Mr. Paul Halayko is Chief Operating Officer and President of the Newburgh Brewing Company. I met Paul and his business partner, Chris Basso a few years back on a cold winter day in a bar in Brooklyn. The brewery was still in the planning phase, but since then it has become a reality and one of the many businesses Newburghers take pride in. In this interview Paul shares some of wisdom on opening up a new business in the City of Newburgh.
Out of all the cities you could’ve chosen to buy a building in and open up a business, why the City of Newburgh?
Christopher and I are both longtime Orange County locals, having graduated from Washingtonville High School in 2000. Christopher initially started the planning for the brewery on his own, and he quickly zeroed in on Newburgh as his location of choice. When I came on board later in the planning process, I agreed with that decision for a multitude of reasons:
1) Realistically, a brewery requires a good amount of space, and it’s financially possible to purchase a sizable building in Newburgh. A problem many breweries run into as they try to ramp up to efficient economies of scale is that they run out of room – fingers crossed, we hope to be a brewery that does have to grow in the near future, and we wanted to make sure we had sufficient space in which to do it. Our building, realistically, could support large growth for a period of 7-10 years with no issues.
2) Logistically, Newburgh is an amazing location – it’s at the crossroads of I-87 and I-84, and you have Stewart Airport and Metro North nearby. 84 and 87 are important for shipping; and while Stewart Airport and Metro North wouldn’t play a role in our shipping, it does allow tourists easy access to visit our brewery.
3) As longtime Orange County residents, we know how important Newburgh has been in the history of not only New York, but of the United States. It was in Newburgh that General Washington was headquartered for the longest period of time during the War of Independence. It was in Newburgh that great industry thrived for many, many decades. There is a great connection between the people of Newburgh and the city in which they live; and even those who have left Newburgh still have a strong connection to the city. We wanted to be a part of an overall economic and cultural revolution in the city. Breweries have a proud history of playing a positive role in the communities in which they brew, and we wanted to be a part of that history.
What made you take the leap to open a new business despite the less than favorable financial climate?
Strength of planning, strength of the business plan, current strength of the industry, and an extremely positive outlook on growth in the industry for years to come. I’ve always wanted to be open my own business; but I wouldn’t open a business unless the opportunity was absolutely right for me. I felt as though a brewery ion Newburgh was that right opportunity.
Paul you are the money side of the business, what sort of financial planning is necessary when opening up a new business, especially one in a depressed area?
We spent nearly 2 years planning the brewery before we approached a single person or bank about funding – those 2 years were dedicated to market research, financial feasibility studies, and ultimately the creation of our business plan and financial projections. You need to know the industry, market, and numbers inside and out before you ask a single person for funding. Once we felt like we had a polished (or as polished as possible) business plan, we started pitching the idea. And an idea can go nowhere without people who believe in it – and we’ve been fortunate to have been supported by a truly amazing group of believers: from our families, close friends, and new friends.
Many consider your location as a bridge between the waterfront and the western part of the City. Have you done anything or have any plans in the future to help close the gap?
We love that people consider us that, because we feel the same way. The waterfront has done an amazing job of bringing people into Newburgh, and establishing itself as a restaurant and nightlife destination. And now, you have a similar thriving set of small business on Liberty Street (like The Wherehouse, Cafe Macchiato, and others) – and we just so happen to be right in the middle of the two. Right now, we haven’t had a chance yet to really explore how we could better bridge the gap between the two business communities – but this summer will be telling. Last summer was our first summer, and we were still a total unknown. Having gone through the fall and winter, we believe we’ve increased our overall customer base and general awareness. That means there’s a better chance this summer that people will be willing to park on the waterfront, have a bite to eat, then walk up Washington to stop into the brewery, and finally finish that walk up to Liberty street to visit one of those businesses.
You could’ve given the brewery any name. Why did you choose to name it the ‘Newburgh’ Brewery?
It’s all about local. To be honest, it was never really a question about what we were going to name our brewery. If we had ended up somewhere else, we would’ve named it after that location. The craft beer industry right now is thriving on 2 factors: 1) People want something that is hand-crafted and not mass-produced; 2) People want to support local. By naming your brewery after the town or city in which you live, you’re putting front and center that you are a local product. And, we like the fact that people can either learn about Newburgh for the first time, or have a more positive association with the city, after they enjoy our beer.
New businesses owners might be concerned about safety. Do you feel safe at your location? Have you had any break-ins?
A valid concern – fortunately for us, we’ve had no issues, and we have great support from the City of Newburgh Police Department. They consistently have patrol cars that will drive down Colden Street to ensure that there are no issues. What makes our location a bit unique is that Colden Street is sort of an isolated island – not too many people even know where Colden Street is. That doesn’t hurt our business, because for the most part, nearly all of our customers are coming to us as a destination, as opposed to just “stumbling upon us”. So, they are specifically seeking out.
What has been the general response from the public?
It’s been great – hugely supportive of us as a business, and for each of us as individuals now involved in the community. And we feel a strong connection to this community, which is why we stride to give back as much as we can – whether it be through fundraisers in our taproom or donation of beer for outside events, we want people to know that we love the community that has shown us some much love.
How do you work with the community or other local businesses? Is this important?
Working with the community and other local businesses is enormously important to us. We are a part of the community of Newburgh – we’ve made a huge investment here, and we have an active interest in supporting this City and the various charitable efforts that seek to make a positive impact. As I mentioned before, we’ve donated our taproom for fundraisers, and we’ve also donated a great deal of beer to events.
When it comes to local businesses, it would be wildly disingenuous of us to say “Support local and buy our beer… but no, we don’t support local”. In our taproom, we take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that we are serving food that has been grown and sourced locally in the Hudson Valley. Be it our pork-products from the pig we get (and butcher ourselves) from Fleischer’s in Kingston; many of our vegetables that we get from Madura Farms in Pine Island; cheeses from Edgwick Farm in Cornwall; or breads from All You Knead in Beacon, we are proud of the local relationships we’ve developed with all the great suppliers in the Hudson Valley. Our t-shirts are screen-printed by the good folks at American Icon Screenprinting, which is less than a mile from the brewery.
You guys have a great design aesthetic. How important is it to have an attractive logo, website and well designed retail space?
All graphic credit goes solely to Matt Bouloutian of Modern Good – he’s amazing. He’s done an absolutely tremendous job of creating an image for us (our logo), and then ensuring everything ties together (from our tap handle stickers to our beer posters). We know how important a good logo and other point-of-sale material is, and in Matt we’ve given our full trust to shape our image to the public. And he’s done an incredible job.
The website was designed by Matt and Jonathan Knapp of Caffeinated Solutions – and again, a great job was done. With the ease and accessibility of social media, some people are starting to question if you even need a website. To us, a website is still critical. Just the existence of a well-designed website says “we are a real business and a going-concern”, which is a level of credibility that Facebook doesn’t immediately provide. So, it is important to have a well-designed website. But, I will agree with those that say that Facebook is as important, if not more so, than a website. What’s funny about Facebook is that before the brewery, I rarely went on Facebook. I had an account, but never really used it. Now that I manage the brewery’s Facebook page, I’m amazed at how important and wide-reaching Facebook is. It never ceases to amaze me when someone comes to the bar and says “I’ve been following you on Facebook since the brewery was under construction”; or as another great example of the power of social media: our taproom is closed on Tuesdays; but, we thought people might want growlers for 4th of July. So, we decided to open the taproom on Tuesday, July 3rd, for growler fills. We put it on our Facebook page on Monday night; on Tuesday? We sold over 100 growlers, just because people saw it on Facebook. That sort of reach is priceless… which is ironic because it’s reach without cost!
What kinds of businesses do you think the city needs, or would do well in the city?
I think the city would really benefit from a good grocery store, like a DeCicco’s, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s. That might be thinking a bit too big at the moment, but I do think the city (and surrounding areas) could support a business like that. Cornwall has a DeCicco’s now, so that ship may have sailed. I think there is still room in the restaurant and bar industry here in Newburgh. The Wherehouse is proof positive that you can survive as a bar and not be on the water.
What is the best part about owning your own business?
I didn’t take a shower yet today. Not really… well, yes, I haven’t taken a shower yet today, but that’s because I’m about to go for a run. That’s the best part right there – for the most part, my schedule is basically my own. Yes, it’s a 7-day a week job, and yes the hours are long and exhausting, but they are hours in which I know every single thing I do is contributing to the overall success of the brewery.
What advice would you give others, whether they want to start up a small storefront business or a large establishment like yours in Newburgh?
Haha, ours is large? I didn’t realize that. It’s interesting that the perception of our business is that we are “large”, but I guess that means we’re doing something right. In reality, we’re a small business still struggling each month and learning and growing. We’re only 4 full-time people (myself, Christopher Basso our Brewmaster, Charlie Benedetti our Head of Sales, and Melisa Basso our Taproom Manager). And – we’ll only be a year old in April, and it’s been a year full of ups and downs… but the ups have outnumbered the downs. I’ve learned a lot having gone through this process – it’s been almost 5 years now since we first dreamed up the idea of opening a brewery in Newburgh. The 2 pieces of advice I’d pass along: don’t let the high’s take you too high and the low’s take you too low, because every day is a roller coaster. And patience… if you don’t have patience when you’re trying to start your own business, then you’re doomed from the start.