Q&A with Jay Richardson, New Belgium Brewing’s GM in Asheville

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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New Belgium Asheville general manager Jay Richardson

New Belgium’s coming to town, and Jay Richardson gets to be in charge.

Raised in Mississippi and a former resident of  Greensboro and Atlanta, the newly appointed general manage of the New Belgium Brewing Asheville facility is no stranger to the south, though he’s only visited Asheville twice.

His most recent visit was the weekend before last. “The hands-down highlight was the LaZoom tour,” he said–adding that his wife whole-heartedly agreed. The comedy bus tour and a combo evening of beers and televised sports at WALK while waiting for a table at The Admiral (“amazing service and food”) sold him on our city, just as the Asheville experience did with other New Belgium upper-management types before him.

So Richardson likes Asheville. But will Asheville like New Belgium back?

Growing concerns over truck traffic were headline news in the most recent Citizen-Times Sunday edition, with a telling quote coming from West Asheville resident Jonathan Wainscott, who said he felt that in the courtship between city officials and New Belgium, Asheville and NBB “got married without meeting the family.”

Richardson said he knows there are widespread concerns about New Belgium’s future impact on Asheville, particularly among the West Asheville residents who face the long-term impact of tractor-trailer delivery traffic slated to use already congested Haywood Road.

It’s worth noting that Richardson is already very familiar with what it’s like to live close to a brewery, at least in Fort Collins: His family lives less than two miles from the facility there.

“I’m just coming up to speed on (West Asheville’s delivery traffic concerns),” Richardson said. “But what’s comforting to me is the collaborative approach with the city. What I know from how New Belgium lives, and with cooperation from the city and with neighbors, is that we’ll end up with the best end solution we could achieve.”

Richardson acknowledged the importance of West Asheville residents being involved as well as city officials.  “This is a must for the best solution(s) to be achieved, and NBB is grateful that this is already the case,” he wrote me in an email.

New Belgium has set up a meeting with neighbors and local business leaders for the morning of January 3, the day after the Planning & Zoning Commission review of the site plan for New Belgium’s site on Craven Street (commission agenda here).

Richardson said the company also hopes to be sensitive to another population soon to be living in the shadow of a craft beer behemoth: Asheville’s brewing community.

“We are very aware and respectful of existing relationships in the Asheville brewing community, and we look forward to becoming an active part of that community,” he said, adding that New Belgium has no plans to go after more shelf space or more local taps for its beers.

But for fans and visitors, the Asheville brewery will, he said, likely have a paid tasting room where New Belgium beers can be purchased to drink on-site or take home.

As well as showing respect to neighbors and the local brewing scene, it’s also Richardson’s hope that the Asheville facility will be friendly to the environment.

“Having a brewery in Asheville will help us eventually halve the impact of our beer shipments to customers in the eastern U.S., and we will work to obtain similar benefits for our incoming materials,” he said.

“2013 will be a year of performing due diligence to determine which glass, paper packaging, and malt facilities we will be sourcing from,” he continued. “While we may continue using some of our existing suppliers, we will be working towards qualifying the more eastern manufacturing plants, and simultaneously exploring our options with southeastern suppliers.  As for sourcing energy, and as is true in Fort Collins, we will use local suppliers and pursue methods for generating renewable energy on-site.”

Currently leading IT and production in Fort Collins after positions with Hewlett Packard and Mrs. Smith’s Pies, Richardson says his company’s tendency to let people work to their strengths and passions led him to the uncommon combo of tech and production, where, he said, he mostly just explores his ability to help groups of people “accomplish great things.”

When the brewery opens Richardson will have leadership of all aspects of the new facility, and be involved in hiring. His first order of business on arrival, he said, is hiring key managers like the “Manager of Mothership Experience” (real job title for the person in charge of vendor, VIP and regular-joe visits to the brewery’s “liquid center,” or tasting area).

He’s set a date of June 2014 to move here with his family, with West Asheville near the brewery at the top of his list for a new home.

“Being close is important,” he said.

Other managers will move here ahead of him, with the person managing construction being the likely first full-time member of management to move to Asheville permanently, in summer/fall of 2013.

Richardson said he’s excited about the “adventure” his family is about to embark on, and that he noticed the “lifestyle bar” in Asheville is set pretty high.

“I look forward to helping set it even higher,” he said.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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