NYSOM Editor in Chief Christine Murphy interviews Brooklyn Brewery Co-founder Steve Hindy.
It’s an “only in New York” scenario. A war correspondent — who survived a six year stint in the Middle East during Lebanon’s civil war; who was sitting behind Egypt’s erstwhile President Anwar Sadat when he was assassinated in 1981; who was taken hostage — decided to open a craft brewery in NYC. As improbable as that might sound, it’s the origin story of Brooklyn Brewery. Twenty-five years later, Co-Founder Steve Hindy (he of the international adventures), sat with New York States of Mind for a conversation about his New York roots, his early experience with beer, and the eventual decision to launch the brewery.
Steve seems reserved at first meeting, but he has a quick laugh and possesses a knack for storytelling. The thoughtfulness with which he crafts each sentence stems from, or perhaps enabled, his English major at Cornell University and, later, a career as a newspaper reporter. After years of working for publications in Upstate New York, Westchester and also New Jersey, Steve was hired by the Associated Press and deployed to the Middle East.
His time abroad was both exhilarating and terrifying, and he currently is contemplating writing an account of his kidnapping and subsequent captivity. One of the up sides of the experience, however, was his introduction to craft beer. In these Muslim-majority countries, American diplomats struggled with the alcoholic prohibitions in place, and put their ingenuity to use; where there’s a will, there’s a way. Steve learned the tricks of the trade.
It should come as little surprise that once his Middle East assignment ended and a new post in the Philippines was offered (“President Marcos was in trouble”), his wife, Ellen, issued an ultimatum: “Nope, I’ve had enough of this. We’ve got two kids. We’re going back to New York. I hope you come with us, but if not, you know, have a nice life.” Steve accepted a job as the Assistant Foreign Editor at “Newsday” and the family moved back to the States.
On return to NYC, the Hindys discovered that they had been priced out of their former neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and moved to “the frontier of Park Slope” in Brooklyn. In 1994, Steve discovered a home in the still-emerging Gowanus area. He recalls that “all of our friends in Park Slope were aghast, but, you know, we had lived in Beirut during the war, lived in Cairo … I think we can handle this.” He still resides in that home and treasures the diversity of his block and community. It was in this neighborhood that Steve met his future co-founder, Tom Potter, who, as a banker, paired his financial know-how with Steve’s spirits expertise.
The two business partners made the decision to contract their production through the renowned, family-owned F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica until they had the resources to open their own facility, a moment that eventually arrived in 1996. Bit by bit they learned the business and the formula for their own success, which included self-distribution, and gaining the first five customers. The next step was branding. Steve says, “The more I learned about design and corporate identity, the more I realized how important that was gonna be to the future of the company.” His wife suggested that he acquire a list of the best designers in New York, and Milton Glaser’s name was on the list. With the persistence of an investigative journalist, Steve called Milton’s office every day for two weeks until Milton’s assistant reluctantly put the call through to the legend himself. The collaboration paid off for both parties: Milton was compensated in company stock and a lifetime supply of product, and Steve’s Brooklyn Brewery branding is now recognized by that iconic, ubiquitous “B;” Milton proclaims that it has “shelf authority,” and it’s difficult to disagree.
As Brooklyn Brewery looks toward its next 25 years, with plans to create smaller, speciality brews in its recently-expanded facilities, Steve thinks back to his proudest day at the company: the Brewery’s opening in May 1996. Rudy Giuliani, then-Mayor of NYC, cut the ceremonial ribbon. In front of the press corp, the Mayor put his arm around Steve and announced, “Look at this man: He used to be a journalist…now he’s making an honest living.” It’s a funny reminder to this reporter that life is layered, and the opportunity exists for unexpected second, or infinite, chapters.
With reporting contributed by Sophie Hays.