When an entrepreneur like Jason Wilson posts what is effectively a “wanted situation” ad with his resume on social media, he gets attention.
This is how Wilson revealed last week that he was leaving the company he founded 12 years ago, Back Forty Beer, after seeing it grow into one of the South’s first craft breweries and the Alabama’s largest alcohol maker.
Wilson resigned as CEO of Back Forty two years ago, handing over those roles to former CEO of Royal Cup Coffee, Hatton Smith. He said at the time, during a speech in Hoover on the craft beer industry, that this would allow him to focus on selling beer, “that’s what I’m good at.”
With Tripp Collins, the company’s COO, taking care of the day-to-day management tasks and things in full swing after a tough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson said he wondered: ‘ `What am I doing here? ”
He will remain on the Back Forty board, but according to his social media post, he is “available for short-term consultations or long-term strategic partnerships.” Its balance sheet is likely to attract takers.
Originally from Gadsden, Wilson was the first in his family to graduate from college (Auburn University, Business Administration, Class of 2005), and went to work for Georgia-Pacific as a Logistics Specialist and Manager and Head of supply chain. He was introduced to craft brewing while visiting his brother in Colorado, and the idea of bringing it to Alabama – and especially his hometown – was ignited.
Back Forty’s first offering – Naked Pig Ale – was brewed and packaged under contract with a Mississippi company; the company’s first beer produced in Gadsden debuted in 2012, brewed in a refurbished former Sears warehouse downtown that now houses a faucet room and restaurant.
Back Forty now has distribution agreements in seven states and has exported beer to Canada, the Cayman Islands, China, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and Thailand.
It has produced more than 100 different beers over the years, according to Wilson, and has 12 to 15 on the market at one time. (It also produced beer vinegar, and last year during the pandemic was revamped to produce hand sanitizer.)
Back Forty is the official beer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and produces private label products for Lulu Buffett and Dreamland Bar-B-Que.
The company was honored as Small Manufacturer of the Year from the Business Council of Alabama; received the Governor of Alabama’s Export Trade and Tourism Excellence Awards; and is on the US Chamber of Commerce’s Top 100 American Small Businesses list and INC 5000 America’s Fastest Growing Companies list.
In 2018 he opened another microbrewery in Sloss Docks in Birmingham, also with a tap room and restaurant.
Back Forty employs 18 people in Gadsden, including waiters and staff, and more than 50 in Birmingham, according to Wilson – people who “build beautiful houses and have their children in school” – and make a figure of annual business of $ 2 million.
Wilson was the inaugural recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from Auburn University; served on the advisory boards of the AU College of Business Supply Chain and Hotel and Restaurant Management; served as chairman of the Alabama Brewers Guild and Gadsden Commercial Development Authority and chairman of the Gadsden & Etowah County Chamber; and in 2018, was elected to Gadsden City Council in District 5.
With this resume, Wilson said he was focused on creating opportunities for “start-up entrepreneurs” to try and nurture that mindset locally and “convince people with good ideas. to think outside the box and make it happen. ”
He said he spent much of his time building Back Forty “running across the state, the southeast, the country” for the necessary capital, but ultimately had people in it. his corner.
“Mike Yother at Exchange Bank in 2009 looked me in the eye and said he wasn’t sure this idea was going to work,” Wilson recalls, “but he said he needed people, no ideas, and he believed in me. He gave me the money and said, “Go on, do it”, and if that didn’t work out, we would go on to the idea next.
Wilson has an idea that’s close to reality: a new riverside restaurant in an existing building inside the River Rocks Campground near Rainbow Drive. He and his wife, Jessica, are teaming up with Chris and Christi Robinson of Blackstone Pub and Eatery and Blackstone Pizza Kitchen on the project.
“It’s really Jessica and Christi,” he laughs. “We hope to be open in five or six weeks and hope to provide the only real riverside dining experience in Gadsden.”
The working name is Current, which Wilson described as a play about the “current of the river” or phrases like “current promotions” or “current situation”.
He described the eventual fare as “old school camp food,” with catfish, blackened fish, pizza, burgers and a kids’ menu.
“We will have a full-service grocery store and a waterfront convenience store inside,” he said. “Fishermen will be able to get ice cream and campers will be able to get things like charcoal and paper plates.”
The focus will be on the river. Wilson said people often wonder why Gadsden cannot adequately develop his shoreline; it will be his contribution to this cause.