The Secret to My Success: Laura Johnson, Founder and Distiller of You & Yours
When Laura Johnson was a child, she used to fake being sick so that she could play hooky from school—and stay home to watch Food Network. Fast forward a few years, to when Johnson, who today works as the founder and distiller of gin and vodka brand You & Yours, took her first distillery tour at age 18. And “when I saw that distilling allowed a similar measure of culinary creativity—the opportunity to create flavors in a spirit—I was instantly hooked,” she tells Food & Wine. “I knew I wanted to be in the distilling industry come hell or high water.”
Hell and high water, of the proverbial kind, would actually come: Though Johnson immersed herself in the industry—taking distilling courses and workshops and apprenticeships—she wasn’t able to find a job after more than 10 months. “So I made the decision to finish the business plan that would eventually become You & Yours and just start a distillery myself,” she says.
You & Yours, dubbed California’s first “destination distillery,” is perhaps one of the most Instagram-worthy tasting rooms in San Diego—to say nothing of the brand’s acclaimed gin and “yodka,” both distilled on-site. Its tasting room is decked in elements that photograph oh-so-well—salvaged wood, whitewashed brick, turquoise velvet sofas, copper and marble tables with industrial-inspired lighting and a blue-tiled bar to boot—a purposeful decision on the part of Johnson, who was determined to launch a beautiful as well as tasty brand.
“It was very important to me to create a distillery concept that put equal thought and effort into not only the quality of the product, but also the quality of the overall experience,” says Johnson, who describes You & Yours’ aesthetic as “approachable yet aspirational. I wanted it to be inviting and pleasing to the eye, yet still be a bit eclectic, relaxed yet sophisticated.”
At the distillery, guests can tour and watch the gin—Sunday gin, a fresh and citrus-flavored beverage—and vodka being made, or they can head to the bar and order from the cocktail menu, which Johnson develops. (They can also take cocktail-making classes in the space.)
It’s an (Instagram-worthy) dream that Johnson is proud to have brought to life in 2017. For anyone else who wants to open a business—whether in the beverage industry or another—Johnson is only happy to share her best advice and confidence-boosting tips and mantras.
Be confident—even in the beginning.
Johnson launched You & Yours when she couldn’t find another job in the industry—a starting point that might make anyone’s confidence take a nose dive. But she believed in what she was building, and approached every decision as if her business would undoubtedly be a success. Take even the most practical of choices, such as spending money on her business entity documents. For those who have opened a LLC or S-Corp, you may know it’s a process you can initiate online, on your own. But, “although we didn’t really have the money for it back then,” Johnson recalls, “we worked with one of the best company structuring law firm in California to draw up our investment and entity documents. It’s such a relief now to know that the legalities of my business and investment structure are rock solid and crystal clear.” And that relief, she says, is possible only because of the confidence she felt in You & Yours—that it was worth that money. “Always treat your business like it’s exactly where you want it to be,” Johnson advises. “That is, invest in your business as if it’s already successful—as in, don’t cut corners), and it will be [successful].”
Trust your gut.
As she built You & Yours, “I had a shaky feeling about a contractor we had decided to work with, which ended up being right,” Johnson recalls. Now, “I always listen to any negative feelings I have about decisions, and it’s helped avoid many potential conflicts.”
Trust your creativity.
You know the saying: you should never read the comments. Johnson forgot that warning after the brand released its first gin. “There were so many opinions, suggestions, and back-handed comments,” she says. “And I let myself cave to some of them during one batch,” which she admits she ended up hating. “I immediately went back to the original botanical recipe that I knew was right, and it’s our best-selling product by miles.”
Know when you are ready.
Even after Johnson had long built and revised a business plan, she says she was still reluctant to approach investors. “I stayed in touch with my favorite college professor after I graduated, and he ended up being an influence in how and when I approached investors,” she says. As Johnson explains, “I had been agonizing over every tiny detail of my business plan and pitch deck for months, and he finally just said, ‘Laura, it’s ready,’” she says. “He meant it won’t ever be perfect, and there’s no perfect time, so it doesn’t matter—just go for it. I had my desired funds verbally committed within a month.”