Beating the Odds Thanks to the Local Community
MUST Machining & Fabrication began in St. Helena as two different companies, York Machine Works (YMW) and Burgstahler Machine Works (BMW), which had 70 years of experience innovating, leading, and servicing the wine industry.
Former YMW employee Alex Mitchell grew up with John York’s youngest daughter and began working with him in 2006, with the intent to purchase the business when York retired. In 2010, Alex and his wife, Michelle, assumed ownership. The Mitchells also introduced themselves to Wayne Burgstahler of BMW and told him that when he was ready to retire, they would also purchase his company, which came to fruition in late January 2020. The Mitchells combined the two shops and created MUST.
Little did the Mitchells know that launching MUST would precede a pandemic. Since it is an agriculture, manufacturing, and repair business, it did not close. However, winery customers cut capital expenditure projects, and new wine industry jobs came to a grinding and immediate halt. Regardless of the circumstances, the Mitchells retained every employee with previous projects. Because of school closures, Michelle had to work from home and homeschool her two young boys, which required many late nights as a business owner, mother, and teacher.Just when it could not get any worse, the Mitchells lost their home in fall 2020 during the Glass Fire. “We closed for two days while we scrambled to get our company files, company vehicles, and other belongings out of St. Helena when the fire seemed to be a threat to the town,” said Michelle. She and their two boys moved into a studio apartment near her brothers in Redwood City, while Alex and their 100-pound dog, Panda, lived at the El Bonita Hotel for six weeks.
Two days later, MUST reopened to customers with no electricity or internet. They took orders on paper and handwrote invoices until services were restored. The Mitchells found a rental house in Angwin and lived there until June 2021, when they put a trailer on their burned property. “The four of us are in a 350-square foot tiny home. It’s been a wild ride. We are thankful for our amazing team of employees and customers,” shared Michelle.
The good news is that MUST has survived in the face of tremendous odds. In addition to having a full retail shop, it is one of Napa Valley’s few machine shops and a fabrication shop, with many products manufactured in-house or sourced locally and nationally. In addition, MUST offers a winery equipment line they sell nationally and internationally. Another advantage is a majority of their employees have winery work experience and a wealth of knowledge. “We value quality and never cut corners,” said Michelle.
The MUST team works hard to keep funds local and support other small businesses. They know the importance of relationships. Their number one goal is to ensure customers get what they need, even if it requires a referral to another business. Added Michelle, “A long-term customer relationship is more important than a quick buck.”
Story By: Elizabeth Smith // Photos Courtesy of MUST Machining & Fabrication
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