Charles Caldwell and William McGehee
Company: Tin Roof Brewing Co.
What they do: Brew high-quality beer in Baton Rouge, using Louisiana flavors and ingredients
Revenue: More than $500,000
Next Goal: Expand regionally outside Louisiana
The "aha" moment
Charles Caldwell and William McGehee grew up together in Natchez, Miss. But after graduation, their paths diverged. McGehee left for Baton Rouge to attend LSU; Caldwell went to college and spent a year working on a ranch in Colorado, where he fell in love with the craft beer scene. He began to drink the boutique brews with frequency and even attended a beer convention in Vermont. But life called, and Caldwell began a career in banking while McGehee went to LSU law school. Toward the end of law school, the two friends began to think seriously about opening a brewery, an idea they'd kicked around for years. “We were eating lunch somewhere, I was complaining about having to go back to work at the bank,” Caldwell says. McGehee was having similar doubts about his chosen career. “I was scared of being a practicing attorney,” he says. Both knew about Baton Rouge's beer-friendly culture and local pride. “Baton Rouge has 750,000 people and a massive SEC culture but it didn't have its own beer,” Caldwell says. “It just seemed like the perfect place.”
Research and development
As simple as the idea may have seemed at first, the pair quickly discovered how much work they faced. “I remember being in an apartment in Natchez, staring at a list of 200 names, just trying to figure out what we were going to call the place,” Caldwell says. They settled on Tin Roof and found a location: an old, unoccupied and un-air-conditioned Sears distribution center off Nicholson Drive, perfectly situated between LSU and downtown. They began concocting their recipes, being sure to base them off Louisiana culture and ingredients, determined to represent Baton Rouge. They brought on brewmaster Tom Daigrepont, who had been brewing his own craft beers at home for more than 20 years. They built their brand, finalized their recipes and went through the lengthy permitting and zoning process needed to turn a warehouse into a bona-fide brewery.
Hitting the market
Tin Roof rolled out its first kegs to local breweries the weekend of the 2010 LSU-Ole Miss game. The first couple months were tough. “I don't know how we kept the lights on,” Caldwell says. But the beer attracted a still-growing number of fans, many of whom are now being introduced to the beer in cans, which were rolled out in 2011. “There's only so many tap handles [in Baton Rouge,] so the big step was getting the canning lines,” Caldwell says. This summer Tin Roof unveiled its first seasonal brew--Watermelon Wheat—which they plan to have in cans next summer. Up next? Their early fall seasonal, a regionally inspired coffee porter beer that is yet to be named.
“Starting your own business is incredibly difficult, but it's also incredibly rewarding. Just running into someone on the street who sees I'm wearing a Tin Roof shirt and says, 'Hey! Tin Roof, I love you guys!' that's what makes it worthwhile.
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