Entrepreneur and former airline pilot Keith McConnell has always been fascinated with old-fashioned ways of doing things.
His grandfather taught him how to grow and sell produce, he taught himself how to do blacksmithing work, and he’s long had an interest in distilling spirits.
After law changes in 2013 allowed liquor to be made in Chattanooga, McConnell knew he wanted to follow his dream of opening his own distillery.
“About two years ago, I got really, really serious about it but was struggling on how to get everything on paper,” he said.
So he hired a Chicago consultant, and with their help, he’s developed a detailed financial plan and created a brand.
He dubbed his company Renovare Distillery and is working on finishing prototypes of whiskey, flavored whiskey, vodka, flavored vodka and gin.
“Now what we are doing is getting in front of investors and actively raising capital,” said McConnell, who has self-funded the venture himself so far.
Wisconsin’s 45th Parallel Distillery has been making the products using McConnell’s grain bill and recipe, as well as a batch of sugar maple charcoal, which is used to filter the whiskey and needed to be considered “Tennessee whiskey.”
The prototypes turned out well, he said. And there’s extra capacity at 45th Parallel Distillery, so Renovare will likely start producing there while McConnell looks for a space to operate in Chattanooga. That will allow the company to have product to sell as soon as it’s ready to open.
While working to raise capital, McConnell is also thinking about potential locations for a distillery. He needs at least 5,000 square feet and would prefer about 10,000 square feet.
“As soon as we secure investors, then the first thing will be to find a location,” he said. “I love what’s going on downtown. I get excited every time I think about it. I really like the MLK area … [or] the Southside [for a location].”
Once open, guests will be able to tour the distillery and get a flight of all the products. Customers will also be able to purchase merchandise.
Renovare is also putting an emphasis on the farmers who make the products that go into the liquor.
McConnell plans to tell the stories of farmers who make corn and other ingredients through video and social media.
“We stole a page out of the coffee [industry’s book],” he said. “They’ve done a wonderful job of profiling the farmer and where they buy their beans … The farmers that are growing these grains-they have their own really cool stories. They are passionate. I want to be able to tell that story, and I want the consumer to connect with the farmer.”