A man who left Bureau County to pursue a dream in the racing business came back recently to promote an alternative moonshine product his company creates in his own brewery in North Carolina.
Cody Sommer, who grew up in Sheffield and was born in Kewanee, is CEO and founder of Stout Brewing Co. of Kings Mountain, N.C. A 20,000-square-foot brewery and warehouse were built just outside Charlotte, N.C., and Sommer then became one of the youngest brewery owners in the country.
Great America is the name of a substitute and alternative for moonshine customers brewed by Sommer’s company. It comes in two flavors and is packaged in mason jars.
“It is much more affordable because the way we make the product,” he said. “I was able to create something not only unique, but make it affordable for everyone. We are now in seven states.”
After getting a license to sell in Illinois, Sommer wanted to get the product to the state because he grew up here.
“It was very important for me to get the product here,” he said.
He recently came back to Illinois to launch the product in Galesburg, LaSalle-Peru and Princeton markets. Sommer said he normally doesn’t come to a state to participate in a kickoff event with distributors selling the company’s products.
“I literally wanted to come here. It was home for me. I know a lot of people when I am walking around. Running into those people when you are selling is fun,” he said.
Sommer credits his aunt, Tracy Braddy, who operates Skoonerz in Princeton, as a big supporter.
Great America is now being sold in Bureau County businesses. It is being distributed by Euclid Beverages.
Sommer graduated from Bureau Valley High School in 2005 and attended Illinois Valley Community College for one year before taking the opportunity to work in the racing industry.
“I literally dropped everything I had and left. I know for my family it was quite a surprise at the time, but it was a decision I wanted to make,” he said. “I have a brother and sisters, and most of my family still lives in Bureau County.”
Sommer was big into racing in his earlier years and raced at the Bureau County Speedway.
“Racing was my passion, but after awhile, I realized I had to find something to do as a career. I had an opportunity to go to Charlotte, N.C., where racing is everything. All the big people are there, Hendrick, Earnhardt. Gibbs.
“I didn’t drive a car, but worked in the sport for almost five years. I worked for all kinds of teams, doing all kinds of stuff. I was living my dream, a small-town boy traveling up and down the road.
Change in career
“In 2008, the market crashed in NASCAR, and teams were folding. Sommer and others were laid off by racing teams. Sommer worked for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, who laid off 200 of its 400 employees in the company.
“I thought my career was done because I thought that what was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It was kind of a shock. I thought I had it figured all out what I was going to do. My dream from when I was in Sheffield was carried all the way done there. Unfortunately, I had to make a change,” he said.
Sommer and many others in the racing industry then were unemployed and trying to find a job.
Sommer decided to enter the beverage industry after talking to someone he knew who offered him a job. Sommer worked for this company for two years, learning a lot about the packaged goods industry.
“It is kind of like racing, ironically. It is very competitive and cutthroat. You have people trying to knock you off the top, just like racing. I fit in very well with the whole beverage industry,” he said.
“I just realized that if I really wanted to make it big, I would have to create it on my own. I started going to the drawing board of consumer package products. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I was going to be in potato chips or tea or water or whatnot. But I did know that if you could create something innovative and creative, that the sky was the limit.
“So I wanted to be very different. I wanted to take certain things and flip it on its head and innovate in the category. The business wasn’t started yet. I had the ideas on paper. I went up and down the road for two years, again unemployed, and finally met some investors who were willing to give me a shot. They really believed in me and my story and where I came from. They thought I was very genuine. They gave me a chance. This wasn’t a small investment.”
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.