In 2005, New Orleans native Kirk Coco watched the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina unfold with horror from afar in Seattle. The then 37-year-old was serving in the Navy but felt a gravitational pull toward home as the levees broke. He was on his 11th year of duty and ready for a change.
"I promised myself I would get out of the Navy and get back home, where there was absolutely nothing," Coco, now 48, recalls. "All the old restaurants and businesses were shut down; very few places were open. I really wanted to open a business to help create jobs."
So he got to thinking, and after a few beers, he recalled all of the great brewing cities he'd lived while serving, including San Diego. New Orleans' local brewery had relocated to Wisconsin after the storm, and it dawned on Coco that starting a new brewery might be the answer. He went to 29 different banks before securing an $800,000 loan to open NOLA Brewing Company in 2009, in addition to raising $200,000 from private investors by selling shares of the company 1 percent at a time. Today he's since expanded into a second location, NOLA Distilling Company, creating some 50 local jobs along the way, with $4 million in revenue last year.
"New Orleans is like a family; it was like seeing your mom or dad in distress," he said. "I feel like I am part of a really wonderful group of entrepreneurs who have rebuilt the city."