This article was originally featured in ColoradoBiz magazine. Click here to read the full feature.
In this ongoing series, ColoradoBiz magazine sits down with a Best for Colorado company to learn all about the impact they have in our state. We sat down with Karen Hoskin, founder of Montanya Distillers.
Karen Hoskin, founder of Montanya Distillers, created the company for many reasons beyond making excellent rum. She utilizes her business to better her community, enhance the lives of employees, pave the way for women in a male-dominated industry and show that for-profit companies can have a positive impact on the environment.
Montanya Distillers demonstrates how a company in Crested Butte can have a resounding impact on a global scale. Read our interview with Karen to learn more about the establishment of and the corporate social responsibility utilized by this Best for Colorado Company.
Best for Colorado: Why rum?
Karen Hoskin: I have been that person obsessed with rum for over 30 years now. I think it’s because I was a bartender at a high-end bar in college. I had the opportunity to play around with cocktails, although there was no craft cocktail movement yet at that time. Also, I have celiac disease, so I couldn’t drink beer. I had my first taste of aged rum when I was a junior in college, and I thought, “I found my thing. I found my home.” That was the beginning of it all.
In 2008, I knew I needed to make a career change. I was in private practice web and graphic design and brand building with my own company for 12 years at that point. I was tired of the pace of it. I was pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines and had a young family. We were on vacation in Belize, and I said to my husband that I needed to make a change. He asked what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted my own brand. “I do all of this brand building for other people. I have all these skills. I want my own.”
He then asked what I wanted to make, and I said “rum.”
BFCO: Why Crested Butte?
KH: Really it was because of a trip to Central America and Guatemala. Ron Zacapa, a Guatemalan brand, uses a mountain tradition of making rum. Discovering this tradition got me very excited.
I started the company in Silverton, which is at 9,300 feet elevation and home to only 500 people year-round. We wanted more opportunities, a better business environment, easier access to freight, more commercial space, a small town feel and a more vibrant year-round economy. Crested Butte is where we found all those things in one place.
BFCO: You take a holistic approach at Montanya. What was the inspiration for this and how does it fit into the overall function of the organization?
KH: I would say the overarching theme for me is wanting to sleep at night. If I’m not stewarding all the pieces and parts of what I do, I don’t feel comfortable with my life. I got into the graphic design thing because it was all zero waste, it’s computer-based. I could control who was doing the printing. It was the era of newly recycled paper and soy inks, so it had a lot more I could get my arms around.
Then when I went into business for myself, I realized that rum is important, but at the end of the day, who really cares about it? It’s just what I’ve chosen to make. What I really care about is using business as a way of creating good in a community, making people feel pride in the work they do, helping people live the lives they want and demonstrating that you can actually be a good steward in manufacturing or being a supplier. My environmental and social philosophy is very deep.
With Montanya, it’s been really important to me for the past 11 years to attend to every piece of the business from where our glass, labels, energy and corks come from, to how we print marketing materials, to how I run our restaurant. I want to ensure we’re looking at everything from an impact perspective.
BFCO: In Crested Butte it’s challenging to find work that pays a living wage and is year-round. Can you talk about the opportunities that Montanya offers to its employees to change that paradigm?
KH: It’s important to me not to think about what I want but instead consider what my employees want. What’s important to them? We tend to give more paid vacation than many employers. If members of our staff want to take three weeks twice a year for the off-season and fly to Vietnam or go mountain biking in Moab, they can. It doesn’t benefit them to get extra money and only have two weeks of vacation time. They’d rather have a little compromise on the salary side and have six weeks of vacation.
Everybody who is a full-time employee has benefits, and the benefits package has everything from health insurance to a 401(k) to ski passes. We take everyone on a trip every year and work hard to create a sense of family.
We work hard to pay way higher-than-average wages. Even if someone is working in our bar and restaurant, they’re never going to make a tipped wage. I’m committed to pay people a fair wage regardless of how busy it is, and I expect everyone to do a good job even if they’re not in a tipped position. Even if you’re washing dishes, you’re still starting at the highest starting wage in the community. I’m trying to really treat everyone the way I would want to be treated.
BFCO: What advice do you have for other companies interested in starting their social responsibility journey?
KH: I would say the most important thing is that you’re doing it because you think it’s real and important. It doesn’t matter how easily you’ve navigated the steps of becoming Best for Colorado or a B Corp. If you don’t believe in it, you won’t be able to hold onto it and convey it to your staff. If your staff doesn’t believe it, they won’t put it into action every day. I like to think we have employees who come to us and want to work with us partly because of that ethos.
I still struggle to ensure all our practices are socially responsible. It feels like I have a basket of baby octopuses. One jumps out and as I try to grab it, two more hop out on the other side. It’s just always some challenge.
I don’t think we’ll ever be perfect. If you expect it to be, you’re likely to give up. Assume it’s going to be imperfect and just do your best every day.
Best for Colorado is a program of The Alliance Center. This program allows Colorado companies to measure and improve their social and environmental impact, regardless of where they are on their corporate social responsibility journey. Best for Colorado offers programming and tools for all Colorado companies, including B Corps, to improve their practices and connect participating companies with local resources, education and support.