This week we are delighted to introduce the 7th feature in our ‘Inspirational Women’ series, with Jo Stewart as our chosen lady for this week. Jo runs Stewart Brewing in Edinburgh with her husband Steve. They set up the company in 2004 after years of planning, preparation and saving beforehand. The COVID-19 pandemic was a definite worry for them, especially as to how they would maintain sales, however they have been able to continue trading as an essential shop. The business has grown over the years, allowing them to offer a greater range of products and opportunities for the public – such as the brew-it-yourself experience. Employee numbers have increased, and they want to expand even more after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. We think that Jo is a true inspiration – she continued to work her job for 3 years whilst they started the company and raised 2 children at the same time. Even now, she is an inspiring business woman and an incredible mother to her 3 boys. We think that she is a force of nature, and we loved having the opportunity to find out more about her story.
One quote that stood out to us was when Jo referred to the struggles of running a small business –
“Not everything will go right, you will not win every contract and hold on to every employee, but things usually work out for the best in the end.”
We think that this is incredibly true and is even applicable within an every-day context. Life will be tough and things won’t always be straight-forward, but you will always make it out the other side.
Q - Can you tell us about your incredible business?
A- Stewart Brewing has been around for 17 years now. We are a small, fun, family run brewing business employing a team of 30 at the moment, but we plan to expand as soon as restrictions lift. We are about great quality beer, exceptional customer service and have a dynamic team. We value and support our local community and respect the environment in our practices. We brew a varied range of craft beers, run a tap-room (which will have a pizza oven when we open again in May!), a brew-it-yourself experience, and tours and tastings. We also have our own gin – The Collector.
Q - How did you end up becoming a brewing ‘goddess’?
A - Well, I met my husband Steve in Glasgow in 1995 when we were both studying for an MSc in Energy and Environmental Systems. Steve’s first degree was in Brewing and Distilling. We then moved to Belfast, as Steve secured a job with the brewery Bass Ireland. We always wanted to run our own business and with Steve’s passion for brewing it just seemed the natural choice. The deal was sealed with a visit to Boston in late 1996, where we were inspired by Harpoon Brewery and we thought we could bring something like that to the UK market.
Fast forward to 2002 and after some time also spent in Birmingham, where we had saved, invested in and renovated properties, we had enough funds to make it happen. Steve felt strongly about returning to Scotland and we decided Edinburgh was the best market for us to launch Stewart Brewing in 2004.
Q - What is your personal story? How have you gotten to where you are today?
A - Hard work, determination and teamwork I would say. I am from Leicestershire and grew up in a lovely quiet village, family life on the whole was good. I went to university in London after my A levels to study Geography, however my early career was in events and marketing. I worked for ACCA for 8 years, which gave me a diverse skill set and provided me with the opportunity to grow. The organisation had 2 women at the top and my direct line manager was also a woman, I felt incredibly supported and encouraged to grow. I worked over and above (I was brought up with a very strong work ethic!) and also offered to take on more projects or I went to my manager with ideas for events – I made my mark. This earned me several promotions and I took on more responsibility of organising events and of team management.
When we started the business, I kept my job for 3 years as well as having 2 babies, so life was extremely busy and exhausting, but also exhilarating at the same time. The scariest time was when I resigned, and we went ‘all in’ with Stewart Brewing. We were totally reliant on ourselves for our livelihoods and future.
Q - What do you love most about your job(s)?
A - The variety of every day. Literally no two days are the same for me. I love the thrill of closing a large deal which has been worked on for many months, and I also love developing new products to pitch, trying new beers and flavours.
Q - Can you tell us about your life achievements to date?
A - So many, but for me my family is always number one. Steve and I raising the 3 boys the best that we could is a massive achievement – it’s not easy by any stretch but it’s very rewarding and I could not be prouder of them.
Our house. This may seem superficial, but we lived in a pretty dilapidated bungalow for 12 years whilst we planned and saved to renovate it into our dream home. The project grew arms and legs and, in the end, we razed it to the ground and built a new dream home on the site. It was a proper ‘Grand Designs’ project, and we feel so lucky and so delighted with the result.
We have won so many awards as a business which have all been treasured as they mean so much to us. The highlight of these was definitely winning ‘Scottish Brewery of the Year’ two years running.
Creating jobs and building a loyal customer base I would also put right up there. It’s hard work and takes time and commitment, but it is ever so rewarding.
Q - How do you celebrate your wins?
A - With beer obviously!
Q - How do you deal with the losses?
A - Steve and I will talk them through and we re-set and move on, usually stronger and more resilient. I have most certainly grown a thicker skin over the years in business. Not everything will go right, you will not win every contract and hold on to every employee, but things usually work out for the best in the end.
Q - How do you balance work with general life responsibilities?
A – It’s much easier now than it was in the early days of Stewart Brewing with a young family. That, to be honest, was tough going and I can remember really struggling to cope at times – just being exhausted. But fast forward to today and it is easier. I can afford help in the house now and my 3 boys (16, 14 and 9) are easier to control (in some ways!). I also have just one to-do list comprising of work and personal jobs and I find that way easier to plan. That is most certainly a great perk of being the boss!
Q - How are you coping with lockdown?
A - OK now but I just cannot wait until we are out of it. Last March when it all started was devastating. We just did not know how a brewing business whose main sales routes were through pubs could survive. We had some sleepless nights and genuine worries. The schools closing and the kid’s activities ceasing has also been difficult to deal with and seeing that effect on the boys has been hard.
However, we have traded throughout as an essential food and drink business, so having a focus and purpose kept us going, along with numerous walks and bike rides!
Q - How do you motivate yourself? Whether that is after a really tough day or just having to cook a meal for the family at the end of a long lockdown day? What are your coping strategies?
A - Some days are just easier than others, aren’t they? I would say I mostly get by and I am very resilient. I get up early and I plan a lot to manage my time every day. I try to have a meal plan in place, and we share the cooking at home. My 16-year-old is great in the kitchen and he loves to cook, so that’s a bonus. I feel very grateful and privileged, so if I start to feel down or sorry for myself, I try to remind myself just how lucky I am and to get on with it! I also love to run and swim and find that a great way to re-set and motivate myself.
Q - Which incredible women have inspired you and why?
A - So many over the years. My mum worked really hard throughout my childhood with family and business commitments. Later on, she bravely fought a terminal illness. My sister is one of the hardest working people I know, and she grabs life with both hands too – I love that.
I enjoy hearing people’s stories from all walks of life. I listen to podcasts which tend to be about women who have gone out there and achieved something or have just followed their dreams. So, I think women who go out and do are the ones that inspire me most.
Also, lots of men inspire me too. Steve and I are a true partnership, we work so well as a team and I would definitely not be where I am without him in my life.