Jim Jones, co owner of Joymongers Brewing Co, was reflecting on the path that led him to opening a craft brewery. It began over 100 years ago.
THE JONES FAMILY BEGINNING
At the dawn of the 20th century, Jimmie L Jones, the eventual scion of the Jones family, was working 60 hour weeks at Ramseur Cotton Mill in Randolph County. He was nine years old. This picture of he and his work crew hints at the dirty, dangerous work and the hardships of that time. He is the little guy sitting in the middle of the first row. His work ethic never flagged and he held a series of jobs that led to selling cars for North State Chevrolet, a new dealership that had opened in Greensboro in 1934. By the early seventies, Jimmie and his son, Norman, were the sole owners. Norman’s sons, Jim and Steve, had grown up in this family’s downtown dealership. Jim reminisced “I recently came across my state workers permit from 1970 that specified my job: wash boy. I had just turned 14”. After graduating with a BS in Business Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1978, Jim began 25 years working alongside his younger brother as Chevy dealers.
By the turn of the 21st century, Jim and Steve were looking for a sea change in the family business. “The car business had come to be dominated by large dealer chains and public companies and we either had to expand dramatically or go in a different direction” said Jim. In 2004, North State’s 70th anniversary, the deal was closed to sell the business to another local dealership family. Jim and Steve took most of the proceeds from the sale and bought the dealership’s 6 downtown acres from their father. “We promised one another that we would would never again be a franchisee and let some distant corporation decide our success or failure”. That began a risky plan to develop their property into something that would transform the northwest side of downtown Greensboro. It was a difficult journey that saw multiple deals fall through and barely survived the Great Recession.
WHEELS TO WALLS
Seven long years later, they broke ground on Greenway at Fisher Park, a 196 unit luxury apartment community. “Everything we had learned about customer service and satisfaction, all of our research on urban living, was poured into that boutique business”, said Jim. His daughter, Erin, only a few years out of college, became integral to the lease up and family focus on that project. Quick success led to the opening of Greenway at Stadium Park, three years later, a 68 unit, luxury mid rise community adjacent to FNB Ballpark.
Jim was in his late fifties but energized with the creativity and challenge of developing new businesses and not ready to retire. Five years earlier, he and his wife Susan had moved to Black Mountain, 20 minutes away from Asheville, and as a lifelong beer fan had immersed himself in the craft beer scene. “After a lifetime in retail and customer service, I constantly discussed with my wife what I would do differently with a craft brewery. At times, Susan would sigh and say, can’t we just occasionally drink a beer without all the analysis?”, but she was also intrigued.
JOYMONGERS BREAKS GROUND
A few years earlier Jim was introduced to Mike Rollinson, Head Pub Brewer at Natty Greene’s, a pioneer in Greensboro’s nascent craft scene. Mike and Jim would spend many hours sipping beer and discussing the industry. “I quickly realized that not only was Mike a brilliant brewer but he understood the business side as well. We pored over notebooks full of his analysis of production costing and pro formas”. At the time Jim was planning Stadium Park and Mike had another brewery development offer so the timing wasn’t right. Two years later Mike’s deal had fallen through and Jim reached out to see if he was interested in a partnership to develop what would become Greensboro’s fifth brewery. Jim’s son, Brian, was looking for a career change from the health care insurance industry and had experience in the restaurant/bar industry. He signed on as the third partner and they were off!
Joymongers Brewing Co opened in downtown Greensboro across from his Greenway communities in late June 2016, a few days after Jim’s 60th birthday. “That was quite a party!”, he grinned. Joymongers was built around a few basic concepts:
- constantly changing, authentic beer styles
- well paid, experienced bartenders providing friendly service
- large, bright, clean taprooms open to generous patios
- a community focused, family friendly atmosphere
Joymongers business model was to retail almost all of their beer through their own taps with little outside product distribution. “We wanted to control every aspect of our guest experience, from beer to cleanliness, from service to entertainment. We weren’t prepared to send our beer out to someone who wouldn’t bring the same care, attention and love to our customers”, said Jim. Joymongers became a hub for free, live, local music several nights a week, giving their community a reason to enjoy a fresh beer regularly. “Community breweries could not survive and prosper without regulars who repeatedly visit and bring their friends. Our bartenders know them and cater to their tastes. We are watching kids grow up and pups become loved, family pets”.
EXPANDING TO THE BARREL HALL
Two years in, Joymongers was very successful and the partners wanted to expand. Playing the bar and restaurant distribution game didn’t seem like the right path. They wanted to take their concept and embed it in another great community that would become their second hometown. This location needed to be in a growing, vibrant city no more than 45 minutes from Greensboro so the owners could have daily onsite involvement. “This wouldn’t work if we were seen as carpetbaggers just dropping our beer in to make a quick buck. We wanted to become an integral part of our new community”.
In Winston-Salem, they found a 90 year old GMC truck garage in the historic West End community. Winston is experiencing a Downtown renaissance and has a growing, young professional class. This city would be perfect but this historic building needed a lot of expensive love, care and renovation. They took another major risk. In March, 2018, Joymongers Barrel Hall opened as one of the few facilities with taprooms in the country focused on barrel aging craft beer. Combining their most popular beers from Greensboro with unique, wine and whiskey barrel aged varieties, some unique to Winston, the Barrel Hall is making new friends daily. The partners brought in Scott Hazzard, a gregarious and very experienced industry expert, as GM at the Barrel. Barrel Hall is 6000 sq ft of very cool, industrial space hosting local music and trivia three-four nights a week. As far as expansion goes, Jim says this is it. “We don’t plan to expand beyond our partners’ ability to be directly involved. That is a big part of our secret sauce. We love our staff, our customers and we are driven to provide the best experience for all of them every day. It takes a lot of time and energy to make that happen ”.
It’s clear from the response they get in Greensboro and Winston-Salem that their vision is certainly working. “It is the greatest privilege of my life to work with my kids and friends to provide beautiful places to live and great beer and entertainment in two wonderful North Carolina cities”.