USD grad pursues distillery dream
Art comes in many forms: painting, sculpture, driving, sports, and even alcohol. The careful cultivation and process of turning just a few ingredients into spirits is the craftwork of distilleries around the country.
There are 13 distilleries in San Diego, and, thanks to a USD graduate, that number will become 14. Just three years out of college, University of San Diego graduate Laura Johnson is opening her own business. Her distillery, You&Yours, is the first distillery to open in Downtown San Diego.
Johnson graduated USD in the spring of 2014. She was an International and Business Econ major. Johnson is working with spirits and she explained that her interest peaked in the 21-and-up industry just before her final year of college.
“The summer before I studied abroad, I went on a really big road trip before I left,” Johnson said. “I happened to visit a distillery. I was enthralled. After that, it was always like a bug [on] my mind, and I figured it was something I might want to do.”
While Johnson studied abroad in Florence to accompany her Italian minor, she began to ponder what it meant to explore the distillery business. She researched distillery courses over the summer and found one to enroll in. She expressed that she had hoped to learn more about it from some experts. However, she revealed that this was not the case.
“It was an intensive one-on-one, a full week, a master class,” Johnson said. “It was led by two older men who came from other industries. They took one look at me, and saw the senior business plan I put together in college, and they were like, ‘Haha go away.’ When they saw a 23-year-old girl walk in, they made no effort for the rest of the week.”
Despite this initial frustration, Johnson was determined to make the most out of it.
“It was a thousand dollars a day for the course,” Johnson said. “So I kept asking questions and made the most of it. I flew home with the mindset, ‘If these two absolute knuckleheads can do it, and have decent market share regionally, I can absolutely kill this.’”
After several months of traveling and many more courses later, Johnson came back to San Diego looking for an internship to get the hands-on experience she was missing.
“I reached out to distilleries to get production experience,” Johnson said. “No one got back to me. I interviewed in a distillery in San Diego, [they] took one look at me, and they were like, ‘You want to distil?’ and it sucked. I could not find anyone who could offer me the production experience that I wanted. I took a step back and figured, ‘What can I do really well?’ I know I can raise capital and do a business plan. I decided I can do this myself, and that is how we got here.”
You&Yours is unique in the distillery industry. Not only will it be the first to be in Downtown San Diego, it is also a female-run distillery, one of few in the country. Johnson explained that the spirit business has historically been dominated by men. She expressed that her distillery will bring forth a different approach.
“[We are] female-run and female-owned,” Johnson said. “As women, we are so thorough. We take pride in every single detail. […] I am able to create really incredible flavors. The finesse and elegance that I bring to our products doesn’t exist in distilleries where production staff is all male. The hospitality component that we bring, we bring a sense of warmth and comfort to anything that we do. It is really exciting to have that be a focus of what we do as well.”
Johnson revealed that getting her dream accomplished has been rewarding.
She explained that the work getting the distillery up and running has been tireless.
“A typical day is nuts; I kissed life as I knew it goodbye,” Johnson said. “The entire weekend [before it’s soft opening] was labels and bottling, finishing construction. I have spoken to media outlets. I was on the news. I am getting cocktail and training manuals finalized […]. A photographer is here taking photos, so we can get our website up hopefully this weekend. We have some [drinks] in production, but we have to move on to other spirits.”
Starting your own business so quickly out of college is not common. But Johnson knew it was a goal of hers for a long time.
“I don’t know that I ever had one specific career [that I wanted to do],” Johnson said. “I always knew that I wanted to have a business of my own. While I wanted to work for others, I knew, sooner rather than later, I wanted to work for myself.”
After a few years of research and planning, Johnson is looking forward to seeing the finished product. She had some advice for college students who are looking to open their own businesses.
“Don’t be afraid to ask a ton of questions, especially early on and especially if you think they’re going to make you sound stupid,” Johnson said. “I regret not asking for more help early on because I didn’t want certain people to know how little I actually understood about specific parts of the process. If only I had had the courage to just ask, I would have saved myself a lot of sleepless nights and probably a good amount of money. Embrace where you are in the process, ask for help from day one and don’t stop asking for help.”
Located on G street in East Village, You&Yours will not only make spirits, but will also sell bottles to customers as well.
“[The name, You&Yours,] encompasses what I wanted this space and distillery to be about,” Johnson said. “Where friends and family can come together and get back to face-to-face connection.”
Johnson’s You&Yours held its soft opening earlier this March and is now officially open for business.
Written by Sarah Brewington, Associate Editor
Correction: The original article stated that You&Yours was the 11th distillery in San Diego, it is actually the 14th.