The crowded, competitive path into the distillery community is no walk in the park for Black entrepreneurs.
Today, the spirits industry is represented by fewer than 50 minority-owned craft distilleries, and the challenges for them mount high, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. From funding to marketing, small Black-owned brands have struggled to gain respect for a seat at the table, but the marathon continues.
Timothy Irving Jr., owner and creator of The Original Irving Whiskey, was inspired by his family’s history of making moonshine in segregated rural Georgia. As a small business owner, Irving still faces the burdens of being a Black owner.
“It’s a challenge trying to break into these big distributors and I’m not sure we’ve gained their respect, especially being a small Black-owned brand,” Irving said, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge to prove ourselves. We just want the opportunity.”
However, Black women seem to have a lot more proving to do.
TK Burton-Johnson and her brother, Ty, established the Red Hazel Brewing Co., which produces a spiced rye whiskey currently sold in 45 restaurants and retail outlets.
“I am a woman in the whiskey industry, not just a woman but a Black woman,” Burton-Johnson said, per the outlet.
“Sometimes when you’re talking to people you get looks like, ‘You’re not supposed to be in this room.’ I don’t have to necessarily be rude to get respect, but I do have to be more assertive. It starts with respect; that respect is starting to come.”
Startup capital or funding is necessary for getting started in any business, but investment patterns “tends to come from sources who are familiar with the people they do business with and that may be a disadvantage to minorities,” according to Giacomo Negro, a professor of Organization and Management at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.
Funding for Burton-Johnson’s business was “strictly bootstrapping.”
She said, “We didn’t think we’d qualify for a bank loan. I’ve applied for more than 200 grants and haven’t gotten any.”
Don and Nayana Ferguson, co-founders of Anteel Tequila, relied on their high-earning savings for funding and don’t plan on using outside investors or banks. The duo produces a line of cocktails and tequilas, including the Anteel Reposado Tequila, aged eight months in charred Tennessee whiskey barrels.
Despite being self-funded, “a lot of distributors weren’t willing to try my brand because I’m a Black woman,” said Ferguson, the first Black woman to own a tequila brand.
“I’m proving them wrong. I’m going to become a nationally recognized brand, maybe internationally.”