Taste Radio Ep. 111: John McDonald on Building and Selling Boulevard Brewing Company

When John McDonald founded Boulevard Brewing Company in 1989, he never envisioned that the company would grow to 178,000 barrels and sell beer in 40 states.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” he told Brewbound assistant editor Justin Kendall during a recent interview at Boulevard’s Kansas City headquarters.

“I kind of never allowed myself to believe it was going to succeed for a long, long, long time,” he continued. “We’ve been successful, but a business, even if it’s successful, is a challenge all the time.”

McDonald, who was the face of the Boulevard up until he sold the brewery to Duvel Moortgat USA in October 2013, shared the struggle of being a startup in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the latest episode of Taste Radio.

In the interview, McDonald talks about being unable to secure a bank loan, relying on his father and other investors to launch the business and being unable to pay the bills.

“I was scared about my money, but I was even more scared about losing the money that I’d taken from investors,” he said. “So I was pretty intent on making the thing work one way or another.”

McDonald did make it work, building Boulevard into a regional player before eventually selling the business to Duvel. Reflecting on that decision, McDonald admitted that he was possibly feeling “a little too relaxed” prior to the sale.

“When I look back, I can’t think of a better thing that I could have done, other than possibly doing an ESOP [employee stock ownership plan],” he said.

For McDonald, identifying the right long-term partner boiled down to finding someone he was comfortable sharing a beer with.

“And I still feel that way with Michel [Moortgat],” he said.

Nevertheless, McDonald admitted that what worked for him, might not work for other brewery owners.

“For some small brewery owners, selling to ABI [Anheuser-Busch InBev] or MillerCoors is not a bad solution,” he said. “It might be the right thing for them. It gives them immediate distribution. There’s a lot of value there.”

You can listen to McDonald discuss these topics, and more, on episode 111 of Taste Radio.