by Nixie Strazza
Fresh out of college with a degree in finance, Stacey Oakley found herself working for a large investment company in the heart of New York City. Despite her qualifications, Oakley was often unsatisfied with the menial atmosphere of corporate banking and quickly realized she would be better off elsewhere.
Her first endeavor in the hospitality industry came at just age 25, when Oakley was placed in charge of the construction of a Nantucket yacht club. Upon completing the $100 million project, Oakley remained on the island as the club’s acting chief financial officer — an experience she credits a great deal of her business savvy to.
Not one to be complacent, Oakley was constantly on the lookout for new learning opportunities and saw the fledgling craft beer industry as an interest worth exploring. Bidding adieu to gray Northeastern skies, Oakley followed the sun down to the hospitality hub of Orlando, where she was recruited by The Florida Brewery.
Ten years later, Oakley said the tight-knit network of craft entrepreneurs is still keeping her on her toes and that boredom in her line of work is no longer a problem.
“This industry is always evolving and changing,” Oakley said. “There is not a dull moment in the beverage manufacturing and brewing community.”
An anomaly in craft beer, The Florida Brewery is almost entirely female-run: Oakley serves as CFO alongside chief operating officer Julie Williams and brewmaster Daniela Velasquez. Apart from their impeccably neat workplace, Oakley said the company’s feminine influence can be seen in their attention to detail, empathetic approach to management and a family-first attitude.
The longevity in their employees — some of whom have remained at the Auburndale-based operation for decades — speaks volumes to the culture Oakley and her counterparts have created. The familial sentiment the trio promotes does not stop short when workers are faced with unforeseeable childcare responsibilities or doctor visits that take them out of the office temporarily. According to Oakley, each staff member is recognized for their contributions on a personal level and met with individualized support to help them best succeed.
“We’ve become the well known packer of the Southeast because of our relationships,” Oakley said.
Instead of forcing craft onto their community, Oakley said Florida Brewery listens constantly to customer feedback and creates beers their consumers actually want to drink. An industrial engineer by trade, Oakley said brewmaster Velasquez holds their products to a high standard of specifications when it comes to chemistry and flavor. Understanding the science behind the complicated process of craft beer is what sets Florida Brewery apart from others in the industry.
Florida Brewery recently converted a section of their Auburndale headquarters into a beer garden, restaurant and tasting room. Oakley said the company wanted to give back to their loyal customers and provide a space for the community to come together and explore a few favorites on tap. The construction was all part of Florida Brewery’s constant mission to increase inclusivity in the beer world while welcoming in those from all walks of life.
Between their signature German pale lager — aptly named Gator Lager — or their wine-like Pomelo Grapefruit shandy, Oakley believes there is a beer for everyone to enjoy. Diverse in both their management team and on tap offerings, Florida Brewery is changing perspectives on what a typical craft operation can look like, and the industry is better for it.