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After crushing the bakery biz, Fritz Knoebel alumnus set his sights on the booze world

Braving new frontiers is cool and all, but braving new frontiers in the food and beverage world—specifically the killer combination of baked goods and spirits—is next-level. That’s what DU alumnus Jeff Hopmayer (BSBA 1988) did after graduating from the Daniels College of Business’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, and he credits the School with giving him the confidence to do so.

Jeff Hopmayer

“I loved every minute of it from start to finish,” Hopmayer said of his time at DU. “The program gave me the confidence to go out there and succeed, to go out there on my own and achieve what I wanted.”

What Hopmayer achieved was creating the largest preferred food supplier for Starbucks, building multiple multi-million-dollar wine and spirits companies from the ground up, and starting a consulting business that has led him to sit on the board of directors for major players in the spirits world, including the SPI Group that produces Stoli vodka, Boston Harbor Distilling and the Bardstown Bourbon Company.

“When I first arrived at DU more than 14 years ago and started to meet alumni, I was blown away by how many entrepreneurs the school has produced—particularly in food and beverage,” said David Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School. “Jeff is a great example. He is really creative, wouldn’t fit too well in a tight corporate environment, is willing to take risk, and is totally unafraid of the hard work entrepreneurship requires.”

The hard work started shortly after Hopmayer graduated. Hopmayer’s father had always been an enthusiastic home baker, and, armed with the know-how and confidence he got from the School, Hopmayer proposed that the two of them start a bakery in Chicago. They sold scones—dad’s specialty—before most Americans even knew what scones were. Their struggles didn’t last long, though, as one day Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, wandered into the bakery.

“He said, ‘I love your scones, will you guys supply me?’” Hopmayer recalled. “At the time he had 12 stores in the world. We didn’t know how to make muffins or cookies, but we taught ourselves along the way. We grew with Starbucks and continued to supply them for 10 years.”

After a decade of growing their tiny bakery into a supplier of more than 500 Starbucks stores around the world, Hopmayer was ready for a change. With one phone call he sold the business, and after some time off realized that his passion was in the wine and spirits world. So, among other things, Hopmayer launched a vodka called Players Extreme, ran a public U.K.-listed wine and spirits company representing brands like Lafite Rothschild, purchased (and closed) a giant winery in California, and became a dynamo bourbon and spirits supplier. He also donned the covers of Inc.Forbes and Fortune magazines.

With more than 30 years’ experience growing and leading companies, the Nashville resident transitioned to consulting for spirits brands, sharing his knowledge with other emerging entrepreneurs. But he does things a little differently—he doesn’t charge for advice.

“When you’re able to really help these people at all different levels and do it without charging anything, you have such a unique relationship with them,” Hopmayer said. “I really enjoy making people’s dreams come true. The industry is loaded with great people and full of upstarts that just need people to trust and ask questions of. The traditional model of consulting companies charging so much to figure out problems and then monthly expenses just didn’t seem right. We only charge a success fee if something happens. All expenses are on us—it’s just good karma.”

Free consulting, a willingness to help and practicing good karma in the often-cutthroat booze world? Just another new frontier for Hopmayer.

To learn more about Hopmayer’s wine and spirits consulting business, Brindiamo Group, visit brindiamogroup.com.