Residents in Vic Chouchanian’s Northridge townhouse complex were curious. What was going on in there?
They’d walk by his garage and notice him fiddling with formulas like he was some sort of chemist.
“Beer,” he’d tell them.
He was creating beer in his garage.
The next question would usually be, “Is that legal?” And he assured them, home brewing is.
What started so innocently — a hobby for the CSUN alumnus — has grown into the multi-beer festival award-winning San Fernando Brewing Co. Chouchanian is co-founder and co-owner of a business that now has its own brewery, a warehouse in San Fernando, complete with giant, silver tanks and machinery, a tasting room and 14 employees dedicated to making the company the next big thing in an exciting, growing craft beer market.
Many parts of the company — including the flavor of the beers, and opening and operating of the business — were inspired by Chouchanian’s time at CSUN.
“I wrote an 85-page business plan,” said Chouchanian ’12 (Mathematics), ’12 (Credential). “In that plan there were tons of projections and charts and graphs — you name it. And the math had to be spot on. It was gathering data, putting it together, presenting it in a proper form. So not just my math degree (played a significant part in building this business), but my overall education. My English and writing skills were a big factor.
“Beer is all numbers and science and a little bit of prayer. It’s getting the percentage of grain to hops right and the amount of yeast to pitch because you want to think about the specific number of cells, so it’s a certain number of cells per milliliter. … It’s a lot of math, not just the brewing aspect but the business aspect – being able to project what you’re spending vs. what you can sell a beer for.”
Chouchanian loves math. It’s his passion — that and brewing. But math was there first. He initially thought he wanted to become an educator. To do that, he enrolled at CSUN, where he shone.
“Vic was a fantastic student,” said Kellie Evans, a professor in the Department of Mathematics. “He was a great presenter. He gave the best, visual proof of the Pythagorean [theorem] that I had seen at the time. It was Euclid’s proof and Vic broke it down very dramatically. I recall [his presentation] ending to applause.”
It was around the time that Chouchanian enrolled at CSUN as a transfer student that he developed an interest is brewing. To him, it wasn’t so much about a love of the drink, but an interest in creating.
An acquaintance suggested that he try and brew beer himself and Chouchanian thought, why not? He began with 5 gallons in the kitchen, then 15 in the garage. He started giving it away to the neighbors in the townhouse complex. Then the suggestions started to come.
“You should sell this!”
Then the suggestions multiplied and amplified.
In the period between 2011 and 2012, a lot was happening for Chouchanian. While nearing the finish line for his degree, he and his wife Nora were looking to purchase a house. But no bank would approve a loan for the couple.
The frustration bubbled up, forcing the husband-and-wife team to make a decision.
“We either had to stick with what we’re doing, grind it out and hope that house prices came down and we could get a loan, or jump out of the norm and take a risk,” said Chouchanian. “We took a risk.”
In 2012, Chouchanian and his brother, Joe, decided to try their hands at opening a brewery. The same year Chouchanian completed his degree at CSUN and earned his teaching credential.
It took the duo a year to find a building for the brewery, and two years to build the business. While this was happening, Chouchanian built a following for the beer by taking it to the competition circuit.
He also managed to accomplish another goal — he became a teacher of middle school math. He also taught summer school math at Granada Hills Charter High School and was offered a full-time position.
But the brewery was beginning to take off.
In July 2015, the ribbon was cut at San Fernando Brewing Co. while area politicians looked on and people line the street to the product, Chouchanian recalled.
Without his education at CSUN, Chouchanian said everything about the business would be more challenging.
“I know a lot of people opening up breweries right now, and they’re still struggling,” he said. “Not just my math degree helped me, but the people I met, the support I had and the support I still have all played a role. I still talk to some of my professors from CSUN.”
He credits a few of his CSUN professors for helping him get to where he is today, including Ivan Cheng and Evans.
Chouchanian said Cheng’s story of rising from humble beginnings as a bus driver to become a highly respected educator inspires him. Evans, he said, was always uplifting.
Cheng recalled learning about his former student’s hobby during classes. He could hear Chouchanian speak about his latest batch to classmates. Cheng eventually became a supporter.
“It was with great excitement that I went to his brewery to check out his beers,” Cheng said. “I have been there multiple times. I have even promoted his brewery on my trips by taking photos of his logo with famous landmarks in the background. This is something that his loyal fans do when they travel.”
Evans has her own recollection of hearing about Chouchanian’s brewing.
“When Vic completed his math major and single-subject math teaching credential at CSUN, he began teaching middle school in a K-8 school in Altadena, where my own children were students,” she said. “He was going to be my kids’ middle school math teacher! It was a fantastic time for me — work meets personal life. And I was looking forward to Vic’s impact on my kids. Little did I know Vic was as good at brewing beer as teaching math.
“It has been bittersweet, seeing Vic’s amazing San Fernando Brewing Company grow into a successful business,” Evans continued. “Vic is so talented at everything, of course, I am thrilled for him. However, I still dream he’ll find a way to continue to be a successful businessman and teach math. He has been teaching others to brew beer. What lucky brewers they are.”
Additional validation has come in the form of a loyal customer base, and awards. San Fernando Brewing Co. has received awards in San Diego, Los Angeles and California competitions. Three Costco retailers in the San Fernando Valley recently began selling one of San Fernando Brewing Co.’s beers — Grapefruits of Wrath. The company’s beer is also being poured at CSUN’s 60th Anniversary Grand Reunion.
“I cannot say that his education at CSUN made Vic successful because he already had the qualities that allowed him to be where he is at today,” Cheng said. “What I believe is that CSUN helped move Vic forward on his journey. Our focus on putting students first is what I see Vic doing with his customers. Perhaps we had a part in helping him internalize those values. So, I don’t think CSUN can take credit for Vic’s success. But we are delighted that we were a part of his journey to success.”
There is talk of expanding the brewery’s space. Chouchanian’s other passion isn’t lost, though. And Evans might get her wish.
“I still want to teach,” Chouchanian said. “I would love to teach at CSUN one day. I would love to go back and teach math. Teaching is my passion. Beer is also my passion, but teaching is different.”