From Electrical Engineer to Beverage Innovator

Karl Franz Williams' path from electrical engineer to founder of Uncle Waithley’s Beverage Co. illustrates how building a foundation in one field can fuel innovation in another. "I mean, the one thing that I've always known was that I wanted to be an entrepreneur," Karl told Spill & Dish's Julie Gallagher. "I saw engineering as problem-solving and turning those problems into products."

Beverages have always been a throughline in Karl's career. After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Yale, he began work at Procter & Gamble in the manufacturing plant that made Sunny Delight and Hawaiian Punch. His tenure there served as an accidental masterclass. "At Procter & Gamble, all roads sort of lead to brand management and marketing," he said. "I would see the brand managers come into the plant and I thought, 'That's so cool. I want to try that. I'm not sure I want to be an engineer at the end of the day.'" Karl recalls.

A piece of gingeroot

Karl eventually made the shift into brand management, first with Procter & Gamble, then with Pepsi. While working for Pepsi, he wrote business plans for a coffee shop and kept them in his back pocket until he saw the opportunity to open a shop in Harlem.

Opening the coffee shop was my first entry into the restaurant world. I was at Pepsi and kind of doing this coffee shop on the side." Pepsi recognized Karl's entrepreneurial drive and moved him into the innovations division, working on long-term planning for product development. "It was a great job," Karl said. "I was talking to cool kids in the East Village and mixologists. I was blown away by the craft."

When Pepsi offered Karl "the golden handcuffs," enticing benefits aimed at employee retention, Karl realized that if he didn't leave the corporate world then, he never would. "I left Pepsi and opened 67 Orange Street, my first cocktail bar."

Karl immersed himself in both the business and the craft of the industry, studying the art of bartending and mixology, drinks and their history, and developing his palate. "I feel like that's a big part of why [my concepts] have done well: the quality of the drinks we put out is the best, bar none. As Karl went on to open more flourishing artisanal bars after 67 Orange Street, he noticed a gap in the market, specifically for quality ginger beers that lived up to the standard of drinks he served at his bars.

Bridging his entrepreneurial mindset and his engineering background, Karl turned the solution to a problem into a product: Uncle Waithley's Ginger Beer. Named after his grandfather, Karl drew on his family history and recipes to create a ginger beer that met his standards and paid homage to his heritage.

"My grandfather was an incredible man. He lived to be a hundred years old, all on the island of St. Vincent. He was a farmer; he raised ginger, he grew ginger, and he made ginger beer." Karl's father also made and sold ginger beer and other natural beverages. "He's been making these my whole life. He kind of taught me my first lessons in mixology. We watched my dad put flavors together in the drinks that he made."

Karl's family heritage and his journey from engineering to entrepreneurship is just the beginning of Uncle Waithley's Beverage Co.' story. Listen to how Karl Franz Williams navigates distribution, production, and market differentiation in Mixing it Up With Uncle Waithley’s Karl Franz Williams on Spill and Dish.

HRN is supported by Korin. Just as Karl Franz Williams' family history and high standards shape Uncle Waithley's Beverage Co., Korin draws from a tradition of artistry and meticulous attention to detail. Their New York City showroom is home to the most extensive collection of Japanese knives in the world, including Japan.

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