Sherri & Jeff Robinson
“If you are doing business anywhere across Tennessee, UT is almost an automatic common denominator with many key leaders."
Sherri (Haslam College of Business, ‘90) and Jeff Robinson (College of Arts & Sciences, ‘88) have found that risk can lead to life-changing rewards.
“We literally met on a rappelling tower,” said Sherri, describing her initial encounter with Jeff while they were students at the University of Tennessee.
Both Sherri and Jeff were active members of the Army ROTC program and participated in rappelling demonstrations at the Tennessee Valley Fair. After graduating from UT, Jeff was commissioned in the U.S. Army and deployed in Desert Shield/Desert Storm as a helicopter pilot in the 101st Airborne Division. When he returned, the couple took another leap—this time into entrepreneurship.
“Jeff had a dream of opening a pub,” said Sherri. “He wanted a place where people could enjoy a burger, a good beer and the company of friends and family.”
The native Tennesseans settled in Clarksville, TN while stationed in Ft. Campbell, KY. They fell in love with the downtown area and decided to open their first venture, Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, in 1992.
“Although, at the time, downtown Clarksville was in a bit of a decline, we were drawn to the downtown area,” said Sherri. “We’ve always believed the heart of a city is its downtown.”
Today the pub is flourishing, expanding to include a location in another one of their favorite spots in Tennessee—Knoxville. Sherri grew up in Knoxville, and the couple have remained connected to their alma mater. Their three children are also UT alumni, with one currently enrolled in the UT College of Law.
“If you are doing business anywhere across Tennessee, UT is almost an automatic common denominator with many key leaders across all businesses,” said Jeff.
Blackhorse products are also available across Tennessee. Consumers can find the Blackhorse label in stores, restaurants and bars from Kingsport to Jackson, TN, including major retailers like Kroger, Food City, Pilot, Weigel’s, KenJo Markets, Wal-Mart and a growing number of independent retailers.
During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Sherri and Jeff have paid this success forward, working to take care for their employees and the community.
“When the crisis began unfolding, we knew we wanted to do something helpful,” said Jeff. “Food is a primary product for us, and food is a primary need for people.”
“COVID-19 caused an abrupt disruption of the entire restaurant industry. We had to lay off over 100 of our employees,” said Sherri.
Jeff and Sherri learned that unemployment benefits could take weeks to reach people, so they worked to fill the gap. In Clarksville they provided reduced-price and free meals to essential government workers. In Knoxville they partnered with Eagle Distributing and Michelob Ultra to provide free meals to unemployed restaurant workers.
“The response for both programs was very strong,” said Jeff.
Despite challenges along the way, Sherri and Jeff continue to move the business forward.
“Whatever happens, you have to be willing to adapt to the changing environment and just keep grinding,” said Jeff. “There are much safer routes than entrepreneurship and owning/operating your own business, but for the folks who want to control their own destiny, it is a risk worth taking.”
Tom Van Dorselaer
After a 30-year career with P&G, Van Dorselaer returned to UT to teach marketing, founding the Professional Sales Forum and other successful programs to prepare the next generation of sales professionals.
Alexander credits lessons learned at Haslam as keys to her success, especially the importance of building relationships.
Mikaiel assisted the Big Orange Pantry by optimizing its supply chain to deliver emergency food assistance to students, faculty and staff.