It was a bold goal — and it was often received thusly. “I mean, that’s an audacious concept!” Tomnitz says now. “It’s representing New York City, and so for us, it wasn’t necessarily pushback, but like, ‘Wow, y’all got some work to do.’”
His colleagues in finance were surprised that he was willing to leave his comfortable job in 2015 for this dream. But the real battles lay with the city he was setting out to represent: the bar owners to whom he had to pitch to stock his beer and the government agencies that would allow him to build the brewery he was envisioning.
“It took a lot of pounding the pavement, getting people to try our product, but I think that was so important because we got such great feedback. People in New York are not going to BS you about what the quality is,” he says of letting bar owners and fellow brewers try the product.
They launched the brand with a traditional IPA, a crisp pilsner, a tart gose and a hoppy lager. “We wanted to develop a wide variety of different beers to show as many different palates across New York City as possible. The first goal was to develop a selection of year-round beers where there would be at least one that you would like.”
As for construction of a giant facility and accompanying taproom in Brooklyn, “It was about six months of demolition work, about a year’s worth of construction and about six months of scaling up all the beer recipes to the main production system,” he says. And Tomnitz and O’Donnell were blocked by bureaucracy, whether about building codes or liquor laws, at every step of the way.
The pair taught themselves everything via textbooks, online videos and endless conversations with varied experts who had been through it themselves. “Kevin and I had to pretty much go camp out at the Brooklyn Department of Buildings for two days just to get something approved. Starting a business in New York City is very hard. Starting a manufacturing business is extremely hard, and starting an alcohol manufacturing business is impossible.”
Nearly. And yet in 2017, Five Boroughs opened to the public.