Leadership

Rewired, not retired: A second act trades burritos for brews

After nearly 23 years as an executive with Yum Brands, Jonathan Blum decided in March the time was right to move on.

But Blum, who was senior vice president, chief public affairs and global nutrition officer at Yum, doesn't view his decision to step away from corporate life as "retirement." Instead, he sees it more as what he calls a "rewirement" — a transition from life as part of a large conglomerate to building his own business.

Co-founders Jonathan Blum and Peter Rosbeck sharing a beer with Bad Martha.
Source: Bad Martha Beer
Co-founders Jonathan Blum and Peter Rosbeck sharing a beer with Bad Martha.

"When you're with a large corporation, there are a lot of people that have their hands on the oars rowing in the same direction, and I was one of them," he said. "But I'm trying to prove to myself that I can do something entrepreneurial."

Blum co-founded Bad Martha, a Martha's Vineyard-inspired craft brewery, 2½ years ago with Peter Rosbeck. As a longtime resident of Martha's Vineyard, Blum saw an opportunity in the 2.5 million people who visit the island each year. He knew he often sought out the local brews in his own travels, and he felt it was a niche that wasn't being filled.

"There is an allure to Martha's Vineyard, and it's a magnet of tourism," said Blum. "I figure there is an opportunity here. We have something unique in that we're selling a slice of Martha's Vineyard that nobody else really has."

The homage to Martha's Vineyard begins with the brewery's name itself, which refers to an island legend involving a ship captain looking to brew beer for his crew and a mermaid named Martha.

The brand tries to stay true to its roots, although most of Bad Martha beer is contract-brewed in Ipswich. In every batch, it uses wild grape leaves that grow on the island, and whenever possible locally farmed ingredients.

"I'm going from fast food, which is more processed and is a global business, to slow beer, which is handcrafted and just the absolute opposite of the fast-food concept," said Blum.

To better showcase the beer to the island's many visitors, Blum built Bad Martha Farmer's Brewery and Tasting Room, a barnyard brewhouse with a seven-barrel brewing system. It gives beer lovers a place to sample Bad Martha brews in a relaxed environment.

The barn, which was built in an Amish community in Pennsylvania before being transported and raised on the island, quickly became one of the leading tourist locations on Martha's Vineyard with 75,000 to 100,000 visitors last summer. While it's only open Memorial Day through October, it serves as a valuable touchpoint for consumers to interact with the brand and for Bad Martha to get feedback, said Blum.

"There is no safety net. If I succeed, it will be on me and if I fail, it'll be on me." -Jonathan Blum, co-founder, Bad Martha

"It's an incubator, and once we see what beers customers react really well to, I then send it to our contract brewer to brew. It works really well," he said.

Bad Martha released its first brews in 2013. In addition to four bottled beers — the flagship Martha's Vineyard Ale, Vineyard Summer Ale, Island IPA and Vineyard Honey Ale — the brewery produced more than 20 styles of beer on draft last year. Blum expects to maintain that pace of innovation this year, while also introducing two new bottled beers for distribution.

Bad Martha plans to stay close to its Vineyard roots by focusing its sales on the geographic region where Martha's Vineyard has its greatest recognition and affinity: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and eventually parts of New York state. The hope is to win visitors over while they are on vacation and convert them into loyal customers when they return home.

While the brewery is targeting an output of just under 3,000 barrels in 2016, Blum is confident he can ultimately grow the brand into a $100 million business in the long run.

"If I just capture 20 percent of those adults having a great time on vacation, and sell them a couple of beers while they are on the island, and then they go home and order our beer, we have a great business model," he said.


Bad Martha Beer
Source: Bad Martha Beer

One part of the business model Blum carries from his past is an emphasis on giving back to the community. While at Yum, he led a hunger-relief effort that donated more than $640 million in food and cash to relief agencies.

"I decided when I created my own business to take the premise and take it up a notch by giving the first 10 percent of our profits to local hunger-relief charities," said Blum. "If there's anything else left, I'll put that back into the business, but I want to give back to the community first."

While Blum's charity work echos his life before his "rewirement," he knows the similarities with his new entrepreneurial venture end there.

"There is no safety net," he said. "If I succeed, it will be on me and if I fail, it'll be on me. I'm trying to prove that I can build and grow a business from scratch."