From lemonade to vodka: 19-year-old opens her own distillery

Commerce student balances schoolwork, owning a business

When Jaime Landry was young, she wanted to own a lemonade stand. Now, her ambitions have changed into the blending and selling of alcohol.

Landry held the grand opening of Black Harbour Distillery in Fox Point, N.S., in August — the summer after her first year of university.

At that time, she had two products: blueberry vodka and a blended white rum. Since then, she’s added maple rum to the mix.

Jaime Landry with her products.   Lucy Harnish

“Last summer was about opening, getting my feet wet, and this summer is about hosting weekly events and really getting into the community,” she says.

Now that Jaime is in her second year at Dalhousie University, she is ready to work hard to establish her business.

She first became acquainted with the alcohol industry after touring an old-fashioned distillery in Haiti when she was in high school.

“I fell in love with distilling there,” she says.

But she did not yet think of it as a possible career.

From a business plan to reality

Last year, Landry was tasked with creating a business plan as part of her commerce studies. Originally, she wanted to create an energy drink company. Her father, Jonpaul Landry, didn’t think it would be challenging enough.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m hearing the hardest licence to get is a distilling licence, it’s nothing but forms and applications, and CRA, why don’t you try that? Because that would look good as a business plan,’” says Jonpaul.

He would know. He’s the director of licensing at the province’s Alcohol and Gaming division.

Her business plan impressed her professor. Jaime was moved into a fourth-year business class, where she improved her plan and completed the necessary paperwork to start her own distillery — before she could legally drink alcohol.

When Jaime turned 19, she applied for her distilling licence and found a location to house her distillery shortly afterwards.

Jaime Landry entering Black Harbour Distillery.   Lucy Harnish

“She always wanted to be a boss,” says Jonpaul. “When she was younger she would always come to us with the old ‘I want to own a lemonade stand.’”

Jonpaul thinks that Jaime’s distillery is a stepping stone for her into the business world.

“At her age to do this, I think this will help her further in her career,” he says. “I think she’s going to be successful.”

Originally, Jaime’s goal was to distil on-site, but her plans changed over time.

Right now, Jaime imports high-quality raw alcohol and refines it. Her special technique is to charcoal filter the alcohol three times, so it’s crystal clear. She then blends the products in-house.

“My whole goal is to have products with a story behind it. So even if the blends aren’t local, they’ll have a story from a different country,” she says.

Jaime is a full-time university student, so her business is only open on weekends. When it’s slow, she does her homework at the bar.

She attributes her ability to manage time to her experience in competitive basketball and soccer.

“People kept telling me I’m going to be busy and it’s going to be hard, but I honestly found if I didn’t do this business I don’t know what I’d do with my time,” says Jaime.

Support from Dalhousie

Grant Wells, the associate director of the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship, remembers Jaime from meetings they’ve had about her distillery.

Wells says it’s rare for a student like Jaime to open a business in their first year of university. Usually, it’s only upper-year students who come to him looking for that sort of guidance.

“I would think that Jaime is really the exception to the rule there,” says Wells.

Jaime’s goal is not only to make herself successful, but also those around her. She likes to hire people her age to help them gain valuable work experience.

“When people come here they appreciate that I always have younger people working,” she says. “When we go to functions, we have a lot of comments about how professional we are for our age.”

Her advice for youth who want to start their own business?

“Don’t hesitate, even when it seems it isn’t going to work out, keep going,” she says.

Jaime Landry speaking to a customer at her bar.   Lucy Harnish

It may be hard, but it’s worth it

Arla Johnson, the co-owner of Halifax Distilling Co., knows it’s hard work to open a distillery. If she hadn’t first opened a distillery in P.E.I., and known the process, she and her partner might have given up on their Halifax location.

Johnson says no matter the obstacle, Jaime should stick to her desire to grow her distillery.

“It’s really just being able to push through those challenges, especially financially, because it’s a big endeavour and it’s a lot of costs,” says Johnson. “You just got to keep pushing through it.”

Jaime is ready to take on the challenges that will come from owning her own distillery.

“I would have never thought probably five years ago, or even a year ago, that I could open a distillery and run it,” says Jaime.

“It’s so awesome to see how much support you can get from other people in the community to help you, so you’re not alone.”

Lucy Harnish

Lucy Harnish

Lucy is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She hails from Mill Cove, Nova Scotia. Her interest in Russian literature led her to St. Petersburg for a year of language education.

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