Uncle Nearest CEO Fawn Weaver Opens Up About How Naysayers Reacted To Her Decision To Buy A $50M Distillery
The serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience launched the venture in 2017 to honor Nathan “Nearest” Green, a formerly enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey.
Today, the brand boasts six whiskeys and is available in over 25,000 stores across all 50 states and 12 countries, its company website mentions.
They have earned numerous accolades, including the Most Awarded American Whiskey or Bourbon for three consecutive years. Additionally, Business Insider reported in February 2023 that it was the best-selling Black-owned spirits brand.
The brand was an official vendor at Honeyland Festival, held from Nov. 11, 2023 to Nov. 12, 2023.
Weaver appeared on behalf of her company during the festival’s “Earn Your Legacy” panel alongside Marcus Samuelsson on the Eats & Sips Stage.
Prior to leading the conversation on Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurship, Weaver spoke with AFROTECH to share pivotal moments that have contributed to Uncle Nearest’s prominence within the spirits sector.
She highlighted key strategic decisions, including a $50 million commitment to create a 323.12-acre distillery.
“One of the most important decisions I made was to spend $50 million on building out a distillery during a period of time where people were like, ‘That doesn’t make any sense … You’re brand new … Nobody really knows who you are yet … Why would you spend that kind of money — raise that kind of money,’” Weaver told AFROTECH. “My thing is, I had to own everything from beginning to end because I couldn’t let anybody shut down my supply chain. If distributors acted a fool, it’s okay. I could still sell enough product through my own distillery to be able to keep going and thriving.”
She added, “The second most important strategic decision I made was decentralizing the distributors. I don’t have a national distributor. I have 17 distributors, and if one is not performing, I’ll swap ’em out.”
Weaver’s understanding of the brand’s vision and direction was evident. It’s that same understanding that has also helped to drive funding toward the business.
She reveals $225 million has been raised purely from individual support, which is significant due to the challenges experienced by many Black-owned businesses when trying to secure adequate funding.
“The most difficult thing in starting any business. It’s always the capital,” Weaver told AFROTECH. “Nobody really wants to invest until you’re already successful, but you can’t get successful without the investment.”
She continued, “So, creating a way for me to raise money that didn’t include VC or PE or institutional lending and chasing after them, and having them meet to produce all these documents that most companies don’t even have till they’re five, six years old. I’m like, ‘Look, I’m not gonna do this. I’m gonna find enough individuals of high net worth that are accredited investors that are willing to back my vision, that are willing to believe in me, but will stay out of my way. They will help me, but they will not hinder me.’ And I raised over $225 million individuals only.”
Weaver has proven faith the size of a mustard seed can lead to significant gains. This is also relevant to the announcement of Uncle Nearest’s expansion to the cognac sector.
As previously reported by AFROTECH, the company acquired Domaine Saint Martin, an estate in Cognac, France, “encompassing over 100 acres with Charente River frontage and a unique island.”
The brand operated independently from the whiskey brand, but under Weaver’s ownership, she believes there will be a lot of opportunity within this sector.
“The opportunity there is is endless because African Americans have never had the ability to buy cognac from an African American — not an African American who was the face of the brand or the partner of the brand, but who started the brand,” she said. “And so this is something I think that we’ve been waiting a really long time for, and we didn’t realize we didn’t have it until we pointed out the fact that we didn’t have it.”
What Has Been Most Rewarding
Weaver, who prefers to keep the focus on the company rather than on her contributions as founder and CEO, also noted what is most rewarding. By laying out a blueprint, she enables the next generation of entrepreneurs who resemble her to forge their own legacies.
“The most rewarding [part] I think is every single time I see a person of color, specifically a Black woman launch a business and they have their business plan together and they’re following my lead on how to invest money, how to make sure that they don’t lose control. How to make sure they keep all the voting rights,” Weaver explained. “That’s the most rewarding for me because I think that a generation from now, Black women coming up, the girls that are coming up, all they will know are Black women with Ph.D.s and master’s. They will know successful Black women as entrepreneurs, as CEOs of fortune 500, fortune 100. We know that there’s a gap, but I think two generations from now, the Black girls won’t even know there was ever a gap. And I love that for them.”