Damian Brown of The Bronx Brewery: “A successful brand needs good people and good partners”

A successful brand needs good people and good partners. I see my job ultimately as identifying passionate, hard-working and talented people, giving them the tools and resources they need and staying out of the way! Your people ultimately dictate everything — the quality of your product, the values it exemplifies and what it ultimately means to the […]

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A successful brand needs good people and good partners. I see my job ultimately as identifying passionate, hard-working and talented people, giving them the tools and resources they need and staying out of the way! Your people ultimately dictate everything — the quality of your product, the values it exemplifies and what it ultimately means to the people who consume it. Also, brands don’t exist in vacuums, nor is anything truly just a “commodity”. Identify, embrace and invest in key suppliers, partners and collaborators.


As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Damian Brown.

A formally-trained Master Brewer with over 12 years of experience in the beer industry, Damian Brown is the co-Founder and President of The Bronx Brewery, a NYC-based brewery committed to using beer to bring people together and celebrate the rich and diverse creative scene in its home borough and across New York City.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in a family of five kids. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force so we moved every two or three years, including stints in Colorado, Iceland, Texas, Virginia and Germany. The constant movement and exposure to new people, places and cultures continue to have a big impact on me — I’m somewhat restless and always looking for a new adventure or something to explore. Beer has been one of those explorations — its history, its range and scope, its blend of art and science, its unique ability to build community and bring people together — I fell in love with beer when I began homebrewing while I was living in Nashville back in 2002 and it continues to amaze me.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

The day I was accepted into the UC Davis’ Master Brewers Program and decided to quit my job and move from Virginia to California was really the leap for me — I loaded my Saturn with whatever I owned and headed West to follow my dream to become a master brewer and start my own brewery.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The first few steps would be to focus on the critical questions of “Why?” and “For Whom?” Without a clear and compelling story around the need for the product and the defined community it is intended for, even the world’s best tasting/looking product will struggle to gain traction.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

The process of fully committing to turning an idea or a dream into a business is the most difficult part — it is the leap of overcoming one’s fears and the inherent risk of failure that generally holds people back. I would encourage everyone to jump in and put it all on the line from day one.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

My experience with The Bronx Brewery has involved both bootstrapping through the early support of friends and family as well as eventual involvement with an institutional investor, so I don’t look at it as an either-or situation. There’s a time and a place for everything. My best advice is to align on the strategic direction of your business in the early stages and then determine if you’re able to properly take advantage of all the resources that an institutional investor/venture capital partner could offer.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

One of the best decisions we ever made in starting The Bronx Brewery was to take advantage of the ability in New York State for breweries under a certain size to self-distribute (i.e., to sell directly to retailers as opposed to going through a distributor in the traditional three-tier alcohol model).

Sure, it was back-breaking work driving around the city, stopping in at bars and restaurants hoping to make a sale and (when successful!) carrying kegs down rickety cellar sidewalk hatches and steps. Sure, it was hot in the summer driving around in our old Red Bull truck with no AC and cold in the winter hand-trucking kegs on streets and sidewalks covered in snow.

But by doing it, it taught us how all the million aspects of the beer industry other than the beer itself would ultimately dictate our success or failure. Good liquid is simply table stakes that allow you to focus on everything else that matters. It also put us directly in front of decision makers at places that we wanted to be in and allowed us to tell our story to them in a way that would have been impossible had we been just another brand in some distributor’s portfolio.

We self-distributed for about a year-and-a-half and I’m forever grateful not only for the relationships that were developed but for all the lessons learned along the way.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

First, as mentioned earlier, I think two of the most critical elements to launching a successful F&B brand are compelling answers to the questions “Why?” and “For Whom?” Making sure what you make, how you make it, where you make it, who you make it with, where you sell it, how you market it all align to those value propositions and storylines. Authenticity and purpose follow. For us, launching a brewery in the Bronx at a time when there were only four or five breweries in NYC, it was all about the idea of creating a brewery where the liquid was the starting point and not the end. The “Why?” was a focus on changing the understanding of the positive role a brewery can have in its community — bringing people together and promoting diversity and inclusivity. The “For Whom?” was the creative community doing and shining light on all of the amazing things happening across the Bronx.

Second, a successful brand needs good people and good partners. I see my job ultimately as identifying passionate, hard-working and talented people, giving them the tools and resources they need and staying out of the way! Your people ultimately dictate everything — the quality of your product, the values it exemplifies and what it ultimately means to the people who consume it. Also, brands don’t exist in vacuums, nor is anything truly just a “commodity”. Identify, embrace and invest in key suppliers, partners and collaborators.

Third, it would be hard to overstate the need for large amounts of humility and perspective. Starting a company and sitting at the top of a meaningless org chart doesn’t mean one knows any/all of the answers; an appreciation of what one doesn’t know is key for development, both as a leader and a brand. When starting The Bronx Brewery, I knew how to make beer. I thought that had to be the most important thing when starting a brewery, but it was everything else I didn’t know at the time — and it is a long list: how to identify and motivate good teammates, how to navigate successes and failures, how to effectively manage supply chain and logistics, how to successfully collaborate with partners, etc. — that has gotten us to where we are today.

Fourth, patience and resilience, which I suppose are two sides of the same coin. As the saying goes, “Every overnight success is ten years in the making.” Most good things not only take time, but they also involve countless challenges, setbacks, frustrations and headaches. There have definitely been days over the last ten years when it was hard to get out of bed and come to the brewery, but a deeply held belief in what we were building and the impact we wanted to have kept us rolling!

The fifth is easy — Have fun doing what you’re doing!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The primary reason I fell in love with beer was an absolute appreciation for its unique ability to bring people together. Harnessing that power to have a positive impact on our community has been at the heart of this company over the last ten years.

Virtually every beer we have released as a brewery has been in collaboration with local creatives — ranging from artists to poets to floral designers to mixologists to astrologists to coffee roasters — so my hope is that we have supported and shined a spotlight on the up-and-coming talents contributing to the rising creative energy and diversity of the Bronx.

A portion of proceeds from these beers has also gone to community organizations doing really important work in many different areas — front-line medical work during the pandemic, anti-discrimination and anti-racism, LGBTQIA advocacy, mental health counseling for immigrant women, access to food, clothing and school supplies for those in need, etc. — so my hope is that our beers have contributed directly to improving peoples’ lives and creating a more just world.

Also, by making our Brewery, Taproom & Backyard (and coming East Village) spaces a reflection of our neighborhood and community — through beer, food, music, art, dance, spoken word and many other means of expression — my hope is that we have created an inclusive and open space full of meaning to the people who come to enjoy beer together.

Big picture: my hope is that our mindset that our product isn’t the end but rather a starting point for our work inspires others to take the same approach when developing brands and companies.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One of the projects I’m most proud of here at the brewery is the Production Internship program we launched earlier this year in collaboration with our friends at Beer Kulture, a nonprofit working with local and national breweries to foster more inclusive hiring practices while also fundraising for underserved communities . It is aimed at changing the make-up of the craft beer industry through paid, two-month internships for non-white-male New Yorkers — giving them a start in an industry that has dramatically under-represented and under-served BIPOC. The internship program provides a background of scientific understanding as well as practical experience across the brewing process and — perhaps most importantly — includes a focus on career network opportunities and placement assistance.

We’re currently in the middle of our fourth internship period and I’m really, really happy to share that two of the first three interns have successfully joined the ranks of professional brewers here in NYC!

I’d love to see a movement of other breweries recognizing that the beers they make and the people they hire to make them should reflect the community upon which they rely for support. In addition to being the right thing to do I believe it will be necessary for the continued development and growth of our industry.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are lots of people I’d love to have a beer with so this is a hard one to answer, but Bruce Springsteen is definitely at the top of the list! He’s such an amazing storyteller and has such an obvious appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the human experience — it would be great to sit down and learn more about what motivates and inspires him over a few (okay maybe many) beers!

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

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