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Five Questions with Jonesborough Alderman Stephen Callahan

W. Kenneth Medley II • Updated Mar 27, 2019 at 3:18 PM

Five Facts:

Dogs or cats: Dogs

Hobbies: Riding motorcycles

Favorite movie: “Tombstone”

Favorite season: Fall

Favorite book: “Art of War,” by Sun Tzu

Stephen Callahan is one of the newest members of Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, having won election in November when he led the voting with 1,344 votes.

He also is the owner of Tennessee Hills Distillery, which opened in May 2016. Callahan ran for office saying he wanted to help build the business base in Jonesborough and encourage development of vacant properties.

Callahan recently talked with the Johnson City Press about his business and why he decided to seek public office.

Can you share a little about your past?

I grew up down Highway 107 and went to school at South Central, went to (David) Crocket (High School) and graduated in 2006. From there I went to Emory and Henry, graduated in 2011, majored in biology and chemistry. I worked at Eastman for five years in research and development. I drove by the Salt House one day and it had a for sale sign on it and I took a jump.

What led you to open Tennessee Hills Distillery?

I was pretty fortunate to meet the right people at the right time in life, let’s put it that way. It kind of spiked my interest in the alcohol business and I kind of got decent at it. I never thought I would have the opportunity to open a distillery and had accepted the fact that I was going to do what I went to college to do, which is what people should do. I saw an opportunity to pursue a profession in what I love to do, which is making alcohol. It has been a road to hoe, but it is starting to pay off. One of the most gratifying things to do is own your own business, but sometimes it can be the most depressing thing. Being here in Jonesborough was another factor that played a role in my decision, Tennessee’s oldest town. We do things a little more elegant here. We do not play into the moonshine market. We are not in the backwoods wearing overalls. We are in a more elegant setting, kind of more classy, making bourbon, vodka, gins and rums; trying to be the craftsman of our industry. There are too many people out there selling cheap booze to tourists. We are not the biggest distillery, coming up on three years old in May, but we are self-made.

What led you to public office?

Obviously, this is kind of my hometown, my place of business. I have bought a house here and this is where I plan to stay. I love the people here and the things that the town does, the festivities. It has that small-town feel that you just fall in love with. That is one of the reasons I am determined to stay here. With that being said I do think that there is not a lot of young people invested the way that I am here. I thought that it was a good opportunity to put some youth on the board, bring some fresh ideas, and kind of look at things from a different angle. The great thing about it is in my position I have not been in town for people to pull me one way or the other. I am really surprising people right now because they cannot figure out how I am going to vote on an issue, which is kind of great, but it is a conscious-driven thing. Obviously, I wouldn’t make a decision that was in my best interest and not the town’s, because I got elected by the town officials. I think bringing new energy to town and breaking up the way some things have been done in the past is a good thing.

Which do you prefer?

Well, business owner pays a lot more … (laughs), pays better. Really though when you look at what I am doing, granted I am kind of younger, it is cool to sit back and say that I own a business in town. I am one of the town fathers or whatever you want to call me, and it is kind of cool man. It is unique. You get to hear everybody’s story, you get to hear all the good things and the bad things, takes time to weed through them. It is a big responsibility but kind of cool; it is a lot of pressure.

What would you say to those that do not want alcohol made in Jonesborough?

You know they hate us because they ain’t us man … (laughs). When you look at some of the things that I have done here in town, and me specifically as a representative of the alcohol industry, everything I have done has brought a lot more money into our revenue stream. It was mentioned last Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting how well our taxes were doing last year. Also, everything that we have done is well put on and well policed. We are improving the image of Jonesborough. People our age, millennials or whatever, do not want to come into our town and buy antiques, nothing wrong with that. They want to come in, sit-down and have a good dinner, something to drink with their dinner, and spend money whether they have it or not. I think that if people care about our town and the sustainability of our town, they are going to have to be open to it.

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