Spring/Summer 2023

Class Note

Virginia Morrison, ’03: From Lawyer to Brewery Owner

By Sharon Morioka

Virginia Morrison
Virginia Morrison, ’03

Ever since Virginia Morrison, ’03, was 8 years old, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer. And if you’d asked her 10 years ago where she’d be in her career today, she would have said she’d be practicing employment law. 

However, Morrison’s career path took a sharp turn in 2020 when she became CEO of Second Chance Beer Company, based in San Diego, which not only produces award-winning craft brews but also gives rescue dogs a second chance at life. 

What might seem like two rather random interests—canines and craft brews?—are actually two of Morrison’s passions. The career change gave her the opportunity (a second chance, if you will) to do meaningful work beyond the law. 

She now lives by the company’s motto: Seize a pint, save a pup.

Getting started

The Morrisons
Virginia Morrison and her husband, Marty Mendiola, who is the company's brewmaster.

Morrison initially hesitated to work with her husband—Marty Mendiola, the company’s brewmaster—which she considered “marital suicide.” 

But she gradually became involved in the business, which currently has 27 employees, after initially pitching in with the business plan and fundraising. She also was able to put her law skills to good use, especially in human resources, since she had practiced employment law for years with San Diego firms and in her own private practice. 

“My law background is useful because it's true what they say about law school: It teaches you how to think. I slowly got pulled in more and more to the brewery. I love craft beer, and this industry is one of the most amazing that I've encountered as far as the people.”

Virginia Morrison, ’03

In an industry more represented by men with beards (or, as Morrison puts it, “white, male, and hairy”), it’s unusual to see a woman CEO. In fact, says Morrison, only about 3 percent of breweries in the country are led and co-owned by women. That gives her company a leg up in some ways. 

“Now, more and more retailers want to work with female-owned brands, and that's proved to be really helpful for us.”

It also offers a diverse perspective in developing a range of beers, says Morrison. For example, it was her idea to brew the company’s best-selling beer: Fistful of Gummies, a fruited sour beer that she wouldn’t necessarily have expected from one of her bearded counterparts. 

However, as a member of the Brewers Association Board of Directors and co-chair of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, she is actively working with others to make the craft beer industry more inclusive. 

“It would be great to be able to say one day soon that 15 percent of breweries are owned and led by women.”

Beer and dogs

So how do rescue dogs factor into the equation? Very importantly—as part of the brewery’s mission.  

“Craft beer generally is known for philanthropy,” says Morrison. “We have the mission to give pups a second chance through support of dog rescues.”

The company, voted San Diego's most dog-friendly brewery, works with two animal rescue organizations in California and one in Arizona, the two states where Second Chance distributes its beers. It also has helped more than 140 dogs find homes through adoption events and fundraisers.

“Our philanthropy works in a couple different ways,” says Morrison, possibly the only Michigan Law graduate to be featured in Dogster magazine. 

First, the company hosts regular dog adoptions in its two tasting rooms. Second, it develops unique partnerships, such as one with the San Diego Gulls minor league hockey team. In addition to developing a beer for the team—the Blue Line Blonde Ale—Second Chance brought in one of its rescue partners for a dog adoption and fundraiser at one of the team’s pregame tailgates.

“The fact that we have the mission to give pups a second chance through support of dog rescues is what makes it so cool to come to work every day—oh, and so does the delicious beer for happy hour.”

Staff of brewing company that promotes rescuing dogs
Staff from Second Chance Beer Company pose in the brewery.