The Brew Master. Meet Jennifer Newman of Young Lion Brewing Company

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Photography by Gabrielle Plucknette of Gabrielle Plucknette Photography

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I am Jennifer Newman, the CEO/Co-Owner of Young Lion Brewing Company. I started the project 3 years ago with my co-owners. A year ago, we opened Young Lion, one of the larger craft breweries in New York State. I oversee the development, operations, strategy, and management of YLBC’s production, sales, and tap room.  

What did you want to be when you were a child?
It changed daily.  Everything from a lawyer to an acrobat.  It all depended on what inspired me that day.

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How did you get started? What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
Originally, I was a business analyst at companies like Price Waterhouse and Scholastic. In 1998, I co-founded three software start-ups and assisted in selling them. By 2011, I was lucky enough to reach a moment in my life where I could pursue my passion. For me, that passion has always been beer, specifically craft beer. Since my brewing skills didn’t match my business expertise, I launched a nationwide search for Young Lion’s Head Brewer. We found our head brewer in Phil Platz, who joined us in December 2016. Phil has an incredibly strong technical background, makes incredible beer and is truly a wonderful leader and person. 

Breweries are challenging businesses by nature. They require more than a year of planning and license approval, a very large capital commitment up front and it is a manufacturing business. It  requires a balance of volume and margin management to be successful. To tackle all three of these issues, I couldn’t possibly do it solo, so I surrounded myself with people from all backgrounds and skills to help bring my vision to life. The incredible team at Young Lion, my co-owners, our lawyer Katie Markert at Harter Secrest, Jim Rahmlow at Mengel Metzger & Barr are the reason YLBC has moved forward so quickly in a year.

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In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
Vision and mission are critical when you hit the bumps.  At Young Lion we know we are about community and quality. Community is our industry, our tap room and our employees. Quality is more of a drive for us than a description. We will never get comfortable. We want to always be improving all we do by 20%.

I learned with the other companies I started, that mistakes, challenges and hardships aren’t just part of the process, but are actually gifts that help you learn and grow. I have learned that it’s okay to be uncomfortable in business. When my team has something disappointing or challenging happen, I remind them how lucky we are that we had that opportunity to better ourselves.

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Also, hardships and challenges don’t mean you have failed. The more you dwell on how rough the challenge, the worse it will be. Take a deep breath, regroup and work your way out of it.

Some days there are so many challenges that I actually visualize them as people throwing balls at me. I just juggle them for a bit and throw them in the right direction to get fixed.

You need mentors, contemporaries, and support. No one can open a business in a vacuum.  Professional organizations, team members, co-owners, industry experts, even friends are critical.  You need someone to talk with about your challenges. Surround yourself with people that know more than you and listen.  

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What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
Get ready to work and get ready to listen. If you don’t do both you will never succeed. 

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Lettering by Michala Schram of Jade and Stone Design

What inspires you?
I am inspired by people like Sam Caligione (Dogfish) and Kim Jordan (New Belgium) who have created incredibly successful businesses building a culture of respect, kindness and collaboration in their companies.

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What is your favorite part of what you do?
Drinking beer and laughing with my team.

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What do you find most challenging?
Management is the most challenging. To do it well you need to take the time to make sure your team has the tools and support to do their jobs and grow. In a start-up, time is your most valuable resource and it is easy to let things like performance evaluations and professional development opportunities end up on the bottom of your to do list. But they are critical and it will pay off in the end. 

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Name some local creatives that you really admire.
The things that inspire me are when someone can create and run a business, regardless of size to a level above and beyond....

The Wegmans. Born and raised here in Rochester the business analyst in me gets so turned on by Wegmans constant strive to improve. They think out of the box and take risks, they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and I have never seen a grumpy employee.  How do they do that?

Zach Mikida of Bitter Honey. Zach’s positive, genuine nature and endless enthusiasm coupled with his brilliance with cocktails, cool ambiance and hospitality has made Bitter Honey a magical place.  There is no one in this town that doesn’t adore Zach.

Alicia Wolk. Not only my co-owner but she also is the brains behind MILK wine.  I wouldn’t be standing upright if it weren’t for Alicia. I don’t overstate when I say everything beautiful at Young Lion is because of Alicia.  Our branding, tap room, merchandise – her great eye and high standards make me a better CEO.

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