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Alumnus Jacob Landry on His Path from Classroom to Taproom

After many twists and turns on an unconventional career path, small business owner and Ogden Honors College alumnus Jacob Landry has returned to his southern Louisiana roots in order to answer his calling. Landry’s unique journey has taken him from the rural classroom to the heart of education policy reform, from French universities to the world of local breweries. This adventure has led him at last to Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans where he is both founder and president of the recently opened craft brewery, Urban South.

“I'd always had a bug to kind of do my own thing and start something,” Landry said. “Over the years I had developed a real passion for beer. I'm a Cajun, and a big part of kind of how we operate culturally is making stuff and sharing it with others. I love being able to do that: to create great beer and share it with others.”

In a little over a year since Urban South opened its doors, the company has expanded its availability to the New Orleans, Northshore, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Houma/Thibodaux markets. According to Landry, Urban South brewed 3,000 barrels (31 gallons) of beer in their first full year of production — a larger first-year volume than any other brewery ever opened in Louisiana. It’s also worth mentioning that Urban South’s “Holy Roller” is the best-selling hoppy beer in New Orleans.

As it turns out, the Cajun heritage that informs his business model also fuels Landry’s sustained commitment to give back to his home state. The author of the down-home ethos of Urban South that treats customers like old friends, Landry has managed to map his identity across the landscape of southern Louisiana in more ways than one over the better part of the last decade.

Though Landry’s entrepreneurial streak extends even to his life pre-LSU – a car detailing business in high school and a mobile DJ business in college, for starters — his collegiate beginnings seemed to point in another direction entirely. Landry graduated with College Honors from LSU in 2006 with his B.A. in Political Communication and a B.S. in Poultry Science, already considered a rising star and outstanding student. Dr. Drew Lamonica Arms, Director of Fellowship Advising at the Honors College, remembers him well.

“Jacob was one of the first students I advised for the Truman Scholarship, and it was clear to me then that he would be a ‘change agent’ in some capacity, somewhere in the world,” Arms said. “Indeed, he’s been just that in many venues, and Jacob carries on the highly personable, energetic commitment to improving his community that made him such a standout in the Honors College.”

Landry recalls his choice to attend LSU as an important and life-changing decision.

“Growing up my dad was in the navy so I had a real taste for adventure and a need to get to someplace bigger than small town Louisiana,” Landry explained. “I loved the concept of a smaller, more intimate atmosphere in a big university, and right off the bat was challenged at a level that I had never been challenged before.”

Raised in Jefferson Davis parish and having attended a high school with only 32 students in his graduating class, Landry experienced a drastically different educational atmosphere upon his arrival at the Honors College. For instance, according to Landry, in four years of high school English he had never read a novel in class.

“It was a big awakening,” Landry said, laughing. “But I loved it. I wanted the challenge. In my mind, that's what I thought college was going to be. So it was a great fit.”

Landry threw himself into the Honors College community and was an active participant in the Honors Advocates and Ambassadors during his tenure at LSU. Recipient of the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, Landry had the opportunity to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France for a year, a trip that both influenced his worldview and ignited a spark that would eventually lead him to found Urban South.

“I think it established a lot of my worldview. It was my first international experience,” Landry said. “And truly, that was the start of my beer journey. During that year I got to explore all types of incredible wine and European beer and had my eyes opened.”

taproom

While his appreciation for craft beer expanded and would eventually inspire Landry to develop his own brewery, at the time he felt a deep and urgent commitment to service that led him to direct his time and energy toward public education. Motivated by a brief stint at the Teach for America headquarters in New York during his last year at LSU, Landry joined TFA as a fourth grade teacher at a low-income school in Oahu, Hawaii after graduation. According to Landry, this transition to a life of service was influenced by his background in the Louisiana public school system and his desire to make a difference.

“I was pretty passionate just given my own educational experience,” Landry said. “I still consider that one of our biggest challenges as a society — the state of public schools and how we aren't, by and large, preparing low-income and minority kids to be able to be successful later in life.”

Through TFA, Landry received his Master’s in Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and eventually transitioned to a recruiting position for the program before returning to Louisiana. Two years in the classroom gave Landry the perspective to work in the Louisiana Department of Education where he developed policy and eventually managed the state’s charter school strategy and oversight.

“What I realized in hindsight was that if you want to write policy and work in that realm, having some real world experience is pretty priceless,” Landry said. “When I got the job with the Department of Education it was post-Katrina and there was still a lot of recovery work being done in New Orleans. It just was impactful work, timely work, and I think led to some unprecedented changes in the educational landscape here in New Orleans, particularly.”

Overall, Landry spent a total of seven years in education management before he made the decision to attend Tulane University to earn his MBA in 2011. This, as Landry confided, was a crucial step in developing skills he felt he were lacking, whether or not he intended to stay in education. And when he graduated, he finally put into motion the plan he had been quietly contemplating in the back of his mind for nearly ten years.

Now, Landry’s odyssey has brought him to the growing, competitive sphere of craft breweries. What began as an experience abroad has morphed into a labor of love to share good beer with the community Landry continues to support.

“It's been incredibly rewarding. It's a whole different type of challenge,” Landry admitted. “Definitely a lot more sleepless nights than ever before. It's feeding my entrepreneurial needs and my desire to chart my own course and be my own boss.”

Further down the road? Landry plans to someday run for public office and continue to give back to Louisiana. After such an extensive and diverse career, he had some words of wisdom for current Honors students planning their future careers.

“I would say that just follow your passions and your career will, I think, evolve,” Landry said. “If you're truly passionate about something and work really hard at it, a lot of opportunities will present themselves. The people who are willing to do whatever it takes are the ones who succeed.”

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, Ogden Honors College. For more information, email jacquelined@lsu.edu or call 225-578-0083.