Alumni Spotlight: Rod Landness
History meets modern ingenuity in Richmond’s historic Depot District, and Rod, BA’09, and Kiera Landess are steadfast in carving out a niche of their own.
Here, abandoned warehouses, a collapsing train depot and the city’s oldest firehouse are getting new life as budding entrepreneurs create a reawakening in the city’s once-forgotten business district. The Landesses, in fact, are using a piece of the past as their company’s namesake.
The Richmond couple is co-owners of the New Boswell Brewing Company named after Ezra Boswell, a school teacher and city clerk, who in 1816 opened “Boswell’s,” the first brewery in the city and state. The original brewery was located not far from where the Landesses have planted their entrepreneurial roots at 413 N. Eighth St.
“It’s coming up on 100 years since there’s been a brewery in town,” said Rod Landess. “And it’s really a bridge between the modern beer and what most microbreweries are making right now.”
Rod left IU East with a bachelor’s degree and a newfound enthusiasm for entrepreneurship to create the business, which brews ales inspired by traditional American beers. He hit the ground running after commencement.
“It’s been a steady amount of work since graduation for me last year,” Rod said. “I went directly from all that work on finals week, to starting the brewery immediately after finals. I started moving into the building and getting that ready. The whole summer was just working all day and driving back and forth. I got to the point where I was ready to open, but I had to work my day job, too.”
The venture got a boost through an Indiana start-up grant worth up to $10,000 in order to become established as a wholesaler to local bars and restaurants. The Landesses also spent the past summer promoting their products at weekend festivals across the region. In the long term, the couple plan to develop the business’ store front, ramp up production and offer resources to fellow microbrewers. At the same time, Rod continues to work in Richmond Community Schools’ information technology department while Kiera operates a web design business of her own.
“We’re at the point where we can sell the beer,” Rod said. “We haven’t been able to get out and make enough of it. I’ve been brewing once or twice a week.”
The company’s early success follows a tried-and-true business concept.
“Rod is a thinker,” said Tim Scales, Landess’ former professor, and IU East’s director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “He’s a moderate risk-taker. He’s not going to take on something that’s foolish.
“Rod is doing the model that I actually teach often,” he said. “That’s start small, start slow and test the market. As the market accepts you, build up as you can.”
Neighboring Depot District businesses have already rolled out the red carpet for the couple. The 4th Floor Blues Club hosted the company’s grand opening on St. Patrick’s Day, an event that ended with lots of “empty cups.” And Steve Terzini, the owner of Little Sheba’s restaurant and Zini’s place, a bar, is the company’s top customer.
“It’s cool,” Terzini said. “I’d love to see it (the company’s storefront) so you can walk in and taste the beers.”
Terzini has carried New Boswell’s brown and cream ales — one at a time— and is quick to offer them to his customers who are looking to try something new.
“I tell them, ‘We have a local brew, you want to try it?’ ” Terzini said. “We’ve sold a lot of it.”
Soon, New Boswell will also make a special brew that will be sold at the Firehouse BBQ & Blues, a restaurant opening in Richmond’s oldest firehouse.
The brewery is one of about thirty in the state, about the same number of breweries that existed before National Prohibition shut down all legitimate operations in 1918, according to the Brewers Guild of Indiana.
The Landesses say interest in their company has been wide ranging.
“Some people have called the Brewers Guild of Indiana to find out what’s going on in Indiana and they will send them our way,” Rod said. “We had a guy who was starting a brewery in Florida who stopped by to see our setup. It’s been really surprising.”
The couple has found that they fit well in to a fraternity of sorts of beer makers.
“Everyone seems so friendly,” Kiera Landess said. “You’re never without friends when you’re a brewer.”
“It’s kind of a little club,” Rod said. “Everyone says that there are only nice people in brewing. They are really open about technique and ingredients. Having a recipe doesn’t mean you know how to make the beer.
“We’ve even had people volunteer to let us try out their equipment, to brew beer on their system and to learn a bit more about how that works,” he said.
Despite the support and excitement surrounding their business, getting started has been a challenge.
“Stress has been a big issue,” Rod said. “Like managing the stress and being able to work the hours we’re working, both of us.”
“Every time you reach a new point where you had never been this stressed before in your life, at least you know that if you get through that, you’ll always be able to get to that point again.
“Once I just have the brewery to worry about, we’ll be good.”