Twenty-five years ago, Roger Baylor got a long-haul job selling beer; he and wife Amy, along with her sister Kate Lewison, took over a business that had belonged to the former’s father, Richard O’Connell. This is how Sportstime Pizza and Rich O’s Public House, which would later become New Albanian Brewing Company, were born.
Today, however, the principal owners are putting the finishing touches on a move that would place full ownership into the hands of Lewison and Amy Baylor (the Baylors divorced in the early 2000s but continued to be business partners).
Roger Baylor, well known for his long career in beer and brewing, is now running for mayor of New Albany. If he wins, that will be his new focus. If not, well, he’ll look for another path to follow. Either way, his position as the public face of New Albanian has come to an end. He already had announced he would step away if he won the election — instead, he’s moving on ahead of the decision. It was simply time, he says.
Regarding his growing involvement in local politics over the last few years, Baylor tells Insider, “It seems to be what I’ve been interested in for a while now and seems to be what I spend a lot of time on. That might actually tell me something about where my head is.”
And while he still enjoys beer and brewing, it’s become more of a hobby-level interest, in part because of the popularity of what is now termed “craft beer.”
When he started working at a liquor store back in the late 1980s, he was one of only a few in the area seeking out imported beer for sale. He wanted to spread the word, which would later lead to Rich O’s becoming a regional beer destination. But the growth in craft brewing has changed the hobby into an industry.
“We’re entering this phase where it’s all about money,” Baylor says, “and that’s never why I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it because it meant something; it stood for something. It was all the intangibles. Now it’s about who’s going to sell out to whom. It’s sickening. That doesn’t do anything for me.”
Meanwhile, Lewison and Amy Baylor simply want to keep their life’s work going forward. When New Albanian expanded in 2009, adding a production brewery with a taproom and restaurant in downtown New Albany in the form of Bank Street Brewhouse, things were looking up. However, sales didn’t flow as hoped. Last year, the restaurant portion of the business was suspended.
While the original pizzeria and public house continue to succeed, the failure of Bank Street to stand on its own has placed the business in deep debt. Lewison and Amy Baylor hope to take over and slowly but surely pay down the debt while also finding a way to make Bank Street succeed. Part of that, however, means learning the beer business while also working long days to keep the pizzeria running.
“We’d like to keep the brewery, even though it’s done not so well,” Amy Baylor says. “It’s not so much that it doesn’t have potential or that I’ve given up the dream.”
“We’re taking Bank Street to where it is now, where it just evolved naturally,” Lewison adds.
And by that she means that their friend Stacie Bale from Earth Friends Café has taken over the kitchen after a few pop-up experiments and a failed partnership with Taco Punk. While Bank Street began with a focus on French-inspired fare, it now offers a fairly basic menu primarily made up of beer-infused appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches and flatbread pizzas. Baylor and Lewison also promise a special fall menu that Bale is especially excited to roll out.
While the sale isn’t complete, Amy Baylor says “it’s basically a done deal.” It’s just a matter of finalizing terms and taking care of all the details.
“It’s like any other divorce or selling a business or anything else,” Roger Baylor says. “It’s going to take a while to connect the dots and to do the paperwork. There’s a zillion legalisms.”
There was also the option to sell his portion to a third party, but the sides worked toward an in-house agreement. “It keeps it in the family that way,” Roger Baylor says.
He adds that he knows Lewison and Amy have a different vision from his own for the business, which is another reason he has decided to move on. He says they “have ideas where they want it to go; I think that’s fine. They are really interested in being a 100 percent female-owned brewery. It was their business anyway — they were already there when I showed up. To me, it has always been this big collective. I’m just part of it.”
So far, so good. “The last six months have been great,” Lewison says.
The plan for the sisters now is to continue to re-invest in the original business and to also make Bank Street profitable. David Pierce remains as head brewer, and Josh Hill, who had departed briefly earlier this year to become brewer at the forthcoming Floyd County Brewing Company, has returned. The next couple of years will be about paying down debt and figuring out some consistency in the bottle beer releases and what the brewery’s distribution future holds.
And Roger will move forward as a mayoral hopeful.
“Beer has moved more into the hobby realm for him,” Amy Baylor says. “Now he’s grown up and he wants to see if his voice can make a change in something other than beer. Can it do something for the whole town?”
“The mayoral thing just tells me my head is in some other place,” Roger Baylor adds, “and that it would be best for everyone (to move on).”
And if he doesn’t win, what will he do?
“Something different,” he says. “Not necessarily in or out of beer. In some way, shape or form, I’ve been selling beer for 32 or 33 years now. That’s a career.”