From birthdays to business
In June 2015, Josh Cook was attending a friend’s birthday party when he struck up a conversation with another party-goer. Josh told him that he and his business partner, Jon Good, were opening a distillery – the first one in Kalamazoo since 1850s – and were pretty much doing all of the renovations themselves.
“This guy was genuinely interested in our story,” Josh recalls, “and the more we spoke, the more I understood how much he cared about small business in our community.”
That ‘guy’ was Kenny Leonard, VP commercial lending at ECCU, who would ultimately help bring Green Door Distilling even closer to becoming the destination distillery Josh and Jon had been dreaming of.
Entrepreneurship (and spirits) run in the family
In the weeks that followed, a relationship was developed between Josh, Jon, and ECCU’s commercial lending team. “Kenny took the time to understand not just our business, but who we were as individuals,” said Josh.
“Their family history of entrepreneurship is pretty fascinating,” Kenny points out. “Josh’s grandfather was a founding member of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), so as a veteran SBA lender, I found that really impressive.”
In fact, Josh is a third-generation entrepreneur thanks to his grandfather sparking curiosity about small businesses at a young age. His father owns a construction company, and his grandfather founded an insurance group. Since 2009, Josh has helped grow start-up companies through consulting and is an active member of the Kalamazoo Planning Commission.
Jon’s grandfather, Jon Phillip Good, was an entrepreneur who inspired their recipe for Jon Phillip Whiskey. “He was a strong, hard-working entrepreneur who lived life the way he saw fit, and the whiskey bearing his name is untamed, strong, and full-hearted just like he was. It’s a fitting tribute to individualism and a free spirit.”
“With a large connection base in Kalamazoo’s professional organizations and start-up community, advisement from a respected Small Business Development Center consultant, and the priceless knowledge from entrepreneurial family members, Josh and Jon have great business acumen,” Kenny marveled.
An offer (and a surprise)
Josh and Jon were fortunate to already have a few investors lined up when Kenny offered them a business line of credit to help with cash flow cycles, which they gladly accepted.
“He trusted us, and that made a huge difference,” Josh shared. “My advice to other entrepreneurs would be to find a lender who, like Kenny, takes the time to truly understand your needs and goals. Be comfortable enough with them to be open and honest about what you’re hoping to gain out of the relationship.”
What surprised Josh the most, though, was how hands-on Kenny was. “Normally, you’d expect a lending officer to do most of the work over the phone or email. But Kenny is the opposite. He’s met with us in person multiple times over the past year to see how things are going, offering support whenever and wherever he could.”
Join the adventure
As with any adventure, there are highs and there are lows. The most exciting part of their distillery journey so far, besides being able to do what they love, is the community support. “A handful of local small business owners have been advising and mentoring us along the way,” revealed Josh. “Everyone has welcomed us with open arms, and tried to help where they can.”
The most frustrating part of their journey has been the lengthy approval process by government agencies and securing equity investors to initially execute their ideas. “It’s the understatement of the century to say that we’re incredibly grateful to our investors and to the ECCU commercial lending team for all of their help in getting us to where we are today.”
With production up and running by St. Patrick’s Day, Josh hopes that Green Door Distillery will be open to the public in early April 2016. For updates, visit GreenDoorDistilling.com.