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Lauri Spitz defines are own definition of strong. (Credit: David Benthal)

It was one of the biggest days of her life and Lauri Spitz was masking a familiar feeling.

As dozens of people poured into the newly expanded tasting room at Moustache Brewing Co. in Riverhead, which Spitz owns with her husband, Matt, she greeted them with the usual smile and a hug. 

But inside, she was feeling something else: a pounding in her chest.

Spitz has struggled with anxiety most of her life. There were the initial doctors and prescriptions, followed by the struggle to find the right doctor and even more medication. There have been bad days and good days. 

This was not a good day, her body was telling her.

Thankful for the support of her business, Spitz hid the paralyzing anxiety that was engulfing her. 

Owning a brewery is a dream for countless craft beer enthusiasts who ponder the perks of transforming their hobby into a career.

Faced with a choice between pursuing a career devoid of passion or venturing into the unknown, Spitz reached a crossroads in 2011 at the age of 26. It boiled down to one question: What would she do if money weren’t a factor?

“I immediately thought, ‘I would open a brewery,’ ” she said. “It was an eye-opener. I ran through the gamut of excuses: I had no money or I didn’t know what I was doing. In a short amount of time, I did a 180. I was committed to the idea.” 

Seven years later, on Columbus Day weekend 2018, reality set in for the Spitzes. Four years had passed since their tasting room opened on Hallett Avenue and they were now doubling the size of their space. It represented an opportunity for more production and a more spacious tasting room to accommodate growing crowds.

In the months leading up to the grand opening of the expanded space, the work hit a feverish pace for the couple. Eighteen-hour days were becoming routine as they hurried to finalize the transformation of the tasting room, while still overseeing production and distribution — among other tasks — for the existing brewery. The bad days were starting to outweigh the good, she said. 

It had all come to a breaking point at a time that would have ordinarily been considered a time of celebration. 

“I just wanted to go into the back and cry,” she recalled. “I was so thankful for all the people who came and the support from the community … I felt guilty. I was having a complete breakdown. I started to realize after, that the more people I talked to about it, the more people were feeling the same way, but didn’t get help. I just want people to know that if they are struggling, they’re not alone.” 

Things did not change magically overnight for Spitz. Her anxiety is not gone, though she is embracing new ways of coping with it — therapy included. There is an element of guilt in taking time to prioritize yourself so that you can prioritize your goals, she explained. 

“You can’t pour from an empty bottle,” she said. “If I need to go to the gym for an hour, I go. If I need to sleep a little more, I do.”

A former Strong Man competitor, Spitz is also back in the gym at least three days a week in preparation for her next competition as she learns to let go of the little things that caused her stress to bottle up.

Stoic philosophy, she explains, is a more practical approach to thinking of your problems. Essentially she’s recognizing there are simply situations you cannot dwell on. 

This Stoic way of thinking is also how she addresses a question she is consistently asked: How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated industry? 

“I have had situations dealing with an account or customer and they said I am being nasty … but Matt will step in and say the exact same thing and it will be fine,” she said. “I think of it as a ‘them’ problem. Because I am confident in what I am doing, sometimes it makes — usually — men uncomfortable. I can’t let it bother me that some people are like that. I point to the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ sign [in the tasting room].’ ” 

And so Spitz carries on with the day-to-day pressure of running her business. She does it with grace, a bit of toughness and a feeling inside that she wants people to know is a part of her story.

“I tell the same story of how we got here over and over, but I am starting to think about it differently these days,” she said. “You can seem like the strongest person from the outside and still be struggling.”

And that doesn’t make you any less of a success.