“I have a hard time saying ‘No’ to interesting things,” Julie Verratti says.
The gregarious co-founder of the popular Denizens Brewing Co. — with Maryland locations in Riverdale Park and Silver Spring — is joining the Biden Administration to help jumpstart the economy and promote small business recovery as the Covid-19 pandemic winds down.
As an associate administrator of field operations for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Verratti will lead 68 field offices and 10 regional offices across the country and is charged with providing services for small businesses. She brings experience as both a hard-charging Fed and — perhaps most importantly — a leader in D.C.’s hospitality scene. By temperament and experience, this local is the perfect choice to tackle the challenge.
Verratti, born and raised in Silver Spring, was exposed to entrepreneurship at a young age through her father’s small business.
“I’ve always been involved in my local community, no matter where I’ve been. Because of that, you end up interacting with small businesses because they’re the backbone of community.”
Her passion for government also came early.
“I started reading The Washington Post around 15 years old, which is a little odd for a teenager,” she says.
Verratti went to Brandeis University in Boston where she triple-majored in politics, history and philosophy, with a minor in economics. After graduation and a stint in politics and advocacy, she headed to law school at George Washington University. She earned her degree in 2010, which she says was not a great year for the job market.
“I was going back and forth on private sector versus government, and the economy made that choice for me. It was a blessing in disguise because I was able to jump into federal service right away.”
Verratti then entered the Presidential Management Fellows Program, a highly competitive two-year training and leadership development program administered by the federal government. She was placed within the SBA, allowing her to work with small businesses that were recovering from the 2008 economic crisis.
“Their stories and resilience were so inspiring.And when you’re around those folks, it is hard not to get the bug yourself.”
The bug came in the form of Denizens Brewing Co., which she founded in 2013 with her wife Emily Bruno and brother-in-law Jeff Ramirez.
“It was always going to be beer. I was an avid homebrewer in law school and fell in love with the culture of craft beer.”
However, the trio quickly ran into restrictive, Prohibition-era liquor laws that had long blocked the development of local craft breweries. Verratti drew from her past experience in advocacy and politics to build coalitions and identify win-win goals: more local jobs, more tax revenue for the government and more beer for everyone. Her successful campaign allowed Denizens to become the first production brewery in Montgomery County, and paved the way for nearly a dozen other craft brewers to launch locally in the years since.
But the legislative battles at the start of Verratti’s business journey were nothing compared to the struggle brought on by the pandemic.
“The day we had to furlough most of our team — that was probably one of the worst days of my life,” she says, adding that while times have been tough, they remind her that small businesses are wellsprings of creativity and resilience. “We were the first to launch direct-to-consumer beer delivery. After doing that for a month, we realized this might keep us afloat and were strong enough as a team to pivot, be creative and survive. Delivery was not enough to thrive or be sustainable forever, but we had found a way through the crisis.”
Now, as she returns to the SBA, she will be able to bring her advocacy insights, past government service and private sector experience into a new chapter.
“The skills I was able to learn absolutely will translate in how I do this role. Because I’ve had both public service and private sector experience, I see goodness in both. I really believe the government can be a force for good.”
At the same time, Verratti observes, “It’s not the government’s job to tell small businesses what they need. Our job is to make sure we have programs and services they can take advantage of. Our North Star is to be helpful.”
Verratti predicts the pandemic will be beaten in the coming months, as long as people get vaccinated and “public health is taken care of.”
“The government is not going to tell us, ‘The economy is open.’ The consumers will. The administration is really focused on getting vaccines distributed, and as long as we continue to be vigilant, we can restore consumer confidence. Then we’re going to have a roaring twenties.”
To learn more about the SBA and Verratti’s role, visit www.sba.gov. Follow Verratti on Twitter @JulieVerratti. For more information on Denizens Brewing Co., visit www.denizensbrewingco.com and follow @denizensbrewing on Instagram.
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