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brewing up success

For Paul Kemp, good beer is serious business.

By Rodney Wilson | Photography by Rodney Wilson | Published Aug. 9, 2019
Paul Kemp

We, as a culture, love entrepreneurs. There’s something about the bold, creative and, yes, obsessive personalities attracted to big ideas and bigger risks that we just can’t seem to get enough of. And while much of the mythos around celebrity entrepreneurs is either conflated or superfluous (see: Musk, Elon), the reality is that certain people are intriguingly well-suited for the long hours and ceaseless hustle that self-employment demands.

Paul Kemp (’16), for one, was born for the entrepreneur role. His father, Mike, started his own company, a freight brokering enterprise that evolved into hazardous material trucking, before Kemp was even born. Kemp had an active role in his dad’s next business, a biodiesel company named National Feed and Energy, eventually serving as the company president while pursuing a degree at Northern Kentucky University. And after National Feed and Energy sold to a mainstay customer, Kemp’s move to start a business—Humble Monk Brewing Co., Northside’s newest craft brewery—was the natural choice.

“I’m very hard to employ because I always think I can do things better, which is both good and bad,” laughs Kemp. “My big thing about entrepreneurship is being able to explore different things. I like the process of building a business.” 


For all of his business savvy, though, Kemp initially enrolled at NKU with a different career path in mind. “I actually started as a graphic design major,” he says. “I really have an affinity for art, but one day I was in a sculpture class and I was just like, I’d really like to create things that have a more direct impact on people.” 

He took an introductory business class “just to check out what the program was about,” and encountered a flyer for a tee-shirt design contest presented by student organizations Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and MINjas. Kemp created an original entry and ended up taking home first place. “They printed the top three winners’ shirts, but you were responsible for making sure those shirts were sold,” he says. “That was kind of the entrepreneur aspect, which I really liked. It was around that time that I switched gears and changed majors.”

Kemp enrolled in the Entrepreneurship program (naturally), which provided mentorship and classroom-based learning, as well as opportunities to explore his passions and abilities. “I’d run a lot of bad ideas by them, and they’d just let me go to the point of no return,” he says. “It was a good learning experience, because no one’s there when you‘re running your own business to tell you this is a bad idea. You need to make those judgements yourself.” Additionally, he participated in business plan competitions and pitched a plan to INKUBATOR. “It definitely prepared me for this project and what it’s like to be a business owner. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, that’s for sure.”


Humble Monk has been in the works since Kemp graduated, and the idea was born out of Mike’s 36-year hobby of home brewing beer out of his northern Kentucky garage. (Mike, the resident brew master, co-owns Humble Monk with his son.) “He actually used to joke, when he started his biodiesel company, ‘Well I can make beer, how hard can it be to make biodiesel?’ And now it’s come full circle.” 

Kemp says that while pursuing investors for Humble Monk, the pair’s food-handling background was an asset. So was the equipment. The two are repurposing their vegetable-oil tanks, as well as other used food-grade tanks picked up over the past three years, to serve as the production facility’s fermenters, welding cooling jackets onto the exteriors. In fact, the two co-owners did much of the space’s rehab themselves (it used to be a loading dock), from building the taproom’s bar and tables to fabricating their own keg washer. “We’re pretty much DIYers,” says Kemp.      

Their hard work and patience has paid off. The Kemps opened the 100-person-capacity taproom in February, and their Belgian-forward style has been a standout hit in the city’s crowded craft beer scene. Mike’s brewing offsite until they get their 10,000 square feet of production space finished and approved by the city, but once everything is up and going, Kemp plans to start distributing kegs and small lines of canned beers around town. The large space will support a future move into packaging and retail sales. 


And while he’s happy to see his father’s skills appreciated, Kemp personally geeks out over the operations side of the brewery business. “This is the first venture that I’ve run,” he says. “I like the accounting. I like running the numbers. I like doing the sales calls, and then the day-to-day stuff, making sure everything gets done in an efficient manner.” 

At the end of the day, though, Kemp is an entrepreneur, whichs begs the question: How long before another good idea catches his attention?

“When I was in school, I jumped around to a lot of different projects,” he says. “Toward the end of that, I realized you need to focus on one thing if you want to actually see some fruits of your labor. There’s always a carrot floating on a stick that wants to stray you away, but I’m willing to be here as long as it takes to make sure this company is successful. We want to build this to its completion.

“But I definitely have other things I’d like to look into.”