In the past five years, the brewery scene in Wilmington has mushroomed. Flytrap, Ironclad, Waterline, New Anthem, Broomtail, Wilmington Brewing Company. The list of breweries opening goes on and on. Clearly, it is a big business. According to the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, The Brewers Association, in 2016 independent brewers made 24.6 million barrels for the American public to consume. 2016 was a big year of growth for breweries, with 16.6 percent growth bringing the total to 5,301 breweries.
The association’s annual report breaks it down as “3,132 microbreweries, 1,916 brewpubs, 186 regional craft breweries and 67 large or otherwise non-craft brewers. Small and independent breweries account for 99 percent of the breweries in operation. Throughout the year, there were 826 new brewery openings and only 97 closings. Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided nearly 129,000 jobs, an increase of almost 7,000 from the previous year.”
New breweries continue to open in our area and across the country. Among them is Tru Colors Brewing, which expects to open its doors next year.
People launch businesses for different reasons: Some because they have a burning passion—say for beer, coffee or food. Some want to build a legacy to pass on to future generations. Other people want to be their own boss. Still, others are fascinated with entrepreneurship as a puzzle to solve—new water to navigate. The answers as to “why” are as varied as the paths to business ownership.
Tru Colors grew out of local entrepreneur George Taylor’s inquisitive mind. He cites the death of 16-year old Shane Simpson on December 20, 2015, as a turning point. Simpson died in a drive-by shooting. Like many locals, Taylor asked, “How could this happen here?” But Taylor went a step further and called District Attorney Ben David to find out how to meet with gang members. Eventually, through the Wilmington Police Department, Taylor was connected with a man billed to him as “a leader in the Bloods gang.” They spent a lot of time talking over the next six months and traveled together.
“We went to St. Benedict’s School in Newark and Homeboy Industries in LA to see what they were doing about gang problems,” Taylor recalls.
It was a bit unexpected for both men, but it seemed to work. “I always assumed gangs were all about crime—sort of organized crime like the mafia,” Taylor recounts. “What I learned was they’re actually pretty bad at crime; they get arrested a lot. I’m not saying some gang members don’t commit crimes, but gangs are not about organized crime. Nobody wants to sell drugs or shoot people. The drugs are driven by economics and the shootings are a byproduct of the drugs.”
Taylor saw contributing factors to gang culture running deep and encompassing social, racial and economic factors. It intrigued him as it challenged his mindset. “I like complicated problems,” he says. “That’s a big part of the fun in the startup world.”
And Taylor would know. He oversees NextGlass/UnTappd, an app company that sells promotional analytic software related to wine/beer on smart phones and in major businesses. In addition, he serves as chairman for JOMO, a social activity app, and National Speed, a tech-based automotive startup.
“I hired a couple of guys who were good at selling things on the street,” Taylor explains. “We hired them to see how they would do with traditional business sales for Untappd.”
Taylor’s new recruits got to work, talking with potential customers, and today one actually holds sales records within the company. “About March or so of this year, I wanted to move forward with a bigger test,” Taylor describes. “I decided to hire the leadership of all but one of the gangs in town.”
Taylor offered what he refers to as a two-month bootcamp of life and business skills. He offered to open a brewery if they gave him two months without firing a shot while on his payroll. Taylor reports they are moving ahead with the brewery. Rather than worrying about what most people first fear—working with members from Bloods or Crips—Taylor says they’ve built trust. Today he worries about titles, like who will be CEO and brewmaster of Tru Colors Brewing.
“The Wilmington brewery will distribute throughout North Carolina,” he notes. The restaurant and brew pub location will be kind of like a Hard Rock Cafe.
“Instead of guitars, it will be gang themed—though, not in a glamorizing way,” Taylor clairifies. “Once we get it done, we hope to open several in cities around the country.”
Taylor points to the entrepreneurship and economic pieces as key for the gang members’ interests. “They make good money, they can make really good money if it goes well,” he notes. “We think we can hire about 100 active gang members within 18 months of the brewery opening.”
Salaries are expected to be in the $40,000 range.
It is an intriguing idea all around, and Cucalorus CONNECT is giving the community a chance to learn about the project and ask questions of Taylor directly. “At Cucalorus I’ll have a fireside chat with a friend, Kevin Mauer, and we are going to talk about how this got started,” Taylor tells. “Like I said earlier, I always assumed gangs were all about crime. The truth is, only about 20 or 25 percent do illegal activities. Gangs are much more akin to a fraternity. At its core, it’s about brotherhood, loyalty and community—not crime.”
Taylor sees great success for Tru Colors, largely because it is strictly in the land of a for-profit entity. “We don’t operate at all like a nonprofit,” he divulges. “We don’t view our team as underprivileged or victims. In return, we expect people to perform well. We’re not politically correct at all, and I don’t give a damn what’s happened to you in your past. This is not a nonprofit, and if you want to be part of Tru Colors, you need to step up fast and make things happen. If you can’t do that, then you’ll need to go on your way.”
Gangs, Entrepreneurship and Beer
Nov. 9, 4:15 p.m.
Windell Daniels Hall CFCC Union Station
502 N. Front St.
Admission: CONNECT Pass
Cucalorus Pass/Ticket Rundown
All access to Cucalorus film and stage events, and CONNECT conference, “all-festival” events (like Friday’s oyster party), and special spaces like filmmaker’s lounge and Jengo’s backyard.
Film Pass: $200
Access to every Cucalorus film, “all-festival” events (like Friday’s oyster party), and special spaces like filmmaker’s lounge and Jengo’s backyard.
Stage Pass: $60
Access to every Cucalorus stage event, as well as “all-festival” events (like Friday’s oyster party), and special spaces like filmmaker’s lounge and Jengo’s backyard.
Ticket Packages: 5/$60 or 10/$120
Choose your tickets to stage and film events.
CONNECT Pass: $60 or $35/per day
All access to Cucalorus CONNECT conference Nov. 9-10, “all-festival” events (like Friday’s oyster party), and special spaces like filmmaker’s lounge and Jengo’s backyard.
Tickets $10 – $15 per event • www.cucalorus.org