I give a shameless plug about Arryved? You’ve been able to pivot, and create that mobile ordering platform—to be able to order from your phone, order from QR codes at your table, do a pickup, or deliveries—and it saved us! When we could only do to-go orders, it was awesome to have that flexibility for our customers. Especially since we have a large demographic of age groups, where not everyone is inclined to use apps on their phone, it still made it easy for them to purchase our beer. We were doing home deliveries of beer in a 10 mile radius around town; cases, growler fills, and crowler fills. 

We don’t do local deliveries anymore, but we are still doing curbside pickup and to-go. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable, but is also able to enjoy our beer. 

Nancy: Anything else you want to say about your community of other veterans? 

Daniel: We truly appreciate the military and now being out, it’s sobering and humbling not being able to put on the uniform and getting out there. Every time we have a tragic event, like those 13 service members that we lost a month ago, we try to do our best to reach out to the community for local support and be that gathering place, too, to console and mourn the losses. The sacrifices that our men and women make on a daily basis when you just never know… 

At any time, they could get called up and we could be in some type of conflict and they have to leave their families. But even during peacetime, 6-month deployments are pretty rough on the family. You miss out on the births of kids and birthday parties. You’re never going to get that back. But it is a service that we volunteer for, and it’s on us to truly understand that. We can’t thank them enough as much as we try. We try to make sure that they are taken care of.

Nancy: Love and appreciate everything that you’ve said Daniel. Love and appreciate your service. And also thank you so much for your time this morning. It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know you a bit better. 

Daniel: You too, Nancy. 

You know, ever since we moved on from Square, we were just thoroughly happy with your service and support as a business owner. A lot of people say they’re going to do something, but for you guys to actually deliver and make sure things are happening… It’s awesome. That integration that you have with Craftpeak, it’s just a lifesaver for us to integrate our inventory. And I know you can’t promise the world and can’t do everything all at once, but I know you are striving to make sure things are getting taken care of.

 

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