Interview / I talk to Steve Hindy, a former AP war correspondent who founded the Brooklyn Brewery.
“In so many ways, the Brooklyn Brewery symbolizes—and helped to create—the renaissance that has taken hold in Brooklyn.”
—Michael Bloomberg, Forward to Beer School, 2005
In 1983, two years after Steve Hindy witnessed the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, he left Egypt with his wife Ellen and their two children and returned to Brooklyn. It was there that he convinced Tom Potter, his upstairs neighbor, to quit his investment banking job and start a brewery.
The pair consistently beat the odds—getting their investor signatures just two days before the stock market crash in October 1987, persuading Milton Glaser, the esteemed graphic designer who came up with the I <3 NY logo, to design theirs, barely escaping serious trouble with the mob, and finally developing their microbrewery into an international success.
One key to this success was the founders’ choice to distribute their own beer. Thanks to the advice of their neighbor Sophia Collier, who developed Soho Natural Soda, Hindy and Potter delivered their product directly to the vendors. “Sophia told us to put the beer in a van, put a logo on the van, and go out there, door to door, and pedal it directly to the retailers,” explained Hindy. “There were about twenty other companies that tried to start breweries in New York during our first ten years, they all failed, and many of them had more money than we did. Most failed because of distribution,” Hindy said, stressing the importance of receiving direct customer feedback.
Another key to success was the company’s innovative marketing strategy: instead of paying for marketing, Hindy and Potter advertised by donating their beer to local artistic events, and sponsoring events of their own. “In the beginning, we did something called ‘The Brooklyn Lager Band Search.’ It was a competition for unsigned bands,” Hindy said. “The winner got to open for big name bands in Prospect Park, at the Celebrate Brooklyn series.” These competitions grew in popularity, and the more popular they became, the more people got to try Brooklyn Beer.
Over two decades later, the company continues to pursue similar tactics but now relies on outlets like Facebook and Twitter to advertise its events. “We hired a young guy, Ben Hudson, who used to work in marketing at The Onion, and Ben has really done a great job of kind of re-inventing us in the world of social networking and social media.”
Hudson has linked the brewery to a project called “The Food Experiment,” which was started by two young Brooklyn chefs. “Twenty-five amateur chefs prepare tasting portions, and come in to showcase their food for people who pay $20 to sample the food, and drink our beer.”
Hindy’s past as a journalist, his determination, and the unique marketing strategies employed by the Brooklyn Brewery have always intrigued me. As soon as we conceived the idea for Construction, our own startup, I knew that I wanted to interview him for the first issue. This April, I spoke to Hindy at his office in Williamsburg.