This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Town of Holly Springs.

Bombshell Beer Company in Holly Springs is appropriately named as it’s owned and operated by three bombshell women — Michelle Miniutti, Ellen Joyner and Jackie Hudspeth. However, “bombshell” is also a reference to the word’s definition of an unexpected surprise.

Bombshell Beer Company is the first women-owned microbrewery in North Carolina, emphasizing the beer industry’s reputation as a boys club. And while advertisements and commercials typically portray it as a man’s drink of choice, beer is just as popular among women.

“History tells us that brewing beer was traditionally a woman’s job. Until Medieval times, it was the woman’s job to brew beer for the household and laws of that time stated that the tools of brewing were solely the woman’s property,” the beer company’s website declares. “The role of men in brewing began to grow with the rise of monasteries during the Middle Ages. Until the age of Enlightenment and Industrialization, women represented 78 percent of licensed brewers. From that period on, the role of women in brewing declined rapidly.”

Taking this into consideration, it seems Miniutti and her partners are carrying on the traditions of their foremothers.

“This is an industry that does not have a lot of women involved, and we wanted to change that,” Miniutti said. “We want to show that it’s not just guys drinking beer; that there are women drinking beer too. We want to be integral in changing that stereotypical demographic that’s associated with beer drinking.”

In 2011, Miniutti and Joyner realized their passion for craft beer could be a potential business opportunity.

Both frequented local breweries when the weather wasn’t conducive to playing golf, which they did together often. Additionally, Joyner had been home brewing her own beer for 10 years.

Even though both women had full-time jobs and no entrepreneurial experience, the idea for Bombshell Beer dawned on Miniutti one night in — where else? — a tavern.

“One day we were on a brew tour and then we went to dinner, and I looked at Ellen and said, ‘Oh my goodness. I can’t believe that we haven’t thought about potentially opening up our own microbrewery,'” Miniutti recalled.

Miniutti and Joyner looped in their friend Hudspeth, and the three women spent a year doing in-depth planning and preliminary work for the business. After completing their business plan and finding a location in Holly Springs — which was very important to them — they opened Bombshell Beer, a tap brew and production facility, in 2013.

“We wanted to be in this community. We knew Holly Springs was growing and there were a lot of plans for the town,” Miniutti said. “In my professional dealings, whenever people would move to this area, they embraced Holly Springs because they found that it really offered a quality of life that they were looking for. We knew where we wanted to operate our business from.”

After securing their location in January 2013, it took eight months to build it out. All three women still held down their corporate positions while the lengthy process was underway, but now Miniutti, Joyner and Hudspeth run Bombshell Beer full-time.

Tap brew accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the business, and 65 to 70 percent of the business is getting beer shipped to bars, restaurants and grocery stores.

As first-time entrepreneurs, Miniutti pointed out that enlisting the right help is essential to success. But beyond legal and financial experts, contractors and more, communication is of paramount importance.

“Our attorney, who was also a woman, really emphasized communication. In her counsel to most businesses, that was the number one reason as to why businesses didn’t make it — because the owners didn’t communicate in the right way, shape or form,” Miniutti said. “When things do get tough — and they have — we circle back to that guiding light.”

A unique challenge for Bombshell Beer is the fact it’s both a retailer and a manufacturer.

Accounting and management for each category differ; and with an alcohol-based product, there are more taxes and regulation to consider. The only way to learn, as Miniutti puts it, is through experience and “experience is something you gain by making mistakes.”

Through the ups and the downs of getting the business off the ground, the Town of Holly Springs was helpful in making Bombshell Beer a reality, as many codes and zoning laws had to be enacted to allow for a brewery in town. Additionally, the women’s long-standing resident status meant they knew people in town and could spread the word about their new venture.

From partnering with local charities twice a month, to being named one of the top beer destinations in the Triangle by the Raleigh Visitors Bureau, and interest from Walmart as a potential vendor, Bombshell Beer is certainly making its mark.

Recently, Miniutti said she noticed someone she didn’t know wearing a Bombshell Beer sweatshirt at the gym. It was a gratifying experience that left her feeling touched.

“We wanted the brewery to be rooted in the community and be a place for people to gather,” Miniutti said. “The reception in general has been super awesome. A lot of local bars and restaurants have us on tap. Whenever we have our anniversary party or a big event, we usually have really great turnout. We always hear from people, ‘Oh, we love your story. We love coming here, because we feel like we’re part of that story by helping support your business.’ And, they are. We’re super thankful for that.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner the Town of Holly Springs.