Earning

The co-founders of Talea quit six-figure jobs to work in craft beer: In 2021 alone, they sold 450,000 pints

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How 2 newcomers built a multimillion-dollar craft beer company in 3 years
Key Points
  • Talea Beer Co. is the first women-founded craft beer brewery in New York City.
  • Under 3% of breweries are owned by women nationwide.
  • Talea co-founders LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson are on a mission to convert more beer drinkers, especially women.

Nestled in a corner of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is Talea Beer Co., the first women-founded craft beer brewery in New York City. 

With their lineup of playful, fruit-forward beers, including "Lunch Date," "Mango Tango Tart Deco," and "Overnight Oats Granola Butter," just to name a few, Talea Beer Co. is hoping to entice a new kind of craft beer consumer in the $22 billion industry.  

"A lot of women and non-beer drinkers don't drink beer because no brand is speaking to them or resonating with them," says LeAnn Darland, co-founder and co-CEO of Talea Beer Co. 

Between 2015 and 2018, craft beer drinkers increased by 14.7 million, and nearly half of those customers identified as women, according to Brewers Association. Yet less than 3% of craft beer breweries nationwide are owned by women.

"We wanted to capture that opportunity in the market and speak to people like us," says Darland as she gestures to her fellow founder and co-CEO, Tara Hankinson. 

LeAnn Darland (left) and Tara Hankinson (right).
Photo courtesy of Talea Beer Co.

MBAs who quit six-figure jobs to work in beer

The pair, who both hold MBAs, met in 2018 after they quit their six-figure salaries to work for Hopsy, a beer start-up which has since ceased operations.

"We just sort of realized that we had joined this company with the same aspirations of starting a brewery of our own," says Hankinson. Three months later, the pair had taken their first steps to do just that, forming their own LLC. 

The two often stayed late after their day jobs at Hopsy to build the business. Eventually, they started contract brewing their fruit-forward beer at a brewery in The Bronx. 

Their first beer, the "Sun Up Hazy IPA," was picked up by Whole Foods just two months after they first started packaging their beer. 

The "Sun Up Hazy IPA."
Photo courtesy of Talea Beer Co.

"That proof of concept and stamp of Whole Foods approval was very monumental in shifting the dialogue about whether our beer had a place in New York City, and really validated our products and our vision," says Hankinson. 

They drove around New York City to deliver their beer personally to different bars, restaurants and retailers. 

Raising capital in a male-dominated industry

As the business grew, Darland and Hankinson began to envision the profitability that would come with their own brewery and taproom. They quit their jobs to focus full-time on the business as they started fundraising — which wasn't easy in the beginning. 

"When we started pitching, most people funding businesses are older men," says Hankinson. "When it comes to gender and beer, people couldn't get past it."

After a year, they raised $2.1 million from family, friends and angel investors. They also secured a $2 million SBA loan. 

Tara Hankinson (left) and LeAnn Darland (right) in the flagship location of Talea Beer Co. before construction in 2019.
Photo courtesy of Talea Beer Co.

The success came with its ups and downs. Both women became parents for the first time, and during construction of the brewery and taproom, Hankinson's pregnancy kept her stuck in the hospital for five weeks.

"We hit a water main and all I can do is look at photos of it from my iPhone," says Hankinson. "LeAnn was doing some deliveries and she would be pumping with her mobile breast pump in our delivery van being like, 'I hope no one's really looking through these windows.'"

'Our ability to see the forest from the trees keeps increasing'

The flagship location opened in Williamsburg in March 2021. "We were just hoping that the people would come — and they did, and they came in droves," says Darland.

Since opening their flagship location, the company has increased by volume five-fold. 

In 2020, they sold 300 barrels, or the equivalent of 75,000 pints of beer across 100 bars, restaurants and retailers. In 2021, those numbers jumped to 1,500 barrels sold, or the equivalent of 450,000 pints of beer, between the taproom and over 200 bars, restaurants and retailers. 

The flagship location of Talea Beer Co. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as it nears completion in March 2021.
Photo courtesy of Talea Beer Co.

A second round of funding was just completed for $3.5 million as the business continues to expand. 

The newest location of Talea Beer Co. will soon be opening up just four miles away from its first, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Other locations are planned in Manhattan and Long Island. 

On a recent Friday afternoon, Talea Beer Co. was abuzz with chatter as people filed into the taproom. As the sun set, golden light spilled into the bar and refracted off glasses filled with gold and pink beer.

"Our risk tolerance keeps increasing, our ability to see the forest from the trees keeps increasing," says Hankinson, above the noise of the taproom. "We just kept soldiering on, we just kept moving — and that's still what we do."

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