James Brennan '96

Serial Entrepreneur and Co-founder

Thursday, July 26, 2018TOPICS: Alumni

USD alumni, James Brennan. A serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Suja Juice
begin quoteBrennan fostered many hospitality successes in San Diego and beyond, including Stingaree, Searsucker and Herringbone. He made the pivot into consumer products with Suja Juice, the self-proclaimed highlight of his career.

Enlightened Brand Ventures, Suja Juice

USD alumni, James Brennan. A serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Suja Juice

Moving Forward, Giving Back: Advice from One of San Diego’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs

USD School of Business alumnus James Brennan is not your typical serial entrepreneur.

Sure, he has started and grown more than 10 businesses since his earliest stint as an 11-year-old busboy, acquiring his first company as a USD sophomore and selling it after his senior year. But despite the volume of his multi-industry endeavors – the likes of which include real estate, hospitality, fashion and a range of consumer products – Brennan remains rooted in almost all of the businesses he has started. He believes in the products he sells, and in the communities of people who have helped shape him as both an entrepreneur and philanthropist

“I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being able to create opportunities that have employed thousands of people over the years,” said Brennan. “Being able to provide jobs for people who are in turn able to provide for their families is something I put a lot of stock in.”

Brennan grew up in Rockaway Beach, a seaside neighborhood in the Rockaway Peninsula of Queens, New York. He attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, where he learned the philosophy of being a man for others. During that time, Brennan worked summers as a lifeguard on the beach and consistently in restaurants – an experience that would later translate into some of the most successful business ventures of his career. But while New York City helped fuel his early hustle, it was moving to the sprawling city of San Diego to attend USD that really ignited the spark.

“The orientation week was one of the most exhilarating weeks of my life,” he reminisced. “The early memories of freshman year are probably the fondest.”

While those early experiences at USD included, as they commonly do, a trip to SeaWorld and entry into Greek life, for Brennan, they also involved owning his first business – a silkscreen and embroidery company providing branded merchandise to local businesses, sororities, fraternities and other clubs on campus. He grew the business with a fraternity brother before selling it to a group of underclassmen after graduating. As he explains, “It was time to move on to the real world.”

The real world, it turns out, is Brennan’s oyster. Upon graduating, he tried his hand at real estate – specifically finance – and was ranked for five consecutive years as one of the top 200 mortgage originators in the nation by Mortgage Originator Magazine. Looking for a greater challenge, he transitioned into real estate development, managing a number of condo conversions across California, Arizona and Nevada. In 2003, he took everything he had learned to conceptualize and build Side Bar, a premier night club in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and his first of many bar and restaurant ventures.

“It wasn’t meant to be a career change,” Brennan said of the Downtown San Diego hotspot. “But it turned into one.”

From there, Brennan fostered many hospitality successes in San Diego and beyond, including the popular nightclub, Stingaree, as well as the Searsucker and Herringbone brands (of which he is still a partner). He made the pivot into consumer products with Suja Juice, the largest independent producer of cold-pressed juice in the U.S. and the self-proclaimed highlight of his career. In 2015, Coca-Cola acquired minority ownership of Suja; Brennan and his partners currently retain 51 percent.

Since Suja, Brennan has founded two other brands – Liveli, a nutraceutical company focusing on brain health, and the Unilever-backed Kopari Beauty, a women’s beauty line with coconut oil serving as the lynchpin ingredient in all products. At Kopari, Brennan partners with a close-knit group of fellow Toreros – three of whom he graduated with in 1996. Across the board, USD students and graduates represent a large percentage of Brennan’s employee base.

“I really feel like USD is creating great future leaders, and I have always tapped into that network – whether it be through the restaurants, Suja, Kopari or other businesses,” Brennan said. “I look for opportunities to find the right people as they come out of USD. A lot of students start as interns and eventually move into full-time positions.”

A lifelong entrepreneur and career-long philanthropist, Brennan regards his commitment to giving back as a pillar of his success. When Hurricane Sandy hit Rockaway Beach in 2012, he was there in an instant, spearheading rescue efforts, rebuilding homes and doing everything he could to revitalize the community that made him who he is today. He raised over $2 million for relief, and was featured by Scott Pelley on the first 60 Minutes aired after the storm.

Locally, Brennan sits on the Executive Council for Big Brothers Big Sisters and on the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities of San Diego. ‘Serving the community that serves you’ is just one of many sound sentiments he shares with students and budding entrepreneurs.

“Make sure giving back is a part of your philosophy,” Brennan said. “The community is part of the magic that makes your company what it is.”

Brennan recently spent time reminiscing with friend and fellow USD alum David Fizdale, newly named head coach of the New York Knicks. In addition to sharing a passion for the Knicks – of which Brennan is a lifelong fan – the two equally take pride in the unrivaled sense of community they personally experienced as USD students.

“I talk to a lot of other friends who had different experiences at different colleges and they just don’t seem to have that real true family feeling you get from USD,” Brennan said. “To me, it’s all about the people – from the professors to your fellow classmates – and the lifelong, meaningful relationships you carry on with you.”

Photo credit: Forbes article, "Suja Juice: The Unlikely Team That's..."


Renata Ramirez
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