Dominican Puts ‘Cerveza’ on the Upper Manhattan Map

Juan Camilo (Photo via El Diario)

Juan Camilo (Photo via El Diario)

Less than two years ago, Dominican Juan Camilo read an article reporting that there is an artisanal brewery in almost every New York neighborhood. The word that stood out for him was “almost.” “Not in mine. Not in Washington Heights, Inwood… Not in Upper Manhattan.”

The article made him research what for him was a hobby he had taken up a year before. “I started making beer with a $60 kit [but ended up spending] $1,000 with all the extras I added,” said the 29-year-old entrepreneur.

Camilo arrived in New York with his family when he was six, and grew up between the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. His mother was a teacher, and he was a good student himself, so he ended up studying finance on Long Island. “I was interested in numbers, the stock market,” says Camilo. Upon graduation, he found work in investment banking at Credit Suisse.

When he started his own company, Camilo’s idea was to establish the brewery his neighborhood was missing. He named it Dyckman Beer after one of the main streets in the area, and the logo features one of the bridges visible from Upper Manhattan.

In August 2013, he launched a pilsner lager, which is produced in a Connecticut brewery. “I only use high-quality natural ingredients,” says Camilo.

Where did he find the capital to start? “Savings, and a microloan from the Small Business Administration (SBA).”

The next step was selling the product. “Door to door,” bodega to bodega, restaurant to restaurant and bar to bar. All while working in the bank. “I would deliver on weekends.”

The entrepreneur wanted to keep it simple: He would produce only one well-loved product, the pilsner, to start a business about which he did not know much.

“The first time I signed an account [with a customer], I was very nervous,” Camilo admits. He says that he has learned a lot in one year even though he didn’t have a mentor. “There are people who helped me out, but their experiences were different than mine. I have learned a lot about how distribution works and how to price the product, for example.”

Camilo now feels like he knows the territory. He has 140 clients, and his beer is available at the Whole Foods Market on Houston Street, near SoHo.

In March, when his company began to grow, Camilo took a major step to reassert his entrepreneurial commitment: He left Wall Street to dedicate all his time to Dyckman Beer.

Currently, Camilo has four employees, sales and delivery people. He says that he has surrounded himself with good salespeople and that he has had to speed up distribution, which is “the hardest part.”

The entrepreneur prefers not to be specific about figures, but he already has plans to hire more people. He also owns a distribution truck, and dreams of opening an establishment where people can sample the beer. “Maybe next year,” he says. Camilo also wants to have his production plant in New York. “I know it’s expensive, but it’s not impossible.”

In January, Dyckman Beer will diversify its product by offering seasonal beers, a dark one with café con leche (caffè latte, which he says is “very popular in the winter and has a lot of body”), and a Belgian-style ale. In the spring, Camilo plans to debut a cherry-infused beer.

There are not many Latinos in the artisanal beer business. Is Dyckman Beer a cerveza latina? “I am Dominican, and I live in New York. What I want to do is represent Upper Manhattan,” an area as Latino as the slogan on the box, which reads: “We love our beer and we hope you do too. ¡Salud!”

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