WASHINGTON — It started as a dream discussed over a glass of whiskey, here and there.
Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner, the owners of Republic Restoratives, always imagined their own distillery coming to life – but the thought of it becoming a reality was never completely tangible.
"I did not come out of the womb as a distiller," Carusone said. "It was a journey to get here."
They aren’t scientists, and they don’t have a background in distilling. But the duo didn’t let their dreams halt based on a technicality.
In 2015, the two women set out to start the female-owned distillery – one way or another. They did what any business owner would do. They crafted a business plan and presentation, and went to a bank.
"We sat across the table from a banker, told our story – we thought we’d nailed it," Carusone said. "And he said to us, 'So, are you all distillers?' No. 'Business owners?' No. 'Well do you have a Ph.D. in chemistry or anything that would make you relevant in this, you know, field?'"
Carusone said the banker told the pair, "'Best of luck, you should probably go find money somewhere else. You’re not really qualified. And frankly, two women owning a distillery is not something we see every day, and not something we feel that we can bank on.'"
But Carusone and Gardner weren’t deterred. Instead, they started a crowdfunding campaign with the initial goal to raise $60,000 in one month.
They raised $120,000 in that same time-frame.
"It resulted in us becoming the largest crowdfunded distillery in the country," Carusone said. "That really set us on our course. And finally, the bank called after the money had come in, and asked if we wanted to discuss a loan."
Carusone said there’s always a way, regardless of how obscure the course is.
"You just have to kind of figure it out for yourself, even if it’s not the traditional way that you can accomplish something," she said.
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Carusone said what she and Gardner experienced isn’t different from what other female entrepreneurs go through. Often time's it's a harder road ahead of them, including "receiving the kind of credibility that business owners need to get loans and to really grow their business."
But the co-owner of Republic Restoratives said the journey was worth it.
"There’s so many moments in this job that I get excited about," Carusone said. "To create a barrel of whiskey, a lot goes into it. A lot of time, a lot of attention, a lot of risks and challenges. And when we fill a barrel, there’s something really satisfying about it."