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JENNIFER McDONALD
// Jenny Dawn Cellars

Most importantly, Jennifer McDonald says she is a wife and a mother of two teenagers. Unrelated to those roles, wine has always been her drink of choice. She started making wine at home for friends and family in 2014. Jennifer hoped that maybe one day it would turn into something bigger but originally, it started with a hobby. She did extensive research on winemaking and continued to increase the complexity of her wines which led her to win national awards. Jennifer came to a decision point — should she start this business or continue it as a hobby. 

Ultimately, she wanted the Wichita community to have a place where they could go drink a nice glass of wine while also learning about the winemaking process and history. That didn’t exist so Jennifer moved forward and decided to go all in. She spent time working at a winery in California and also traveled around to other wineries in Kansas to get the hands on experience that would be helpful in starting this business. Prior to her wine business, Jennifer spent more than a decade in HR which allowed her to see all aspects of running a business. She also decided to obtain her Master’s in AgriBusiness, took online courses in enology through UC Davis and then felt like she was ready to commit to a physical wine location in Wichita. 

After searching for the right location, she landed on a beautiful space in Wichita’s Union Station. The space underwent a renovation and she was able to open Jenny Dawn Cellars, a full fledged winery, in November of 2019. Jenny Dawn Cellars now makes 11 different wines, offers small bites and wine education classes to guests in Wichita.

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Even during a global pandemic, Jenny Dawn Cellars has escalated their growth — attracting customers from all over the nation and now shipping wine to 38 states.
 

As you can imagine, starting a winery right before a global pandemic has certainly come with many challenges — including closing the tasting room, furloughing employees, etc. However, there have been some opportunities that have appeared faster than Jennifer first imagined. COVID, along with increased customer demand escalated the growth of Jenny Dawn Cellars. National media and publications started covering Jennifer and Jenny Dawn Cellars, which attracted customers from all over the country and wine is now shipped to 38 states. 

"I want to be an inspiration to others … I would love to see more African Americans be engaged in the wine industry in Kansas and I'm happy to lead the charge."

Jennifer is the first African American woman to own an urban winery in Kansas. “It’s truly an honor and I’m so invested in this industry — there are so many barriers to entry right now — it’s incredibly expensive to start a wine business in Kansas. I want to be an inspiration to others to get into agriculture — even on the grape growing side. I hope there are more people like me, behind me. I would love to see more African Americans be engaged in the wine industry in Kansas and I’m happy to lead the charge.”

Jenny Dawn Cellars is now at the process where they need to continue to grow their case volume in order to meet the product’s demand. This past year, five different national distributors have reached out to Jennifer, wanting to market and sell her wines but they couldn’t produce enough wine to fulfill the orders. For the first few phases of Jenny Dawn Cellars, Jennifer was able to self-fund the business. Right now, she’s in the middle of a capital raise to be able to meet this demand and expand her physical location as they have run out of space. Five local Wichita investors have backed Jenny Dawn Cellars and have all reinvested several times. The Wichita community has been incredibly loyal to Jennifer and Jenny Dawn Cellars — if you don’t have a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night, you’re likely not going to have any luck enjoying Jennifer’s wine as a walk-in guest. But funding continues to be a challenge for Jennifer. “I feel like people want to do business with people who they can relate to and who look like them. For me, that’s hard when you are bringing on investors because wine isn’t something that people are investing in — Kansas just doesn’t have the experience and knowledge base that Napa Valley has. There is a lot of research that shows African American and women entrepreneurs have a harder time finding capital. I definitely feel like that has been the case for me. It has been very challenging but I persevere and ultimately, I’ve gotten this far and know that I’ll be able to reach my next set of goals but sometimes I wonder if it really has to be this hard.” 

"For me personally, I am wanting to get on the other side of this business and create wealth for myself to be able to reinvest in the community and other high-growth women and minority entrepreneurs. That's what keeps me going — I have the opportunity to help someone else through my experiences."

From the moment you walk through the door at Jenny Dawn Cellars, you will feel welcomed. Jennifer has built her company to encompass five core values: integrity, perseverance, effective communication and collaboration, customer intimacy and hospitality. These values were intentionally created and not the way she has always experienced other atmospheres. “I have walked into other wineries as a wine connoisseur and haven’t always felt welcomed. I wasn’t greeted and was almost looked down upon in some settings. There are still stereotypes, discrimination and racism that occur even as a wine conoissuer and drinker.” Jennifer leads her team to ensure that all guests are treated with respect and given best-class service. 

Jennifer continues to serve as an inspiration for others in the Wichita and wine communities. Jenny Dawn Cellars has become a family affair where both of her kids spend time working in the winery. Jennifer looks forward to all of the knowledge and experience she will gain in the next ten years of being a business leader. 

“For me personally, I am wanting to get on the other side of this business and create wealth for myself to be able to reinvest in the community and other high-growth women and minority entrepreneurs. That’s what keeps me going — I have the opportunity to help someone else through my experiences.”

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While we encourage you to purchase a bottle (or more) of wine from Jenny Dawn Cellars, there are also a few, quick and easy ways you can support Jennifer McDonald and her business without a purchase. Be sure to like their social media pages on InstagramFacebook and Twitter and share their posts. Invite someone to the winery or leave a 5 star review on Google after the wine is delivered to your doorstep. If you have connections or resources that would be helpful to Jennifer, please connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn. Jennifer completed her Pipeline Fellowship year in 2020 and is now an active Member of the organization. She is a leader in Wichita and we are so thankful for her contributions to the community.