Distilling work-life choices - Nikki McLain’s pragmatic approach to building success


In 2017, Nikki McLain left her successful career in global meeting management to start a new kind of distillery with her husband. Having invested blood, sweat, tears and hours on bureaucracy, they’ve opened a truly unique destination.

Realizing this dream has required patience, persistence and pragmatism. And the journey is really only beginning….

We caught up with Nikki to learn more about her experience as an entrepreneur.

How did the idea for Royal Foundry come about?
The idea was my husband’s, Andy. He’s the Brit, the designer and dreamer.  In 2015, he said he wanted to build a British Cycle Speedway track that incorporated a distillery. He’s had a million ideas over the years (mostly bad ones!) but this one was truly brilliant! We wanted to create a brand that would show people British culture and style. Our logo, our bottles, our cocktail room, event space, décor all reflects this.

Why did you decide to join your husband in this venture?
When I saw the space, I knew I could sell it. It’s huge - more than 15,000 total square feet. I knew there was demand for hip, new, venues with neutral colors, natural light spaces, and I saw an opportunity to invite my established network of event professionals to my own venue.

When did you realize you want to change your work-life, and how did you manage your exit?
As a Strategic Accounts Manager that led meeting management programs for global clients, I had to be a “fixer”, creating solutions very quickly and assuring the client these challenges wouldn’t happen again. I thrive in this type of environment and I’m good at fixing things, but it can mentally exhausting. It was also in this role that I got married in 2011 and had my first child in 2014.  I joke that my daughter earned her Delta Silver status as I traveled almost every week while I was pregnant. Maternity leave wasn’t easy with a newborn, but felt like a vacation for me as I could finally slow down a bit and focus on my daughter, Marlow.

By the time I’d had my 2nd daughter in the July 2017, I had already shared our business idea with people at the company. After returning from maternity leave, I negotiated a part time schedule (although I was working 10-12 hours per day, so I knew I’d get the work done!)

I did this until the end of January 2018 when I started full time at Royal Foundry - we believed then that we’d open in Spring 2018. Unfortunately, the City of Minneapolis took 6 months to approve our building plans and we didn’t open until December 2018.

How is your “work" and “life" life different now?
I have more flexibility now.  I have a schedule, but it’s up to me how I manage my time. The work is demanding and I work more now than before - but now it’s not for someone else. The time and energy we put into this business is for our benefit. If we make money, we will reap the reward in future years. Life is more stressful than before, but we tell ourselves this is a short-term pinch for a long-term goal.

Life really does come full circle - recently, I realized I needed to pivot again to support my family and the business. After careful consideration, I accepted a full-time Account Director role at a global meeting management agency (the one I started off my career with!) I will work full time there and continue to support Royal Foundry on the side. Am I crazy? Yes. Will I do anything to support my family? In a heartbeat, they are why I do what I do. Will I be the most efficient employee and business owner you know? That’s my hope. I thrive on being busy, so I’m hoping this will be a fun, new challenge for me.

What has been the biggest challenge and joy in your role as entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge is letting things roll off, whether it’s stress, people’s feedback, commentary or mistakes. When you own your own business, there are a million things to worry about and I have to take it one day at a time, or it becomes overwhelming.

The “Posh Spice”

The “Posh Spice”

The biggest joy is witnessing people experience our space and sip our cocktails. I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces or watching their expressions as they walk into the space and are wowed with the first glimpse. That makes me happy and makes all our hard work worth it. This is why we are doing this, for others to enjoy.

What advice would you give women who are considering changing their work-life?

  1. Check on your financial health - if you wanted to take a leap today, what would that look like for you? How will you support yourself if you go out on your own?

  2. Dare to dream – Everyone has a dream, what would it take to get there? Everything is attainable if you focus on the end goal and take the steps to help yourself.

  3. Use your network – this is my most important asset besides my brain. Leverage it to help inspire you, guide you, talk you down from a ledge, share successes, be potential customers, anything you want.

Check out Royal Foundry at their website or at @royalfoundrycraftspirits on Facebook - or better yet, head down there to experience their cocktails and fun space!

(All images in this story are courtesy of Mike Krivit Photography.)