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Jason Ridgel of Guidance Whiskey: “TAKE YOUR TIME”

TAKE YOUR TIME. Uncle Johnny at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery shared this wisdom with me. While on a tour, I asked the patriarch of the Moonshine dynasty what advice he had for someone just getting started in the spirits industry. He said his family had been making Moonshine for decades and became the first licensed […]

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TAKE YOUR TIME. Uncle Johnny at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery shared this wisdom with me. While on a tour, I asked the patriarch of the Moonshine dynasty what advice he had for someone just getting started in the spirits industry. He said his family had been making Moonshine for decades and became the first licensed distillery in East Tennessee. He said people will try to get you to do different things, tell you how to run your business and how to make your hooch. But take your time and do your thing. That may seem inconsequential, but at the time it was exactly what I needed to hear. The ambitious two-year “take over the world” plan evolved into a 5- to 10-year vision to grow our legacy. Thanks, Uncle Johnny.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Ridgel.

Jason Ridgel is an entrepreneur, community activist and now, one of the few US Black-owned whiskey brand founders with an expert eye for innovation and creative collaborations that empower other small businesses. As a man of intrepid ventures and passions, Ridgel has founded brands and led successful businesses across various industries, including Jusco Medical, Hydrate the Hood, Opry Medical Group and Guidance Whiskey. Each of his endeavors was born out of a commitment to uniting and uplifting his community. Striving to quite literally change the face of business in this country, Ridgel continuously seeks out opportunities to partner with minority-owned brands and increase the representation of these businesses across sectors.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After graduating from Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business, I didn’t waste any time and launched my first company at 23. I went on to work as a probation officer, which opened my eyes to the need for employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. This inspired me to open my own cleaning service where I created jobs for 50 people from marginalized communities. I continued to cultivate my entrepreneurial spirit and diversify my portfolio, moving on to start two pain management companies — Jusco Medical and Opry Medical Group — and Kulture World, a fashion clothing line. After years of pretending to like various whiskeys my friends gave me, I decided to start my own whiskey brand, one that would introduce whiskey novices to the spirits sector and appeal to enthusiasts in flavor and composition. In 2018, I saw an opportunity to tap into the spirits industry and launched Guidance Whiskey, an homage to my Southern roots and American whiskey traditions. The name “Guidance” represents our journey and honors those that came before us and those who we help guide along the way.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As a serial collaborator, I use Guidance Whiskey as an opportunity to team up with various other Black-owned small businesses in order to help uplift and generate brand awareness and revenue for these business owners. The spirits industry is predominately white, and it’s my goal to one day walk into a bar and see labels from friends and other Black-owned brands on every shelf. It’s never been enough to find success for myself. This is about all minority business owners finding a foothold across industries, and uplifting one another is the only way to get there. Over the years, I have teamed up with musicians like Larry Dodson (one of the greatest funk singers of all time and Guidance Whiskey’s spokesperson and brand ambassador) and Chuck Indigo (recently named ‘Best New Artist’ by Complex Magazine); Nashville culinary hotspots like Willie B’s Kitchen, Chef Bunchie and Vena Cava Cookie Company; and beverage labels like Timeless Vodka, Twisted Sistuhs Wine, and Chicago’s Alulu Brewery and Turner Haus Brewery. We are much more than just a whiskey brand — we’re a lifestyle.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At my first tasting, I was so excited for people to taste my product that I took a shot with every single customer that came into the store. I spent time drinking and talking with everyone in the room, eager to hear what they thought and pouring them another glass. At the end of the night, I walked across the street to the Cracker Barrel and fell asleep at the table. The workers were nice enough to let me sleep. Lesson learned — hire a tasting company.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My three biggest mentors have been: Stacy Diltz-Thomas, my high school friend and wine broker who actually helped me find Red Boot Distillery in Iowa.

Chad Bordner, the General Manager at DET Distributing was the first distributor to give me a shot. He walked me through pricing, margins and continues to pour invaluable “Guidance” into my cup that helps my brand navigate a super saturated industry.

And finally, my mom, Diane Robertson. To this day, she has never tasted a sip of Guidance Whiskey but has been my biggest supporter. She’s shown me the value of helping others, even when there is nothing in it for yourself. That’s why Guidance is dedicated to helping pave the way for other brands to come after us, minority as well as locally owned.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

In today’s parlance, being disruptive can have many meanings depending on who and where you are. Negative disruption happens when you fail to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation in a meaningful way. At Guidance, we work to do the opposite by respecting tradition while striving to cultivate new ideas and break down barriers in the spirits industry; always recognizing the wisdom of our ancestors that motivates and enables excellence.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

TAKE YOUR TIME. Uncle Johnny at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery shared this wisdom with me. While on a tour, I asked the patriarch of the Moonshine dynasty what advice he had for someone just getting started in the spirits industry. He said his family had been making Moonshine for decades and became the first licensed distillery in East Tennessee. He said people will try to get you to do different things, tell you how to run your business and how to make your hooch. But take your time and do your thing. That may seem inconsequential, but at the time it was exactly what I needed to hear. The ambitious two-year “take over the world” plan evolved into a 5- to 10-year vision to grow our legacy. Thanks, Uncle Johnny.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Guidance Whiskey has many more projects coming down the pipeline — this month, we are teaming up with Black-owned Javaé Coffee and Tea for a whiskey-infused coffee called the Prohibition Edition: Javaé x Guidance collaboration. Javaé Coffee and Tea is made by Adarian Lherisson, a third generation Haitian coffee roasting master who sources his coffee sustainably from his 64-acre family farm in the mountains of Haiti, supporting the local economy. We just released some cigars on our website that are Guidance whiskey-infused and pair perfectly with our whiskey, as well as Guidance candles. We also are launching a partnership with pioneering crowdfunding platform Honeycomb Credit. This Guidance Whiskey and Honeycomb Credit campaign provides the necessary support for our brand’s growth while offering brand fans an unparalleled investment opportunity. For a small nominal investment, Honeycomb Credit allows anyone to become a stakeholder in Guidance Whiskey and receive a nice rate of return. As investors, you can help support and amplify a growing collaborative community of Black-owned small businesses.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

While it seems simplistic, “The Three Little Pigs” taught me the importance of having a strong foundation. Troubles will come, but if your faith, family, and relationships are strong, not only will you survive, but you will thrive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“All hard work leads to profit, mere talk leads to poverty” Proverbs 14:23. It’s self-explanatory and how I live my life.

You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

If I can inspire a movement, I would inspire a “Family Day” movement. If Covid has taught me anything, it’s the importance of time with family, friends and loved ones. I would inspire a movement of “Family Day” all around the world.

Or, an “All Jasons’ Drink Free on Fridays” movement. I don’t know how, but I feel like that would help a lot of people.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you are 21 or older, you can follow @guidancewhiskey on Instagram and Facebook or check out our website for new projects and collabs.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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