Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Keidi Janz

You don’t know what you don’t know...and as a new entrepreneur, you can certainly anticipate for unexpected learning curves to arise. The key to success? Embracing the opportunity to learn with open arms...and Mandie Murphy is a prime example.

With a passion for craft beer and baseball, Mandie co-founded Left Field Brewery in April 2013 and has since successfully scaled the company from contract to a bustling, standalone brewery located in Toronto’s east end.

There are so many attributes to admire about Mandie, from her logical approach to decision-making to her friendly and compassionate personality, but there’s one in particular that stands out: her determination. Although she has an impressive marketing background, she didn’t have any prior experience with running a brewery prior to opening Left Field! Sure, she could have let that stop her but thankfully for us (and our tastebuds!), she did the exact opposite -- confidently accepting the challenge, including each obstacle that popped up along the way.

Of course, her resilience and hard work paid off and over the last 5 years, Left Field has seen an amazing organic trajectory as their brews are available in numerous bars, brewpubs, restaurants and LCBOs across the city.

Keep reading for Mandie’s open reflection on the early days of starting her business and here’s hoping her story inspires you to be relentless with your dreams, allowing each learning curve to inspire you and not terrify you.

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. When a door closes, or an opportunity falls to pieces, it’s the universe giving us a chance to learn something new, try something new and to grow. In the last five years with Left Field, we’ve been faced with obstacles of all kinds, big and small. From our brewery build being delayed and over-budget to making the evening news for neighbour noise complaints about our new business, to having LCBO listing applications declined when we felt they were in the bag, tackling disappointment in a positive way and pivoting to re-work the plan are all a part of being an entrepreneur. It’s these moments that we learn from and that make us stronger.

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Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.

My perfect work environment is quiet, tidy and organized. The brewery is none of these things. I appreciate a change of scenery as often as possible and am most productive with natural light, a hot tea and my earbuds in streaming lyric-less indie.

After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

After the first year of Left Field as a contract brewery (meaning we brewed our beer in other small breweries across the province), we were finding it really hard to keep up with demand. We knew it was time to find our own space and take the giant leap into building a bricks and mortar brewery of our own. We poured endless hours into a new business plan and started shopping it around to investors. We found a building that we fell in love with and though not perfectly suited to becoming a brewery (at least not without significant renovations), had the perfect location and potential to become a bustling neighbourhood Tap Room and bottle shop. We forged ahead and secured the financing we needed to make it happen. Building our own brewery was one of the best moves we’ve made and growth from there onwards has been organic and sustainable.

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

I take an extremely balanced approach and try to always make decisions that are data-based. When facts are unknown, I always try to build a data-driven case using logical assumptions that are based in reality. At the end of the day, risk really does equal reward. Though, I believe the most successful businesses generally don’t make completely blind decisions.

How do you measure success in your career?

For me, success means happiness and continuous learning. I approach each day recognizing how little I know and how much there is to be learned. Surrounding myself with positive, ambitious people who share that mentality gives me great job satisfaction. I love variety in my work and running a brewery comes with much of that. Learning how to do something I’ve never done before is highly motivating and I try to build as many of those opportunities into my work as possible.

"I’m learning the value and high calibre of my work and am getting better at fighting for it to be recognized."

You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?

Have a beer, of course. No, but seriously. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and get a sense of the perspective that they will be coming at it with. Whether it’s a sales call, an employee meeting or a supplier visit, understanding what they other person wants to get out of it helps me adjust my communications style and deliver the right content.

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What do you love most about yourself?

Really tough question. Society teaches us to focus on our weaknesses and areas of improvement, so talking about what we’re great at doesn’t come naturally. I think I’m a pretty methodical, logical thinker and that those qualities helps me make good and balanced judgement calls when I’m faced with tough decisions. I also strive to lead with empathy and compassion and I believe that has played a big role in making Left Field’s company culture what it is today. I genuinely care about our people and don’t just talk about it, but try to operationalize it in any and every way possible.

If you could re-live one career-defining moment in your life again, what would it be and why?

Negotiating harder for myself. Whether it’s around pay, getting new opportunities or now, getting new opportunities for my business and my team, I’m learning the value and high calibre of my work and am getting better at fighting for it to be recognized. If I could go back and re-live certain moments of negotiation throughout my career, I would be so much better at it and so much further ahead.

Who is a fellow Toronto-based female entrepreneur that inspires you and why?

Rachel Kelly! I had the pleasure of working with Rachel in many facets over the past few years. From Tipsy Teachers Detox To Retox events to working at events and in our brewery Tap Room  to now running her own business, it’s been amazing to watch. She’s creative, ambitious, friendly and extremely hard-working. I consider her living proof of how being nice to people is key to getting ahead when sometimes the corporate world wants to teach us otherwise.

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What is a personal or professional challenge you're faced with right now?

I’m working on getting better at articulating my big-picture vision to help inspire my team and to be a better leader. The last four years have been such a hustle and I’ve really been in the weeds with so much of my work. I’m trying to get better at delegating, trusting in teammates to make crucial decisions in their areas of the business so that I can focus on bigger-picture strategic thinking and direction to keep the business moving in the right direction. I’m a sweat-the-details person and it’s so hard to pull myself away from them in the day-to-day work.


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