Once the home to large factories, the Yonkers waterfront has been undergoing a revitalization and is now the home to a new brewery, thanks to Iona alumnus, John Rubbo ’05.
John, who was born and raised in Yonkers, looked around at the changes happening in his hometown and saw a market. In a way, the brewery was a natural progression. “My best friend and I used to help our grandfathers make wine in their basements,” John said. “We’d make about 50 gallons a year — just for the family.” One day it dawned on John and his friend, Nick Califano, that they much preferred drinking beer over wine, and they might enjoy making beer. That was the beginning of their journey to becoming brewery owners.
Entrepreneurship was not new to John; he had already started and was successfully running a niche finance company. He began putting together a business plan, researching business models and seeking out a brewer.
His mission became to create an appealing, accessible craft beer — malty and flavorful. He started making a Vienna lager, and knew he was ready when, in blind taste tests, he pitted his lager against Sam Adams and Brooklyn Brewery’s lager and won.
With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Nick raised enough money to buy the Old Trolley Barn in Yonkers, which at one point housed trolley cars. After a complete rebuild of the space, John and Nick opened the Yonkers Brewing Co. in January 2015.
A combination microbrewery and brew pub, Yonkers Brewing Co. offers 12 different beers on tap and brews 90% of the beer they serve. John’s favorite remains their original Vienna-style lager. The brew pub also serves a wide variety of creative pub food.
“We’re really a family place,” John said. “We have a huge Connect 4 game set up for the kids, a foosball table and lots of board games.” He also pays homage to his home city with photos of Yonkers decorating the walls and by hosting various events.
Giving back is important to John. As he said, “Yonkers supported me and now I hope the brewery can act as an anchor for the city and can help bring the community together.” The brewery isn’t the only way John serves his community. Since 2017, he has served as a city councilman passionate about issues such as affordability and the condition of Yonkers’ schools.
John’s advice to young entrepreneurs: “If you think it’s going to take a year, give it two.”
BREWERY & BEER INDUSTRY FACTS
In 1983, there were 49 breweries in the U.S. By the end of 2017, there were over 8,600 breweries.
National Beer Wholesalers Association
New York State is home to over 450 breweries, with beer being brewed in 57 of the 62 counties.
The beer industry supported approximately 1.75 million jobs in 2015.