No matter how much an entrepreneur prepares, some curveballs are impossible to predict. For many companies across the world right now, that curveball is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have had to shut down operations, or run them from home, and others are suddenly at the front lines of the crisis.
Although beer is deemed “essential” in New York, New York City-based TALEA Beer has paused brewing and distribution in an effort to keep their team safe. The company, founded by Navy veteran LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson, is in the middle of building a brewery and taproom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Their original timeline with a goal of opening in 2020 is now in question.
“We are hoping the situation won’t significantly delay our brewery construction timeline, but we are preparing for all possibilities. These are unprecedented and unbelievably challenging times for the food and beverage and hospitality industries,” LeAnn said.
“In New York in particular, people are craving that third space”
Even in normal times, New Yorkers crave a third space beyond the office and their small apartments where they can shake off a day’s work and socialize with friends. Now, with the majority of New Yorkers suddenly isolated and confined at home for an unknown period of time, the thought of that third space, and of seeing friends again, has never been more appealing. When the pandemic passes and emergency orders lift, they will flock to the city’s many restaurants, bars, and breweries to gather with friends. For many, the ideal spot is somewhere they can bring their families, perhaps their dog in-tow, and drink something made locally.
TALEA, launched in 2018, doesn’t offer that third space yet, but they’re building it. LeAnn, Tara, and TALEA head brewer Johnny Osborne envision their Brooklyn brewery and taproom as a beautiful, light-filled space where customers can receive an education on the beers they’re drinking or connect with the brewers and farmers behind TALEA’s beers. In the meantime, the company brews their beer at a contract facility in the Bronx and sells wholesale to bars, restaurants, and retail sites, including Whole Foods’ stores across the city.
“We’re the owners of this company and we can’t even deliver the product.”
Craft beer is an overwhelmingly white, male space. One unexpected barrier to entry in the industry is the size of a standard keg, which weighs about 160 pounds. It’s difficult to heft around under any circumstances and even harder to navigate down narrow flights of stairs into the basements of New York City bars and restaurants. “We’re the owners of this company and we can’t even deliver the product,” LeAnn said.
Moving kegs around is usually an entry-level job, which means that most people hired at the early stages of a brewery are those with the size and strength to move a 160-pound barrel—often men. TALEA plans to shift their production toward 60-pound kegs, called sixtels, to allow a broader range of people to apply for entry-level jobs and enter the pipeline.
“it’s time to have new perspectives in the industry”
A typical craft beer shelf has names such as Mosaic Promise, which only a beer-geek understands, or aggressive names like Arrogant Bastard or Sword Swallower. Meanwhile, TALEA’s lineup of hazy IPAs and fruited sours includes the more fun and playful Sun Up, Tart Deco, Lunch Date, Bravada, and Crush, which LeAnn described as “more gender-neutral if not slightly feminine.”
“People think it’s good and it’s time to have new perspectives in the industry,” she said.
“Effective leaders are authentic and don’t try to fit a mold and are also vulnerable when the time is right”
LeAnn began her military career at the Naval Academy. “Being a junior officer in the military is like a leadership incubator,” LeAnn said. “At the age of 21 or 22, you’re immediately put in charge of a group of people who know the job better than you and have been doing it longer than you, yet you’re the one in charge. You have to learn how to earn their respect and trust.”
After graduation, she deployed as an information warfare officer where she discovered what leadership meant to her: “Effective leaders are authentic and don’t try to fit a mold and are also vulnerable when the time is right.”
After the military and a stint in corporate finance at Google, LeAnn met her co-founder Tara while working at a beer startup in New York called Hopsy. Both women had MBAs, brewed their own beer, and were willing to take risks. “I would find a way to be an entrepreneur in some way, shape, or form eventually, and meeting Tara was just the catalyst I needed,” LeAnn said.
“Every company is only as good as the people who are involved”
LeAnn and Tara started TALEA while still working at Hopsy, a strategy LeAnn recommends. It allowed her to network in the industry, conduct her own market research, and earn income to support her passion project. They joined New York’s Veterans in Residence program and launched their first beer in April 2019. After the launch, LeAnn, Tara, and Johnny all quit their day jobs on the same day.
“Every company is only as good as the people who are involved, and I can’t imagine a better team of three people to launch this company,” LeAnn said.