PORTLAND, Maine — A few years ago I was talking to an entrepreneur who had a contrary take on the usual wisdom about sounding out friends and family before starting a new business. The entrepreneur said you should never ask people who care about you what they think of your business idea. Why? Because they’re worried you’ll lose your shirt and have your feelings shredded if the enterprise fails, so they’ll try to protect you. Thus, they’ll see only the flaws in your vision, never the possibilities.
Rob Tod, who founded Allagash Brewing in Portland in 1995, knows what it’s like to encounter skepticism when pitching a startup business. His dream was to make Belgian-style beers, which--even now in the midst of the greatest beer boom America has ever seen—sounds like a good way to lose money. In the early years of the business, Tod told me in this interview from 1995, people “thought I was crazy.” And it wasn’t just civilians who reached that conclusion. “Other brewers thought I was crazy. The distributors thought I was crazy.”
A few days ago in Chicago, Tod received a James Beard award as the 2019 Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer in the United States. This is perhaps the most prestigious honor the American food and beverage industry has to offer, a sign of excellence and achievement in a ferociously competitive field. What a difference 24 years makes. When Tod started Allagash, he was its sole employee, and it was a challenge merely to survive. On more than a few occasions it probably would have made sense to shut down the business. Beer drinkers—and Maine—are lucky he didn’t. “I’m bullheaded,” Tod says. “And I just kept plugging away.”