The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Linda Losey, Bloomery Plantation Distillery
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
Linda Losey has written a best-selling book. Ridden across country on horseback – alone. She’s weathered flooding, a hurricane and even an earthquake. Little surprise then that when Linda set out to create a limoncello that rivals the best liqueur Italy has to offer, her dogged determination was her greatest asset. “I had this vision,” Linda said. “One of my problems is I can see things, see my end goals and can bring them to life. That’s a blessing and a curse. I’m a bulldog – determined, stubborn.My passion is creating. I was born to give birth.”
Together with husband Tom Kiefer, Linda began researching how to make limoncello in late 2010. Neither had experience in distilling spirits. Linda’s background is in marketing and public relations; Tom’s in civil engineering. What they did have were a few bottles of top-tier limoncello purchased on a recent trip to Italy. They began experimenting, inviting family and friends to compare their distilled spirits to the crème de la crème in head-to-head taste tests. And, voila!
“We won 100 percent of the time,” Linda explained. “Tom said, ‘I think we’ve got something here. I think we could probably make this.’ ”
With their winning recipe in hand, Linda and Tom purchased 12-acres and a dilapidated 1840s cabin in Charles Town. With the help of Linda’s former husband Rob Losey (who is a co-owner), Bloomery Plantation Distillery blossomed within a few months.
Today, the mini-distillery has 15 employees and serves up a variety of handcrafted cordials, everything from Black Walnut, Pumpkin Spice and Peach to Chocolate Raspberry and Ginger Shine. Many of the ingredients are grown on site, including walnuts, raspberries, pumpkins, ginger and, yes, even lemons.
“Lemons aren’t supposed to be grown in West Virginia,” Linda said, “but, by God, they are.” Albeit, in a greenhouse. “What I love is supporting local farmers. What we don’t grow we buy locally, what we can get here.”
The couple chose Jefferson County, West Virginia, because of its proximity to their farm in Maryland, because Pennsylvania and Virginia did not allow distilleries to have tasting rooms, and because Maryland, at the time, required a tasting room to be part of a winery.
“West Virginia was great,” Linda said. “They said, ‘Sure, come on down. The only requirement is that you produce 25percent of your raw agricultural ingredients.’ ” Bloomery’s SweetShines are sold in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. “We’re in talks with distributors in Canada and the UK, and Rob just returned from Germany,” Linda said.
“We want to take it national. We want to grow the brand,” Linda said. The SweetShine line, which the company whimsically touts as an “artisanal blend of virtue and vice,” has been honored with numerous five-star awards. Visitors can savor sweet sips in the cozy sampling room, which occupies part of the restored cabin. More than 45,000 unique visitors have passed through Bloomery’s doors since 2011, hailing from across North America and, indeed, from around the world.
“One of the great things we do is customer service, customer engagement, which I think is important in any business,” Linda said. “We have a unique cast of characters. Everyone participates in that. Customers call this ‘the happiest place in the world.’ ”
Linda credits much of the success of Bloomery to that cast of characters, whom she describes as a like a family. The group often has potluck dinners on Saturdays, dines out together or just sits around a bonfire and socializes. “Everybody’s allowed to be who they want to be here,” Linda said. “Not just allowed,” interjected Eric Bell, CFO and Operations Manager, “but encouraged.” “I have a team of 14 here,” Linda continued. “Thank God they’ve bought into my vision, and they carry it out very well. I just trust that everyone is going to give me their best – and they do.” Linda believes that entrepreneurial success requires three “C’s”: courage, commitment and creativity.
“These three things are essential,” Linda said. “I could add another “C”: challenge. Don’t be afraid of challenges because you’re going to meet challenges. Oh my gosh, every day.”
Bloomery Plantation Distillery is open Monday through Thursday, noon to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit the website at bloomerysweetshine.com.