If beer, as Benjamin Franklin is sometimes believed to have said, “is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” then it’s hard to think of a Kansas City entrepreneur who has made more people happy than John McDonald.
The founder of Boulevard Brewing Co., McDonald presides over the largest specialty brewery in the midwest and the second-largest brewery in Missouri. McDonald will visit the Kansas City Public Library tomorrow night, Wednesday August 3, for a public conversation with Crosby Kemper III. The event is part of our ongoing Cradle of Entrepreneurs series of talks with local business owners. The event is free; please RSVP online if you wish to attend.
The series’ name is based on a 2004 address by Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm. In his lecture, titled “Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs,” Schramm said, “I believe the role of the entrepreneur in the life of Kansas City is central, not only to seeing its past in a new light, but, more importantly, to understanding what might lie ahead and how the present generation might effectively bring forth a yet more productive future.”
The next Cradle of Entrepreneurs conversation is set for October, with Mary Carol Garrity, the owner of Nell Hill's. (If you have suggestions for local entrepreneurs you’d like to see featured at the Library, post their names in the comments.)
As an entrepreneur, McDonald has been a rising force not just in the local landscape but the wider brewing arena for more than 20 years.
Since the day in November of 1989 when he loaded a keg of Pale Ale into his own pickup truck and delivered it to Ponak’s Mexican Kitchen down the street, McDonald has built a brewery that produces 600,000 barrels a year and sells its beer in 20 states. That beer represent a rich array of nectars, from the crisp, citrus currents of Unfiltered Wheat Beer, to the hoppy bite of the Single-Wide IPA – to name just a couple of the two dozen beers in Boulevard’s current portfolio.
Beyond producing delicious beer (though, admittedly, that’s a big part of it), Boulevard has also developed a revered presence in Kansas City’s cultural landscape. As local blogger Bull E. Vard of the esteemed KC Beer Blog says, “Our identity as KC is fountains on the Plaza, birdies on the lawn at Nelson-Atkins, Chiefs football, Royals baseball, Sporting KC, barbecue and Boulevard beer.”
“We all drink it -- it's part of our great food culture in KC," Bull says. "You can be a fan of other beers (like I love Lagunitas beers), but Boulevard is my home team.".
That team has scored big when it comes to building inroads to the community, too. Boulevard is ever-present on the street level, from providing beer at countless community events (including the one tomorrow night at the Library), to picking up after itself – and everyone else, too – through its own glass-recycling program, Ripple Glass.
Come learn more about the man whose suds are making Kansas City a happier place, when John McDonald visits the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, August 3, for a public conversation with Crosby Kemper III. The 6:30 p.m. talk is preceded by a 6 p.m. reception featuring – and forgive us for burying the lede – free Boulevard beer.
In the meantime, as this is, after all, a Library, whet your reading palate with a booklist from the man himself.
What are You Reading, John McDonald?
On my nightstand: “Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling; Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn and Thomas Keller; Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky; Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky”
On the shelf in my office: “A variety of historical brewing and Kansas City books.”
Books I like to give as gifts: “Cookbooks.”
Book that shaped who I am today: “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.”
Best books to read with a cold Boulevard beer: “Cookbooks. (I like to read cookbooks.)”
What local entrepreneurs would you like to see take part in our Cradle of Entrepreneurs series? Post your suggestions in the comments.
-- Jason Harper