Interview with Mariah McLead
Mujeres con Visión interviewed Mariah McLead, an entrepreneur who is breaking new ground in Knoxville with an innovative concept called POUR. We sat down with Mariah to know more about her and POUR, and to (of course!) taste a few brews…
MCV: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you come from and what did you do before coming to Knoxville?
MML: I am a bit of a gypsy - I was born in Clearwater, FL - as was my husband but I also grew up all over the Southeast - mostly Asheville, NC and Clearwater. My mom and I bounced around a lot before I was 10 and then we finally landed back in Clearwater. I was a bit of jock growing up, a bit clumsy and always ending up in the Trainers office at LSCC which inevitably is what drew to a career in Occupational Therapy.
I met my husband before I entered my Masters program and then once I graduated, despite (and also because of) some hardships during the financial collapse in 2008 - we decided to take travel assignments with my OT job. We too bounced around a bit - Savannah, Greenville SC, Winston-Salem, Northern Neck Virginia and finally Chicago before returning to a sleepy little beach town in the Panhandle of Florida. During this time, Joel (husband) started getting really interested in homebrewing - which is essentially is was perpetuated our move back to my family's hometown - Asheville, NC - where he started his Fermentation Science degree and working at several large craft breweries there - Highland Brewing Co and Oskar Blues.
Over the previous 10+ years of our relationship Joel introduced and educated me on the vast nature of craft beer and even some of the art and science behind beer, wine and the magic of food pairing. This was MY new obsession - I’m definitely food (and libation) driven.
MCV: How did the idea about Pour come about?
MML: We found the original Pour in Asheville, and started befriending and picking the “Founders” brain about doing a similar concept in a non-competing market. We told Nate (Tomforde that we knew we wanted to do a very similar concept almost immediately and Nate was willing to give us some help and we eventually decided that we would like to be a part of the Pour Taproom brand family. This was exactly how we always wanted to explore the massive craft beer scene - a few ounces here and there versus having to commit to a whole pint each time. This concept was PERFECT FIT!
MCV: What was your role in the whole planning/executing/running phases of Pour?
MML: All of the co-owners were involved in every step but I specifically was especially involved with the architectural and interior design phases plus the very exciting administrative items of procuring our beer and wine licenses with TABC and Knox Beer Board/City Council. We each pitched in with whatever construction tasks we could building, sanding, and sealing furniture and we even grabbed the sledge hammer and tore down part of the wall. Once we opened, it was all hands on deck and we worked quite a few very long days until things were situated and staff was trained.
My main role since conception has been social media, marketing, advertising and a bit of HR to manage our employees onboarding. But I also developed our menu when we decided to prepare all of our food onsite last fall - my Thai Pork Nachos are the BOMB! Otherwise, Joel and I are the primary operators during the week and handle to day to day tasks of ordering food, beer and other supplies while Sam is here on the weekends, he works constantly to keep the books, analyze our margins and makes sure we’re being financially responsible with everything related to the business.
MCV: Did you face any obstacles on account of being a woman?
MML: Not really, being in business as a self-employed woman is usually to my advantage but the biggest hurdle would probably just be that women are not expected to be very versed in the science of beer - I’m certainly not the expert - Joel is but his knowledge has definitely rubbed off on me some.
MCV: Were there instances where you felt that some people thought this was not a business for you?
MML: My family was a bit concerned about me running a bar; late hours, long hours, being a woman with potentially intoxicated customers, being around alcohol all day but it really has not been an issue.
MCV: What are you looking for regarding the services Pour provides?
Our goal is to continually provide education on the craft beer movement and expose those who aren’t really sure if they like craft beer or even just any beer and help them find something they really enjoy and provide all patrons with a new way to drink and enjoy craft beer, wine, cider and mead on their terms - only pay for what you Pour - by the tenth of an ounce.
MCV: Have you had patrons ask you why you are running this kind of business?
MML: Yes, and the simplest answer is that we always wanted our own business and weren’t really sure what the first business would be until we stumbled upon Pour in Asheville, NC at which point he had already acquired the beer knowledge, sparked my interest with food pairing, on top of our combined 30 years of service industry experience. After that everything kind of just fell into place - very smoothly, which was strange in a cool cosmic way. What’s meant to be, will be.
MCV: What are the most common comments you hear from people when you tell them that you own the place?
MML: “REALLY?! How old are you?!” “That’s really cool! Very impressive.”
MCV: What do people outside the job say when you tell them that you run a bar?
MML: I usually tell my patients that I run a restaurant but otherwise, it’s a Self-serve Bar/Taproom or Interactive Tasting Room. Typically everyone is very intrigued and are encouraging but always a little surprised which kind of speaks to abnormality of a woman owning a business - but it doesn’t bother me, I like being an outlier.
MCV: What are your goals regarding Pour?
MML: I’d love to see our Business(es) grow and prosper each year, more taps, entertainment, maybe a second location in Knoxville somewhere and other taprooms in the surrounding cities. But more than that, I want to help change the perception that all beer is the same and that you have to spend an arm and leg just to barely scratch the surface of the craft beer world, flights of alcohol are popular for a reason, there is too much out there to try a whole glass or pint of everything.
MCV: What are your personal goals?
MML: In all honesty, my biggest personal goal is to be out of debt in the next 2 years, buy our first home and getting a little bit more time to travel and see my family - which is spread out all over the US - and just generally learn to balance work and home life again. I am also very active in the Old City and Execute Board Member with the Association as well as the Events Chairperson & Coordinator for events like first annual Oktoberfest & St. Patty’s day Pub Crawl in the Old City.
MCV: Do you feel you are on your way to achieving success?
MML: I do, the feedback on this concept is “innovative, novel and even futuristic” and the overall response from patrons is that they really enjoy the ability to control how much want to try with each pour. We’ve all worked really hard to streamline our processes, maximize customer experience and minimize expenditures any way we can so that the business is as profitable as possible.
MCV: How do you rate success?
MML: Several ways - customer feedback and support, employee retention, reviews, bottom line, cooperation with other local businesses
MCV: Do you think women are well represented in the alcohol business?
MML: I think we are growing in numbers, despite it being a predominantly male industry but I also feel like for the most part, everyone is supportive of more women in the alcohol industry and I’ve never minded a little healthy co-ed competition!!
MCV: Do you think women are well represented in the management/ownership of businesses?
MML: I think there are a ton of resources and people willing to give you advice about starting a business as woman but as a whole, I feel like there are fewer women in the ownership level but there are tons of women in management in all fields and tons of men staying home with kids - progress is happening.
MCV: What has been your biggest lesson in life? In this business?
MML: Be confident in your own abilities, trust yourself and stand up for yourself, there’s no guarantee anyone else will. Every single advancement I made in my previous career came from trusting my intuition, my critical thinking and myself. Being confident in those abilities outwardly and demanding the same rights, pay and benefits as my male counterparts.
An owner is never “off” - we are always available 24/7, this is our baby and we have to ensure that it will grow and prosper with our own blood, sweat and time! This also means that it is absolutely vital to have the right people in place to support you so you don’t burn yourself out when it’s time for a reprieve and if you want to retain the good ones, you have reward them for their hard work and loyalty.
MCV: What would you like to say to women who are thinking about opening their own businesses or joining business ventures with other people?
MML: Do it!! Everyone has the right to do what they love and believe in and while you’re at it, be the best at it - never stop evolving! Educate yourself on the policies, process, laws and all things business. Get yourself a killer accountant, good lawyer and surround yourself with people who want to help you succeed!
Pour Taproom Knoxville
207 West Jackson Avenue
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902