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VIProfile: Jennifer Podhajsky

Jennifer Podhajsky’s route from her childhood in the suburbs of New York to her current position as CEO of Yee Haw Brewing Company may not have been predictable, but looking back, her education and her experience in the corporate world have prepared her well for her current position.

After earning a degree in social psychology from Tufts University in Boston, Podhajsky’s first position was working with the nonprofit that directed the university’s alumni activities. Following graduate school at Kellogg, Northwestern’s business school, where she studied marketing, she headed to Chicago for her first job in consumer packaged goods with Kraft Foods, where she met her husband, Matt. After they married, the couple moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where both were employed at Hershey. 

The couple moved to Knoxville when Jennifer Podhajsky accepted the position as head of marketing at Bush Brothers. “I liked the concept at Bush Brothers,” she said. “Privately owned companies are more mission driven and community focused, and they can look more long term.”

By this time, the family included son Jacob, now 19, and daughter Allie, now 17, and Matt Podhajsky became a stay at home dad.

The position at Yee Haw was offered after Podhajsky left Bush Brothers and was pondering her next move. “We really liked Knoxville,” she said. “We were not interested in moving. I did some consulting with Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, and then I took a phone call from the CEO of Old Smoky Moonshine, which founded Yee Haw Brewing Company.”

Joe and Jessi Baker founded the first Yee Haw Brewing Company in Johnson City in 2015 in an old railroad depot, the Tweetsie Depot. “They saw an opportunity to do something with the space,” said Podhajsky. “They started with a production facility, making and canning beer. The space was such a neat opportunity, they renovated it into a tap room as well. Johnson City was in need of revitalization, and Yee Haw was a catalyst for that.”

The Bakers continued to develop the concept, opening in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Nashville and Greenville, South Carolina. “The business had grown to where it was large and needed the attention of a dedicated management team. I was lucky enough to get the call and to already be here in Knoxville.”

Podhajsky became CEO of Yee Haw Brewing Company in March 2021 and has put together a new management team while renovating the building that formerly housed Elkmont Exchange at 745 N. Broadway. 

Yee Haw acquired the property in January 2021, a couple of months before Podhajsky joined the company. “We had to decide how to make it our own space,” she said. “The pandemic was ending, and we were figuring out the ‘new normal.’ We wanted to draw the customer base back and take advantage of our outdoor space.”

“We opened up the space and added lots of screens,” she continued. “It represents our brand, which is Southern hospitality, approachable, authentic. You feel like you’re in your living room with rugs and comfortable seating.”

The renovated outdoor space includes a stage and a green room, bars and bathrooms and can showcase “Bijou level bands.”

“It’s a comfortable, shady space,” said Podhajsky. “There are fire pits and kids running around playing. It’s very family friendly.”

As with all the Yee Haw locations, the brewmaster in Knoxville has his specialties. “Chris Meadows, Knoxville’s brewmaster, is into sours, barrel-aged beers and local ingredients,” said Podhajsky. “The advantage of small batches is that you can test a lot of things. Our brewmasters are scientists, artists, chefs.”

The food menu, developed in partnership with Prince’s Fried Chicken, includes hot chicken tenders and wings, smashburgers and black bean burgers with a fast-casual concept. Brunch will likely be added at some point.

According to Podhajsky, the North Broadway location was a deliberate choice. “We are part of the North Knoxville community,” she said. “More people are discovering this company. We are attracting an eclectic range of people from seniors to young families. 

Our people are friendly and enthusiastic and passionate about what they’re doing.”

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