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Alumni in Action: Karen Hertz

Alumni in Action logoWelcome to "Alumni in Action," CCSD's new series exploring the accomplishments, journeys, and Pathways of Purpose of district alums from across the history of the Cherry Creek School District!

Karen Hertz had a specific clientele in mind when she founded the Holidaily Brewing Company in 2016.

It was a customer base that Hertz had come to know well. The Cherry Creek High School alum started Holidaily as an option for beer drinkers who wanted gluten-free options, for whatever reason. Hertz herself had given up gluten after surviving cancer twice, and she knew firsthand just how hard it could be to find high-quality, gluten-free beers.

“There were some options when it came to gluten-free beer, but I just felt like the quality of the beer on the market wasn’t very good,” said Hertz, who attended Cherry Hills Elementary School and West Middle School before graduating from CCHS in 1995. “I was told as part of my medical treatment that I should eliminate gluten from my diet. Now I had a reason to be gluten-free. There were no great options for me at the time.”
Holidaily Brewing staff at grand opening
Hertz drew on an entrepreneurial spirit that she said had roots in her time at Cherry Creek High School to find a solution. Long before earning her MBA at the University of Colorado Denver, Hertz had participated in Creek’s DECA club, which offers students real-world, applicable lessons about business management. As a high school student, she had written business plans and started thinking from the perspective of a small business owner.

She harnessed that experience when she decided to strike out on her own and launch Holidaily more than six years ago.

“I learned how to home brew. When we opened we were only the fifth brewery dedicated to gluten-free beers. We opened in a small taproom in Golden,” Hertz said. “We were only open three days a week, with three beers on tap.”

Judging from the rapid growth of the business since that opening, Hertz and her crew tapped into a burgeoning market at just the right time. Now, Holidaily is the largest gluten-free brewery in the U.S., a niche market that’s grown to 17 breweries across the country. In 2022, Holidaily operates that original brewery and taproom in Golden, but also operates a growing network of facilities, including a 10,000-square-foot production brewery and a second taproom that’s much closer to Hertz’s high school alma mater in the Landmark shopping center at I-25 and Belleview.

All in all, Holidaily now operates two taprooms and three breweries, and boasts a crew of 42 employees. The company distributes in eight states, and has a presence at every single one of the Denver metro area’s largest sports venues, including Empower Field at Mile High, Ball Arena, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and Folsom Field.

“Gluten-free people still like to have a beer at sports games. We’ve made a push to get that exposure,” Hertz said. “I want people to feel confident that they can be gluten-free and still have an awesome beer,” she adding, noting that Holidaily has won two awards from the Great American Beer Festival, as well as a Beer Cup Award, “We want to be available nationwide eventually. We want to be the obvious choice for gluten-free beer in the country.”

As she looks forward to future goals, Hertz credits her time in the Cherry Creek School District with many of the fundamental skills and values that have helped her find so much success. Specifically, she credits the combination of community, growth mindset and high-quality instruction that were part of the everyday experience in Cherry Creek Schools.

“I felt like I had teachers who stressed a growth mindset and who pushed me to be better, to challenge myself. Expectations were high; it made me raise my own expectations,” she said. “My time in the district also taught me about relationships; now it’s what my business is entirely about. I have to have skills not only in meeting people, but in authentically getting to know them. I think that’s a major part of being a leader.”

From employees to customers to distributors and partners, building good relationships has played a key part in Holidaily’s success. The company’s mission goes deeper than simply providing gluten-free options for beer drinkers; it’s about offering a sense of quality, community and connection that Hertz first found in her neighborhood schools.
“My entire ecosystem is built on relationships,” she said. Although she’s moved away from the CCSD neighborhoods where she attended elementary, middle and high school, she’s kept ties to the community that have helped her business succeed. “I know a lot of people there, a lot of my friends ended up living in the district. I know the area well, and the demographics fit our product.”

Indeed, gluten-free consumers are a growing segment of the market. In addition to those who can’t consume gluten for medical reasons, more people are cutting out the ingredient for the health benefits.

“Up to 30 percent of the population is eliminating gluten. We see the younger generation taking the step as well,” Hertz said, pointing to keto, paleo and other popular diets. “There are all of these different nutrition plans going on, and all of them include a gluten-free diet.”

- Posted 9/14/2022 at 10 AM