As the majority owner of both the New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints, Gayle Benson has no offseason or downtime as it is, yet she is staying active in stimulating local and regional economic growth. She just wrapped up the first round of funding for Benson Capital Partners, securing $50 million for investment in the Gulf Coast region. She also owns Dixie Beer, New Orleans’ oldest operating brewery, which announced a name change this week. Since 1907, Dixie has been the neighborhood beer of New Orleans and its brewery will soon be renamed the Faubourg Brewing Company.
Benson said in a press release, “When my husband and I acquired the majority interest in Dixie Beer in 2016, we recognized that we were investing in more than a brewery, we were investing in a strong and resilient community. When the team embarked upon this journey in June, we understood that our new name must encompass the spirit and diversity of all of New Orleans’s unique neighborhoods. The Faubourg Beer Company is a celebration of our city, our people, and our commitment to New Orleans. Our investments in New Orleans East will continue, and bringing jobs and economic opportunity to our community will remain at the forefront.”
Brewery General Manager Jim Birch said the Faubourg name (pronounce Fo-Burg) was both a popular in house candidate and one of the leaders among the 5400 online submissions. Birch added, “It was definitely one of the more popular submissions we got from the public. It was also one of the internal favorites so it was exciting for us to see that name come up. Once we started with test marketing we found the Faubourg name was hitting on all the dimensions of the brand strategy that we planned.”
Birch continued regarding the Faubourg moniker and the translation meaning neighborhood, “In the market, it was embraced by locals. It was authentic without being too cliche and it was intriguing to non-locals outside of the New Orleans DNA that were tested who might not have known what the French origins were but with quick translation they really understood ‘The Neighborhood’ and the neighborhood pride we were trying to convey in the name.”
Faubourg is a common addition to name of sections of the city. Per the original press release Birch said, “Our products have always brought people together, and we believe, like so many others, that “Faubourg” is a unifying name that celebrates every corner of New Orleans. Our beer has been served in this city’s neighborhood bars and markets since 1907 and we look forward to the next 100 years. We’re grateful for the incredible participation from the public and it’s our pleasure to share this new name with everyone now.”
In talking with Birch, curiosity won over and it had to be asked: Will Faubourg be raising the sponsorship stakes, perhaps elevating Faubourg to the Pelicans’ jersey?
Birch replied with a laugh, “No you probably won’t be seeing Faubourg on the Pelicans’ jersey but we are proud partners with the Saints and Pelicans. We are going to explore retail product experiences during our launch campaign in January. If you go into the Superdome or Smoothie King Center right now you’ll see Dixie and Voodoo. Sports marketing for the Faubourg beer brand is going to be a huge component of what we do. You’ll absolutely see us in the arenas competing alongside internationally-owned macro breweries. We are still small. We cannot afford any of the really high priced sponsorships. Even though it is the same owner we have to pay and compete like the big boys do.”
To compete, Faubourg will be going back to those 1907 roots that will be present on packaging going forward. Birch explained, “It’s the same company, it’s the same team, it’s the same ownership with the same values, so our 1907 heritage is still part of Faubourg brewing and so you’ll see that on the packaging and at the brewery. From a recipe perspective, I can tell you the Dixie Lager recipe from 1907 is what we are going to. We are going to exclude rice which was added as an adjunct in the mid-20th century during the war years. A lot of macro breweries left it in there because it is cheaper. We want to go back to that original barley recipe.”
As for noticing the changes beyond the name, Birch said, “Someone picks up a Faubourg lager three months from now and tries it versus Dixie you’ll instantaneously recognize the beers. The Faubourg lager will be a bit crisper, it is going to have a tad more alcohol. It won’t have the rice, it’ll have the more frothy, foamy head. That’s the plan on the lager side. With the rest of the portfolio, we have plans to release an IPA and two other beers. I’m not quite ready to announce them yet. We are still working on packaging. We will also have a rotating seasonal SKU. It is going to be a very tight portfolio. We are taking everything we learned in the past few years and incorporating that into this new packaging and design. Initial feedback from key accounts and from our wholesalers has been extremely positive so we remain really committed to what we are doing right now.”
The brewery and brand have room to grow. Birch said, “One of the most important aspects of the brewery we built here last year is scale. We have a tremendous state of the art manufacturing facility that was designed to Cadillac the place really, which is the word our team uses. We have the ability to push out over 100,000 barrels of beer. In order to do so, we want to be the largest brewery in New Orleans, in Louisiana, and we want to build a 50-state distribution eventually.” Birch wants to build out to, “where if you go into any cajun-creole restaurant anywhere in this country there is going to be Faubourg beer on tap.”
Tom and Gayle Benson bought the brewery after Hurricane Katrina, which force the breweries operations to relocate out of state. The company re-established the brewery in New Orleans East, opening doors and renewing operations in the city on January 25, 2020. The plan according to Birch is to have Faubourg products available for purchase by January 2021. After that, the only place to find Dixie displays will be the renamed New Orleans Beer Museum housing 300 years of brewing history in the region.
According to Birch the move and the name change was “really exciting, the team is jazzed up. We are excited to get going. We realized early on that the name just had implications and it was offensive to certain people and that’s not what we are all about. I’m happy we made this decision before we were pushed to do so.”
The development of a relationship with the city goes beyond a name change. Birch recalled, “If I go back to the original decision Mr. and Mrs. Benson made on where to locate the brewery, the site New Orleans East was chosen not just because of the space and ease of our future expansion. It was picked also so that we could engage with the community here in a meaningful way and use the state of the art manufacturing facility. The goal is to create new skilled jobs and a training program.”
Progress is on schedule despite the pandemic. Birch was adamant, “We were off to a great start this year. Some people have implied we are changing the name because it was not doing that well. That’s not true at all. We were actually up this year. We are one of two breweries in Louisiana posting positive results, we are actually up double digits. We have a plan and a long strategy. We have identified who we are and who our customers are and how we can get bigger so that with every market share point we gain, I can go out and hire 10-15 new production employees, marketing folks, and salespeople.”
He hopes that money stays in the community. “A dollar spent on a Faubourg beer is reinvested directly in the community whereas a dollar spent on a Bud, Miller, or Coors leaves the state because it is brewed in Texas. Then it leaves the country because they are owned by InBev (Belgium) and MolsonCoors (Canada). I think that the local aspect is going to be incredibly important coming out of Covid where the people go back into the community, they buy local, they think about where they are spending their money. This will be an option where you know where your money is going to be used when you buy a Faubourg beer.”
The Faubourg location is “one of the first places with 15 acres of socially distanced space to be able to offer this outdoor seating with live music and so we’ve been supporting local musicians for the past month and a half really, since we have been open, and we are going to continue to do that. Our commitment and our transparency in how we are doing that are going to go up significantly under the new Faubourg name” Birch said.
Currently, the brewery has approximately 40 employees according to Birch, including retail staff and producing “well over 10,000 barrels per year. We had less than a 1% market share but I think if we are able to get a 1% market share in the near future, we are looking at doubling the number of employees. Our goal is to get to 100 (employees) in 18 months. I know we can do it. I know it is dependent on volume and it’s also dependent on folks coming to visit us. It’s easily achievable, fingers crossed, that the pandemic ends at some point or we get a vaccine.”
Even amid pandemic restrictions, Birch and the team have been full speed ahead with the plans of making the brewery a community hub. Birch said, “We are well on our way to fulfilling the initial hiring goals since this January with our team. I think what you will see from Faubourg, we are going to make a much more public and concerted effort to develop a world-class jobs training program. We are going to do that in partnership with local community groups that we are already started working with. Since we opened our doors on January 25 of this year, pre-Covid, we had neighborhood association meetings and business roundtables. We have been supporting the Louisiana Restaurant Association during Covid. We partnered with Second Harvest to host a food distribution drive and all of these efforts are just the beginning to the long-term commitment Faubourg brewery is going to make.”
“There are going to be some changes and there are a lot of challenges in creating the new brand. Luckily we have relevant experience transitioning Dixie from contracting after 15 years to New Orleans full production this past January. Our team has really been up to the task. We are working closely now with our wholesale partners and their key accounts, bars, and grocery stores, and the rest of our eight-state distributors. The goal right now is to make sure we retire the Dixie brand and transition it into Faubourg. The logistics are really about SKU management and things like that, making sure we have a point of sale and a full launch program that can slot into where we currently have existing products.”