Join us in learning about our craft beverage leaders in our series featuring some pretty incredible women entrepreneurs.
Maureen Ahmad, Chatham Cider Works
Summarize your background, your path to what you’re doing now, and/or whether you’re transitioning from full-time day job to this or if you’re managing it all.
I started as a hobbyist, making cider at home. When I started, it was hard to find craft cider in NC. I used to look for French and English ciders in the wine shops. It was after a tour at a local brewery that I thought, “I could do this. If those guys can make a go of it, I could too.” It’s been a 10-year journey since then and beer has exploded as a category, and so has cider. There are now 19 cideries in North Carolina, but craft cider is still an exciting, emerging category, especially in the South. I’ve been in the technology marketing field for almost 20 years, and it’s still my day job, but Chatham Cider Works is my nights and weekend job. My husband and cider partner, Jim Crawford, and I balance the workload while we each focus on our other work.
Your mentor, who you aspire to be, who is a leader in your industry and why. Trends for your industry, product/service?
Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider in Virginia was an early pioneer in Southern craft ciders, and she was a mentor. I’ve also gained inspiration from many friends who started their own businesses and made a go of building a business by following their passions and being brave.
What was your biggest fail and the silver lining? Biggest/latest success that confirmed you’re in the right business?We had a major setback five years ago when we started at a different location, in the Hillsborough Piedmont Food and Agriculture Processing Facility. The venue is a tremendous resource for local producers, but the state ABC refused to permit us in a shared community setting. The thinking has changed a lot since then, and I wonder if the outcome would be different now if we tried to get a permit to operate in a shared facility. But, the silver lining is that it brought us back to Chatham, to Lorax Lane. Now we’re partners with Fair Game, and soon Nazz’d Brewery and Starrlight Mead in what we’re calling the Chatham Beverage District. It promises to put Chatham County on the map as a craft beverage destination.
What brought you, and keeps you, in Chatham County?
We moved to Chatham more than 15 years ago, for the plentiful housing options and good schools for our young daughter. The county is growing and has been a rewarding and fascinating place to live. Jim is now a county commissioner, and we’re grateful to be small business owners in a county that supports local businesses. I’ve benefited from the community of expert female beverage makers and tastemakers in Chatham, like Rose at Fair Game, Paula at Fearrington, Anna at Vino and Tami at Abundance.
Anything else you’d like to share?
In the course of my cider education, studying with and talking to experts from all around the U.S., I realized that there was an assumption that Southern apples couldn’t produce a fine cider. We have different varieties and different weather conditions than the Northern and Western apple-growing regions that were in the vanguard of bringing back American cider. What I learned from Diane Flynt, and from my own cider making, is that Southern apples do make a fine cider, with a distinct personality. We’re bringing back the American tradition of making cider with the fruit at hand and always enjoying the taste of the season.