What is your full name, title, and business name?
Jordan Helman, President & Co-Founder, High Bank Distillery
Give a summary of your business.
We’re a full-service bar and restaurant located in Grandview, Ohio, but we also have a major focus on micro distilling. We distill spirits onsite including, Whiskey, Bourbon, Gin, and Vodka. As far as on the restaurant side of things, we put a really big focus on getting craft, quality, and handmade products. We also put a big focus on attention to service.
How did the idea for your business come about?
Before starting High Bank, my wife opened a business called Zest Juice Company, which is a cold-pressed juice and smoothie business. We have four locations around the city. That was my biggest first foray into the world of foodservice and it ignited a passion for the service industry for me. At the time, my friend Adam was our graphic designer for Zest and we just hit it off from a work perspective. We just were aligned in the way that we approached business. So we kind of decided we wanted to try and do something together. I was passionate about wanting to start a full-service food and beverage operation versus the more quick service that we had with Zest Juice. I would say he’s more of a creator, Adam. Again, he’s a designer. He’s just a very creative person who likes to create things, so he was interested in working together, but not specifically just food and beverage operations. He wanted to dive deeper into it and create something. So that’s kind of what sparked the distillery aspect of it.
Adam grew up in Louisville so he has a big tie to Bourbon Country and we’re both just really big bourbon and whiskey fans. There’s so much that went into it but at the end of the day, we just have a passion for spirits, food service, and we wanted the opportunity to work together. Also, we just felt like there was a really big kind of hole in the market when it came to Ohio, distilled spirits. We thought we could bring a lot of value into that space. Then again, on the foodservice side, we just thought there was a really good opportunity to fill a void in the space of casual but still high-quality food. The passion and opportunity summed it up for us.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
Things usually evolve, but the first couple of weeks we opened, we were absolutely crushed, it was unbelievable. So early on, as far as the restaurant side of things, we felt that we honed in on something that people were looking for in the market. Our bread and butter, from my perspective, is the fact that we are a casual establishment, but we obsess over service and quality while keeping things at a personal price point. So, again, I think pretty early on, we felt like we had hit that niche in the market that we were hoping to hit. For the restaurant side, that was a pretty big indicator for us early on.
For the distillery, yesterday, we got the biggest validation of who we are as a distillery. San Francisco has the world’s spirit competition, which is arguably the most reputable spirits competition in the country and we just found out that our High Bank Whiskey War Barrel Proof won Best American Blended Whiskey for 2021 in the entire country. They have over 3,000 applicants and it’s pretty mind-blowing, quite frankly. I think we’re the first Ohio distillery to ever win Best American Blended Whiskey. We’ve had a lot of success for the distillery, but when you win that award from people, who I guarantee don’t know who the hell High Bank Distillery is, is a pretty big validation from the other side of things. That was a big moment for us.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
It means a lot. Yes, the freedom of being an entrepreneur is incredible. Going back in time, I feel like I always had this moment that I talk about when I was around 12 years old where I just knew I wanted to work for myself. I never knew what that looked like or how that would work itself out eventually. But, I just knew since I was pretty young that I wanted to work for myself in whatever capacity that was. But again, I think a lot of it is just the freedom of being an entrepreneur that I revel in. At the same time, it’s a lot of hours of hard work and a lot of sacrifices, whether it’s personal or family. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, at least in my experience, you have to be willing to give up a lot. With that being said, it’s also the ultimate validation of knowing you built something, kind of on your own, in a sense. You’re not working for somebody else’s company, you’re not working for somebody else’s vision, you’re working for your dream and your vision. To see that come to fruition and to be successful, to me, there’s not anything more enjoyable or validating that I can imagine so, yeah, it’s super fulfilling.
Did you always work for yourself or did you start in a different career path?
I started when I graduated from college working for Nationwide Insurance for four years and then I worked for Motorists Insurance for another year and a half. So I spent about five or six total years in corporate America, which I’m extremely appreciative of that time, especially being in the restaurant industry. I think the structure that I had to operate around in the corporate America setting has made me a much better operator in the restaurant industry. I have immense respect for the restaurant industry and the many people who have come before me that have had a lot of success. But, from my own experience, I see a lot of lack of structure in the industry. So I appreciate that experience I got coming out of corporate America, which obviously, is an extremely structured, extremely polished environment. I don’t bring all of that to the restaurant industry by any means, but I feel like it gave me a strong baseline to build my business around and do things maybe a little bit differently than other operators might do in the city.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
I’ve pretty much lived in Columbus my entire life other than the couple of years I lived in Cleveland. I think one of the biggest things that I love about Columbus is just how much pride people have in the city. People always show up for local, they always show up for stuff that is Columbus. I have friends that live in other cities and I have friends that moved out of Columbus and I just feel like you don’t see the local passion in other places that I feel like we have here in Columbus. Especially being a local business owner, it’s special to me to be a part of a city that cares so much about it. I like taking care of our own and empowering the businesses that are Columbus owned, Columbus founded it, it’s an incredible city. It’s an incredible group of people that we have here in Columbus. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of such a special community.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
It’s not nearly as glamorous as it seems, it’s so much hard work. I think that’s the biggest thing you have to be willing to sacrifice so much. You have to be willing to sacrifice your nights, your weekends, hanging out with friends, your time for family. You’re going to miss things. Again, it’s so fulfilling in so many ways, but especially in those early months and weeks and years, there’s just so much you have to be willing to give up. However, there are always outliers, some people will just find immediate success and maybe their story will be different from mine. But I think especially from having the opportunity, fortunately, to connect with a lot of fellow business owners over the years, you hear a similar story of just the amount of sacrifice that you had to be willing to make to eventually make it. I think that’s the biggest thing that always resonates with me. Anytime I talk to people coming up in the industry or just people that want to start their businesses, I’m always 100 percent supportive but, at the same time, you have to be ready to make some big sacrifices and understand that this is not an easy road. There’s always going to be somebody bigger than you, has more money than you, and who has more resources than you. So, you have to want it, you have to be willing to fight for it, and you just have to be willing to make some sacrifices along the way that might make you a little bit uncomfortable. But if you believe in what you’re doing, it will eventually be worth it. That’s kind of what I always lean back on.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
I mean, a lot of things, but from our perspective, if we don’t have great people working for us, it doesn’t matter whether it’s me and Adam or my other two business partners, Jeff and Calvin, we’re only four guys at the end of the day. There’s only so much we can do. We are so reliant on the talent that we have in our building. I guess I lay awake at night hoping and praying that we’re doing everything in our power to make sure that the people that work for us feel valued, that they feel like they’re working for a good company, that they feel like we’re doing everything we can to invest in them, and invest in the business. Thinking of our people keeps me up at night, because at the end of the day, they, more than anything, determine how much success our business can have. So making sure that we’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure our people feel valued and taken care of, that’s really what keeps me up at night.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
That’s tough because I don’t want to judge other people’s journeys. I’d say I’m more hardworking than most people, to be completely frank, I’m sad to say it, but I’ll work every hour of every day of every week if I have to. It doesn’t faze me remotely. Maybe almost to a fault. I would say I will sacrifice everything in my personal life to make sure that my business doesn’t suffer. It’s not just that I don’t care about all those things, but I also feel an extreme obligation to the people that have put their faith in me and who whose income relies on my business, them paying their bills and taking care of their family relies on my business. I feel an extreme obligation to my team and I’ll do damn near anything for any of them when it comes to working and in what I have to invest from a time perspective. But again, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of really successful entrepreneurs over the years, a lot of successful restaurant owners as well. With that being said, there’s a recurring theme of just people that are willing to dump in countless hours to build it up and to make it work. I’ve also met many entrepreneurs over the years who didn’t make it. It’s not that they weren’t hard workers. I just think the mentality of “I will put everything into this,” that’s kind of a recurring theme to me of what it takes to be successful. Again, there’s always going to be outliers. There’s always going to be people who can work a 40 hour week and somehow build an incredible business, which is amazing. I’ve got nothing but respect for them. But I think more often than not, it takes so much sacrifice to build a small business and to be a successful entrepreneur, and I think with a lot of people, it’s just not something they’re willing to do. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not easy. It’s not enjoyable to miss out on birthdays, family functions, and all kinds of different things. But I guess to me, that’s just kind of what separates me from other people and in a lot of circumstances, I’ll do whatever it takes.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, a plugin for a website, etc.)?
My team. Surrounding myself with people who have skills that I don’t have. We have a controller on staff, his name’s Chris. I rely on him so much to give me timely financial information, to give me the timely cost of goods, and to give me timely labor. When we first started our business, we outsourced all of our accounting but about six months in, we decided to take those funds and invest in somebody to work for us, internally, and one hundred percent of the folks at our business. That’s been, from my perspective, one of the biggest game-changers for us, just having that timely financial data to make decisions, as needed for our business, especially in the restaurant industry. We’re already dealing with tight margins, so to be able to understand where our biggest costs lie and to be able to pivot quickly has been huge for us. But again, this is just one example of the team aspect, without the people that we have around us, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’ve won 614 magazine’s “Best Creative Cocktails” in the city two years in a row. That’s one hundred percent a function of the talented people that work for us, that’s not the owners. We’re not cocktail makers, but we’re just so fortunate to have talented people on our team.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Probably marketing, we have a heavy marketing budget. There’s a lot of incredible businesses out there who have been able to grow and spend zero dollars on marketing, but marketing is something we’ve always leaned into, not only just from the perspective of wanting to utilize marketing to grow our business. That’s a function of it but we also view marketing as a way to kind of give people a bigger insight into who we are as a business and what we’re passionate about, what our interests are the whole behind the scenes, and all that jazz. I would say marketing is something that we’ve maybe leaned into a little more than maybe other local or smaller businesses typically do.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
I think over the last couple of years, we’ve all seen the extreme value of social media, so that’s been a big one. But over the last 18 months, something that we’re investing probably outside of the norms of marketing, the thing that we’re investing the most in is video. That’s something we spend a lot of time on. That’s one kind of traditional marketing we spend money on. We probably have our biggest spends going towards video content, so that’s something that I find kind of interesting, especially as a small business.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
I would say the growth of our business. We have new locations in the works. One, hopefully, that will open later this year. We haven’t announced everything yet, but I would just say the overall growth of the business is something I’m very excited about. With covid this year, it’s been tough for a lot of businesses, but we found some ways to shine and pivot during covid and kind of make the best out of a terrible situation. The things that we did during that time, I think have helped set us up for future growth as we’re talking to lenders and things like that. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and just based upon the ways we were able to pivot during covid and again, just make the best out of a really bad situation, and even the momentum we’ve been able to gain since then and hold on to. Future growth is definitely what I’m most excited about.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? Please provide your name and business name so we can give them credit!
I would say the best Columbus resource is probably GBQ, an accounting company, and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP. They do a great job supporting us and making sure we’re always positioned for success.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
From the restaurant perspective, the thing that I tell my team is that my goal isn’t to be the biggest restaurant group in Ohio. My goal is just to be the best. Whether that’s 3 restaurants or whether that’s 10 restaurants, the goal every day is to be the best operators in Columbus and Ohio. Especially within the 10-year time frame, our vision surpasses just staying in the Ohio market or the Columbus market. So on the restaurant side, it’s definitely like how do we be the best every day? That’s what we strive for. Ten years on the distillery side, I think it’s tackling the Midwest. Our focus is always going to be on how are we the best in Columbus and how are we the best in the state of Ohio? Ohio is home for us, so that’s our biggest priority. We’re not in a rush to move into other states or move in other markets. We just want to be the best that we can be for the state of Ohio. But inevitably, in 10 years, growth is likely going to move us beyond the Ohio borders. Sp collectively, even, it’s not about being the biggest, we just want to be known for being the best at what we do. That’s what we obsess over every day. That’s what gets us up in the morning and that’s what drives us. We just want to be the best.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
I have two daughters, my business partner, Adam, has three daughters, my business partner Jeff, has three sons and a daughter. Family is huge for us. I guess it’s probably realistic to imagine that at least one of those kids will want to be involved in the business, but I don’t know, it’s tough. We’re all in our mid to late thirties and it’s almost just kind of hard to imagine 25 years from now. We kind of life in the day, in that sense. If an incredible opportunity came to us that allowed us to exit the business and put our families in an unimaginable position. We all pretty much came from pretty humble beginnings. That’s something we’d probably always explore. But it would also be incredible to have a distillery that’s maybe 50 years old, especially after just winning the best blended American whiskey. To establish ourselves as a national presence and distillery community, would be extremely special and something that would honestly just probably take years to build. I guess all I can say is we don’t have a preconceived notion of what we want to happen in 10 or 20 years. We’re just trying to work as hard as we can to build this thing and do the best we can every day, and just see where it takes us.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
The entrepreneur I look up to the most is probably Elon Musk because he’s just absolutely changing the world. I have a ton of respect for John Lanni, who runs the Thunderdome Restaurant Group out of Cincinnati, with his brother, Joe Lanni. I would love to have something as big and successful as what they’ve built someday. He’s one of the guys that I admire from afar. I have a ton of admiration and respect for what they’ve created.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
I’m a big hockey fan, so if you’re in Columbus and you’ve never been to a hockey game, especially when we’re good and when there’s covid going on, the Blue Jackets experience is pretty incredible from my perspective. I think Columbus has a pretty strong pizza scene too. Pizza is my favorite food. I love pizza. Probably Enrico’s in Dublin, to me, is one of the best pizza spots in the city. It’s incredible. It’s an Italian family who runs that thing. When you go in there, there’s like two or three generations of family working there, which I think is outstanding. They just make an incredible product. If I’m eating and I can go anywhere, I’m probably going to run through Enrico’s.