A longtime local trades Wall Street for the world of beer
Photograph by Tom Moore
Some people thought he was crazy to give up a successful Wall Street career to open a brewery. But Paul Halayko, president and chief operating officer of Newburgh Brewing Company, thought he’d be crazy not to.
Four years ago, Halayko was slathering on sunblock at a Catskills resort on an enforced vacation from his job as a vice president at J.P. Morgan in Manhattan. (Enforced vacations are common practice in investment firms as a safeguard against fraud.)
“I very clearly remember almost having a panic attack when I thought about the thousands of emails that would be waiting for me when I got back,” recalls the 33-year-old, who grew up in Washingtonville. “I started to realize, ‘Wow. I don’t know if this is something that I should continue doing.’ Now I have my own business, and it’s an entirely new stratosphere of stress, but it’s different somehow.”
Not long after Halayko returned to his groaning inbox, his childhood friend Christopher Basso, a member of the Brooklyn Brewery team, invited him to dinner. Basso was intent on opening a brewery of his own; Halayko had been reviewing his business plan, drawing on his past experience as a CPA for startup companies. Basso confessed that his original partner had backed out of the deal.
“I said, ‘That’s okay, because that person had the same skill set as you do,’” recalls Halayko. “‘What you really need is somebody who’s going to keep the lights on, somebody to mind the business.’” Basso wondered aloud if Halayko would consider a partnership, admitting that he’d wanted to ask him all along but didn’t think a financial VP would be interested.
He was. Halayko rechecked the business plan, researched the state’s alcohol industry, and then visited the former paper box factory that Basso was considering purchasing. They bought it in January 2011.
Halayko wasn’t new to brew. After graduating from Boston University, he lived in Nuremberg, Germany, while working as a financial consultant — and that’s where things got interesting. “I fell in love with the beer hall culture,” he says, “which is what we try to recreate in our taproom: family-friendly, open, warm, and community oriented.”
The brewery opened in 2012, and — as with any startup — it was tough going for a while. “All the stars have to align when you start your own business,” Halayko says, “because of how hard it is, how stressful it is, how little money there is for a long time.”
Today, things are better. While Basso makes the suds and third partner Charlie Benedetti sells them, Halayko minds the books, runs the payroll, and does the marketing. He’s also the host of Trivia Night every Wednesday, a throwback to his days in Germany, when he joined other American expats in a beer hall as they quizzed each other about life back home.
His duties allow him to carve out time for runs to clear his head. His normal route starts from the brewery door and goes across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and back, which is close to eight miles and what he considers “a quick run.” Running also introduced him to his wife, Jessica Mullin, when they both were volunteer guides for blind athletes at a race in Central Park (they married last June).
Volunteerism and philanthropy are part of the fabric of Halayko’s life, as evidenced by the long list of brewery-sponsored charitable events. Members of nonprofit groups tend bar every Sunday, with their organizations pocketing all the tips. And no less than four running and cycling events took place last year, raising funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Wounded Warrior Project, and Susan G. Komen For the Cure, among other worthy causes.
Promoting the Newburgh community is something of a passion. “We called it Newburgh Brewing Company because we’re proud to be here and it’s immediately identifiable as a local product,” says Halayko. “Our label celebrates the city.”
Halayko is also a board member for the Newburgh Community Land Bank. “A lot of people who want to buy Newburgh properties are trendsetters in New York City who want to be part of this overall renaissance. Progress is being made. A lot is happening.”