(WGHP) — John Clowney is a numbers guy.
It’s the first thing you notice when you research his background—which is what I do before every extended interview.
From Wake Forest University, he has a bachelor’s degree in analytical finance and a master’s in accountancy.
He’s a certified, but not licensed, public accountant. That means he can’t do his own taxes. But he’s certainly capable.
“I think it’s the kind of background and backbone of training that you need if you’re going to run any kind of business,” he told me.
And he knows a lot about running a business.
Clowney is the co-founder, owner and CEO of Bull City Ciderworks, the company he and three friends founded in Durham in 2013 and is now the largest independently-owned and operated cidery in North Carolina.
But first, let’s rewind a bit.
He was born in Winston-Salem but grew up in Davidson County spending much of his time in Midway and Lexington.
After college, he worked in New York City and Philadephia in stock analysis and commercial real estate before moving to Raleigh in 2011 when his former wife began a veterinary medicine residency at North Carolina State University.
In 2012, he tried to make beer using a home brew kit. The beer wasn’t great.
“After we did a couple of batches of that, one of my friends had moved back to North Carolina (we grew up in Davidson County together) to start a Ph.D. program,” Clowney said. “And we started making (hard apple) cider in the backyard.”
A couple of other friends would join the operation. And the four partners opened what would become the first Bull City Ciderworks cider bar in downtown Durham in June of 2014.
“The reason we started in Durham was because everybody lived in Durham except for me. I lived in Raleigh,” he said.
But reaching a conclusion on a name for a new company was a challenge. At first, the partners went with Cider Bros, LLC.
“It’s like you and I are ‘bros.’ We’ve been hanging out,” he told me. “And that’s still our legal entity.”
But it was also the similar name of a company on the west coast.
“I got a ‘cease and desist’ letter from an attorney in San Francisco. Can’t use ‘Cider Bros,” he said.
So Clowney and his partners decided to go with Durham’s nickname: “Bull City.”
And when the private equity real estate firm Clowney was working for changed hands, he decided to go into hard cider-making full-time— using his financial expertise to raise capital for the new company.
But the time in Durham would be short-lived.
The building’s owner decided to sell the place to the City of Durham so it could build a new police headquarters on the site. After another potential cidery site in Durham fell through, Clowney and his partners decided to move Bull City to Lexington, the community where he grew up.
“And I think one of the most important things for us in deciding to come here was…there was good real estate,” Clowney said. “But it was really talking to the city and its leadership and understanding (their mission of) ‘hey, we’re not just sitting around. We are trying to grow.’”
The real estate was what used to be a furniture factory near the railroad in what the city now calls the “Depot District.” Today, this place is not only the home of Bull City’s headquarters and flagship cider bar, it’s the home of the production facilities.
The apples the company uses are grown in orchards across the country, including North Carolina. They’re pressed at a facility in Michigan and delivered by truck to Lexington—where the product is produced, bottled and sent to grocery stores, restaurants and four Bull City cider bars in North Carolina.
They include locations in Greensboro, Cary, Durham (yes, Bull City Ciderworks has a presence in Durham again) and one that will open this summer in Wilmington.
As for Clowney, he’s become fully involved in making sure Lexington has a bright future.
He’s the current board chair of the United Way of Davidson County. He also ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the last election. He came in second but learned a lot.
“I had a great time…meeting all the people, campaigning, learning more honestly about the different tranches of revenue for our city,” he said.
He also believes the community has a lot of growth potential— just like his company.
“I would suspect that here in the next six months, we’ll have very limited debt. We’ll have our investors totally paid off,” he told me. “And so at that point, we can really determine what we want to do.
Spoken like a true numbers guy.
For more information on the actual hard ciders Bull City produces, be sure to watch the Newsmaker piece on demand that accompanies this posting.
For more information on Bull City Ciderworks, click here.