For Alabama native Jason Ridgel, the goal is to only drink Black-owned spirits by the year 2022. Not only has the Tennessee State University graduate turned serial entrepreneur created his own whiskey brand, Guidance Whiskey, he is also making it his mission to provide the resources needed for aspiring Black spirit makers to get their brands off the ground.
While working in corporate America after college, Ridgel often found himself daydreaming about life outside of the corporate world. After being passed up for a big promotion he decided to quit his job and try his hand at entrepreneurship.
“All I knew was that I had bills and two sons, and I needed to take care of them,” Ridgel told Travel Noire.
He started with a cleaning service that quickly rose to become number three in Tennessee. He sold his share to his partner and moved across the country to California. From there he went to get his massage therapist license and started a mobile service that he successfully pitched to corporate offices in Los Angeles.
After the recession hit and businesses were no longer paying for employees’ massage services, he had to think of his next plan.
“I got in a car accident and begin seeing a chiropractor. I formed a relationship that led me to provide massage services to the office’s clients.”
Yet, Ridgel still wasn’t done. He worked his way up to becoming the marketing director for the chiropractor company which led him to the medical equipment industry, which somehow led to a discussion of him creating the next Black-owned spirit brand.
Initially, he wanted to become the first Black saké maker but quickly learned that wasn’t a drink he could consume on the daily. After speaking with a close friend who also happened to be a wine broker, she informed him about new whiskey laws coming out of Tennessee. So he moved back to the East Coast.
“Finding a distiller to work with was the hard part,” Ridgel said. “Everyone I came into contact with only wanted to work with people who had already established some buzz in the industry.”
He ended up finding a distiller in Iowa that also allowed him to do things his way, and in October 2018, Guidance Whiskey officially launched.
For Ridgel and his team, the word ‘guidance’ just made sense. It represents all those that came before and those that helped along the way. Guidance can also represent a journey or direction.
“The brand just grew into its name.”
Ridgel is now taking on the role of a guide as he looks to help other aspiring Black spirit makers start their journey. The Guidance Family is currently made up not only of Guidance Whiskey but also Timeless Vodka and Twisted Sistuhs Wine– both Black-owned as well.
Ridgel provides aspiring brands with the resources needed, including distribution, to get them started.
“We can all make money together while creating legacies for our families. If we all come together as Black-owned spirit brands, we create buying power and ultimately take over the game. It’s not a competition. We need more of us in this space.”
You can currently find Guidance Whiskey in liquor stores in Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta. It can also be purchased online and shipped to 44 states in the U.S. Ridgel suggests that if you want certain Black-owned brands in your home market, simply request that the retailers start carrying them. This helps the brands more than anything.