Woodinville-based cider company makes philanthropy part of its mission

More than a year and a half ago, Jason Spears and his brother, Patrick, were gearing up to start construction on their new Woodinville-based hard cidery and tap room, Locust Cider. It was stressful time, not only was the duo starting up a new business from the ground up, but Spears and his wife were expecting their second child in just a few weeks.

“(Lucy) was born just a month before we started construction — which was crazy enough as it was — but  shortly after her birth we found out she had a couple of conditions,” Spears said.

The first was a condition known as craniosynostosis, which caused baby Lucy’s skull to prematurely fuse.

“(A soft spot on an infant’s head) is like that so their brain can grow, but her skull is fused in three places on the back of her head, which means her brain couldn’t grow,” he said. “So it was growing sideways and forward, which caused her head to be misshapen.”

The second, more chronic condition is known as hydrocephalus, which causes an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

“Basically, brain fluid doesn’t drain like it is supposed to, it just continues to build and build and build, and it creates pressure,” Spears said. “If there’s too much pressure it can result in brain damage and it will kill you — going along with that, there’s lots of pain, headaches, and all sorts of unpleasantness.”

In the year and a half since Lucy was born she has endured four invasive brain surgeries — some to place a shunt, which helps drain the cerebrospinal fluid — and seven hospital stays, while Locust Cider — which can be found on shelves in five states — has flourished.

Due to the success of the startup, Spears said it gave him the opportunity to “be selfish” and raise funds for the Hydrocephalus Association to benefit his daughter and others like her.

“If my daughter didn’t have this condition I wouldn’t be doing this, but I know there would be something else because I always knew we would have to be about more than just making an alcoholic beverage, but I (didn’t) know what the other thing would be,” he said.

Locust began donating a portion of their cider club registration fee to the nonprofit organization, but Spears said he really wanted to donate funds per bottle sold.

“To be honest, we are a for-profit company, we are not a nonprofit and competition on the grocery store shelves is fierce,” he said. “People are price conscious and it is really hard to find that money in the cost of our cider.”

Locust recently partnered with Whole Foods to facilitate sales, enabling Spears to donate 10 cents from each bottle sold.

“Whole Foods has been amazing; they need a lot of love,” he said. “They started this, they featured it, they put it front and center in a lot of their stores.”

While Whole Foods continues to carry the Locust brand, Spears said he plans to continue doing everything he can to help his daughter and others.

“I tend to believe in the power of philanthropic capitalism,” he said. “It is somewhat selfish, but we get to tie our for-profit desires with the things we truly care about.”