New Knoxville Miracle
By Bobby Bush
Goes to show, you never know. New Knoxville Brewing Company, a popular local
brand in the eastern Tennessee college town and beyond, seemed to have everything going
its way. Founded in April 1996 as a distributing microbrewery, New Knoxville’s beers
have won a number of awards and enjoyed a loyal local following, outselling Samuel
Adams, Sierra Nevada and the imports- practically everything except the mega-brewed
But behind the appearance of popularity and assumed success lurked a company
that struggled financially. Under-capitalized from the start, president Ed Vendely never
really had funds to grow the company like he wanted to. Even though 1999 production
marked a significant increase over the prior year and this year’s output was on track to
surpass ‘99 by 50%, New Knoxville (NKBC) was $350,000 in debt. Committed to the
community, even with the bank knocking on his door, Ed and his dedicated staff
sponsored May’s East Tennessee Brewers’ Jam as that had for the past four years. And
then turned to face reality. New Knoxville’s time was short, very short.
In an attempted joint venture with a local restaurateur, NKBC pursued acquisition
of Great Southern Brewing Company, an old town Knoxville brewpub that had recently
closed. Ed hoped to use the brewpub’s cash flow to support New Knoxville, temporarily.
But the deal fell through, mired in redtape and bickering. And the clock ticked on.
But Vendely and crew had become part of the brick and mortar that insulated the
steam-fired mash tun. For four years, their lives had been consumed by New Knoxville.
Brewing, bottling, kegging, sales and distribution - they weren’t going down without a
fight. New Knoxville wasn’t just their livelihood- it was their lives!
So Ed began his own trail of beers, meeting with local officials and downtown
business people, seeking guidance and, hopefully some sort of assistance. Through his
persistence, he planted the seeds of a grassroots movement. In several public e-mail
letters he pleaded with city leadership to create a revolving fund for entrepreneurs,
especially those locating their businesses in the still-redeveloping downtown section.
Whatever he said to whoever was listening, worked. His New Knoxville miracle is
alive and brewing. Mostly by word of mouth, pledges for contributions and loans came
Vendely’s way. First a trickle, then a small stream, enough to keep creditors from the
door and allow New Knoxville to plan for its future. Even though the brew kettle was
cold and the fermenters were empty, good things were happening.
So here’s the plan. The power of the local community’s grassroots effort was
more than talk. Loyal patrons and investment-minded citizens pledged over $300,000 and
provided enough money to get the brewery running again. New Knoxville beers - IPA,
XX Pale Ale, Porter and Mild - hit the streets about two months after the lights seemingly
went out. NKBC plans also to use the interim funding to register with the State to sell
shares of the revived brewery via a Direct Public Offering. Small investors will be as
welcomed as the big money traders.
Vendely was overwhelmed by the community’s response, but isn’t about to
squander an opportunity. The company hopes to raise as much as $1 million to pay off
old debt and institute a creative marketing campaign that will take New Knoxville to the
next level of production.
When I interview Ed Vendely two years ago, I sensed that he was a man with big
dreams. Taking the name of a regional brewery that prohibition closed in 1912, his goal in
1998 was to market NKBC beer in six or seven states and boost production into the
10-15,000 barrel range. I doubt his goal has changed, though the challenge has
Ed knows that this miracle, this second chance, means that he and the NKBC crew
will have to work even harder and smarter than before. No one’s complaining.
Sometimes the good guys really do win. World recognized but made next door, so
“Get some NooKaBooCa,” ya’ll. And check ‘em out at www.NewKnoxBrew.Com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush