Beverage Entrepreneurship

New Brewery Aims to Open Doors in Rochester in 2019

From left to right: Brian Miller and Steve Patterson of Prime Stein Brewery. Photo courtesy of Prime Stein Brewery.

From left to right: Brian Miller and Steve Patterson of Prime Stein Brewery. Photo courtesy of Prime Stein Brewery.

Entrepreneurs Brian Miller and Steve Patterson are seeking to make their mark on the Rochester craft beer scene. The pair aim to open their business, Prime Stein Brewery, in this city by the end of 2019 adding their fresh, approachable style of beers to the Rochester palate. 

“I’ve been thinking of a way to be my own boss and own my own business for a long time,” explained Miller.

He began searching for something he was passionate about that could also create value for others, eventually landing on brewing.

Since then, Miller’s developed fifteen different craft beer recipes, including a “solid amber beer.” Patterson came onto Prime Stein about eighteen months ago to assist in marketing efforts for the business. The pair aim to create beers for everyone through Prime Stein, not just products for the craft beer enthusiast. Instead, they say their beers are not the darkest or the hoppiest and contain less intrusive flavors.

“It’s just really welcoming, local craft beer,” explained Miller.

Although relatively new to the brewing scene, these innovators are putting in the work, brewing up to five to six times a month out of Patterson’s basement.

“We’re basically trying to shove ten years of knowledge into two,” Patterson laughed. 

Right now, Prime Stein is more of a brand than a brewery. Currently, Miller and Patterson cannot sell beer, but they can donate it. Last year they were involved in several events in the community where locals could sample their brews including the Soaked in the Sun Followed by a Night of Fun event this summer at the History Center of Olmsted County and Stationary Astronaut’s Meeting of the Minds this fall.

Currently the men brew using a one-barrel system, which can create thirty-one gallons of beer.

Miller and Patterson look forward to contributing to the rapidly growing craft beer culture in Rochester, where they say so much work has already been done. 

“But the whole process is so long because you can’t sell until you have a license and you can’t get a license until you have commercially zoned property,” explained Patterson. “So basically, you run in circles until you get a break through. And we actually hit one now so we can make some progress on that now.”

Miller and Patterson are currently working on a letter of intent to lease property in Rochester for the brewery.

“We aim to be serving our very first beer by December 31st of 2019,” Miller said. 

Although neither entrepreneur has ever opened a brewery before, they’ve entered into the process prepared and head-on. Miller wrote a forty-page business plan, which the pair took to business consultant Rick Indrelie at the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance. SBDC, explained Patterson, was a wonderful resource for business growth and provided valuable reality checks.   

Patterson has had several side hustles to date and understood how to obtain things like federal and state tax identification numbers. But the process of seeking commercial space, filing the right paperwork, and seeking bank loans was all quite new.

Both men eventually hope to work full time in the brewery. But for now, they’re dedicated to doing whatever it takes to get this first location open in Rochester.

“The ten-year plan is to have several breweries opened under the Prime Stein name. We are hoping we can make that work,” said Patterson.

You can learn more about Prime Stein Brewery and keep up to date on their progress by following them on Facebook (@PrimeSteinBrewery), Instagram (@primesteinbrewing), and Twitter (@PrimeSteinBrew).

Rochester's Newest Taproom, Little Thistle Brewing, Opens Today

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Steve and Dawn Finnie have been crafting unique microbrews for the past decade. Now, the husband and wife team are set to open their own family-run taproom, Little Thistle Brewing, bringing a distinctive, modern feel and approachable beer menu to this city.

For Finnie, brewing began as a hobby. After getting introduced to the craft from a friend, he began creating experimental batches for others to enjoy while gathering at the Finnies’ home.

“We would just have people come to our house and make beer. We’d have parties and it was great to meet people from all over the world,” he explained. “And then we just kept doing that and then I think the hobby got a bit more serious.”

The brewing evolved onto such a scale that Finnie created a beer club, where friends would pay him $100 a year to help cover the cost of raw ingredients, allowing him to create even more beers. Many of these creations inspired the brews currently housed in Little Thistle’s 10-barrel (or 310 gallon) brewing system.

Little Thistle Brewing- named in homage to the national flower of Finnie’s native Scotland- is not the couple’s first professional brewing endeavor. A few years ago, Finnie, a trained physical therapist, left a fifteen-year career at Mayo Clinic to help create another brewery in Rochester. Finnie exited that business about two years ago.

“I’m glad we had the opportunity. We did it and we showed that we could brew beer,” he explained. “Now, this is exactly what we’ve wanted to do.”

Even before opening that first brewery, Finnie was crafting a business plan to create something as small as a nanobrewery, Dawn explained. Today, the Finnies’ vision is finally coming to fruition as they open the doors to Little Thistle.

While the process of launching the new brewery has been challenging, the largest hurdle, the Finnies explained, was finding a location for the business.

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“We would get in the car every night with the kids and drive around for months until we found something,” Finnie said.

The family traveled all over town knocking on doors to buildings, even buildings that were not for sale, Dawn joked, trying to find the ideal spot for their vision. The Finnies finally found the perfect location- a 5,000 square foot warehouse on two acres of land- in northwest Rochester nestled right next to the Douglas Trail.

Little Thistle Brewing is a taproom; no food will be served at the location without outside partnering.

“There is no confusion here. It’s all about beer, beer education, community, family, kids, dogs,” Finnie explained.

The taproom even has a motto: “Be humble, drink local.”

“We want [potential staff and employees] to work with us, not for us. And we really want to build that community from the ground up,” Dawn explained.

The business aims to appeal to everyone from the craft beer nerd to the light beer drinker.

“The beer is going to be the vehicle that brings people together. We want it to be unpretentious,” Dawn said.

Little Thistle will brew traditional beers, light lagers, experimental beers, barrel-aged beers, and cask ales, a traditional style beer in the United Kingdom with lower carbonation that’s served from a hand pump at a slightly warmer temperature. The brewery aims for quality versus quantity with the beers on tap, with most beers being served from more than one line to facilitate guest flow and enhance service at the bar area.

As the motto dictates, Little Thistle strives to support local businesses. The brewery looks forward to partnering with other Rochester establishments to provide different food options at the taproom. This “support local” approach extends to other breweries in the area as well, which Finnie does not view as competition.

“If someone goes to LTS or another brewery in town and they like the craft beer or never tried craft beer before, they are more likely to come to our place. …It just helps everyone,” he explained.

After years of working towards this point, Little Thistle Brewing is set to open up to the public for the first time today at noon. In the weeks leading up to this unveiling, the Finnies have alternated between excitement, sheer terror, and feeling like they’re just staying afloat.

“We’re on the final lap of this long marathon, I think,” Finnie laughed, “I’m just looking forward to being open and sitting on this deck and having a cold beer and watching people enjoy.”

Brewery Owner Says 'Life's Too Short' to Not Follow Dreams

“We built this with our hands and our sweat and sometimes our blood. And it’s open and making beer people love,” explained Brandon Schulz, Owner of LTS Brewing Company. Founded in 2013 by Schulz and business partner Jeff Werning, the taproom and microbrewery opened its doors in August 2015 as one of the original members of Rochester’s craft brewing community.

Schulz, an avid home brewer and lover of craft beer, enjoyed visiting microbreweries during family trips or business travel, but couldn’t find that same experience in Rochester. At that time, there was only one other craft brewery in Rochester; he saw a lot of room to do something different and to create that sense of community that he experienced at other breweries.

“Life’s too short”- the motto at LTS Brewing- was created during a trip Schulz took with friends through Michigan a few years prior to opening the brewery. They spent that time fishing, drinking, touring breweries, and generally just enjoying life.

“We hadn’t made enough time for adventures like that in the past and concluded life was too short not to make time,” Schulz explained. “Since then, it has been easy to see applications of that slogan everywhere.”

The message applied when the LTS Brewing team had to push forward with the physical buildout of the brewery and with the business development and growth that necessarily followed. It applied again when the head brewer had to step back from that position, requiring Schulz to move into that role, with much help from Werning.   

“I guess the point is, this was a dream of mine, and life’s too short to not follow your dreams. You never know what’s coming around the next curve in life,” Schulz said.

Today, LTS Brewing sells a variety of in-house brewed small batch ales and lagers. For the kids- and adults- they brew their own root beer and have several rotating craft soda flavors including cream soda, grape, and strawberry kiwi.

While they don’t serve food in the taproom, LTS Brewing hosts local food trucks and allows customers to bring in their own food to enjoy the brewery experience. The team works to maintain a comfortable, approachable atmosphere in the taproom, where the focus is on the beer.

Like any startup, LTS Brewing has faced several obstacles right from the beginning. In general, alcohol production and sales is a highly-regulated industry.

“Some of our biggest challenges in the buildout had nothing to do with alcohol laws, though,” Schulz said. “They were more related to the nature of commercial building regulations.”

In your own residential home, he explained, you can install your own HVAC system, plumbing, and electrical systems. But in a commercial building, you are required to use licensed contractors. The team had much difficulty in getting bids accepted by contractors in Rochester; a one-off project with an emerging business just wasn’t attractive.

They’ve also faced staffing issues.

“The service industry is challenging, both to hire and keep employees. And even when you find really good ones, many of them ultimately don’t stick around,” Schulz explained.

The LTS Brewing team- Schulz, Werning, and Tap Room Manager Carissa Darcy- have kept the doors open and Rochester filled with their craft beer for two years. Schulz himself works at LTS Brewing full time and at Western Digital as a software architect- also full time- after originally moving to Rochester in 2001 to work at IBM.

Prior to opening LTS Brewing, he worked on software by day and brewed beers in his garage at night for twelve years. He said Werning had more of the business development experience and “with his guidance the entire team at LTS has been a big part of growing the business.”

Schulz said he has no plans to leave his software job anytime soon; LTS Brewing is still growing and remains labor and capital intense.

The brewery continues to build their customer base largely by word of mouth. But they’ve also successfully engaged and attracted customers though Facebook marketing. They host themed “Trivia Tuesdays,” food truck events, and small batch releases, which they market and push through the social media platform to engage their customer base.

Schulz says the brewery plans to continue forward with “responsible growth.” This includes expanding brewing capacity to at least 2,500 barrels a year within the next two years, which would dramatically increase their distribution. He also aims to brew more high-end beers in large-format bottles while “continuing to flex our brewing muscles” on the more “approachable” beers.

Schulz also hopes to expand and engage the community around LTS Brewing with several different types of events. The biggest of these new gatherings was the recent Kegs & Barrels Festival, a collaboration between LTS Brewing, Kinney Creek, Grand Rounds, and Four Daughters Winery to celebrate locally crafted drinks, food, and community.    

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery: the Family Business with Strong Minnesotan Ties

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery, a family owned business in Spring Valley, has garnered national attention. This restaurant, vineyard, and cidery is Minnesotan to its core, from the people to the products.

Launching businesses is nothing new to Four Daughters owner Vicky Vogt, especially businesses with her daughters. She’s run an upholstery business, flipped houses, and managed an eBay business. All of the endeavors were successful. But it was time for Vicky, her husband Gary, and their daughters to try something new.

Enter Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery.

“I wanted to start a business that my daughters would be interested in moving home for. So that was the drive [to start Four Daughters],” Vicky explained.

At the time that Vicky and her family entered the wine industry in Minnesota, it was very new but growing rapidly. There were several variables and risks involved in opening a winery and vineyard, and her daughters wanted to wait before jumping into the process.

“And I said no. If we’re going to do it, we have to do it now,” Vicky said.

Vicky wrote the business plan for Four Daughters in 2010 and planted their first grapes that same year. The very first Four Daughters building opened in December 2011. Vicky and Gary even got two of their daughters to move back home to help run the business.

Expect a unique experience when visiting Four Daughters. This gem is tucked into rural Spring Valley, a thirty-minute drive directly south from Rochester. The entire Four Daughters estate includes a restaurant, tasting room, event room, six-acre vineyard, and fully operational winery and cidery.

Vicky and her family devote time to crafting the guest experience at Four Daughters. They realize that most people have never visited a winery before and want to ensure that their guests are comfortable. Usually Gary is walking around Four Daughters speaking with visitors. Even when I walked into the restaurant and gift shop before hours, I was welcomed in by the hostess who didn’t even bat an eye at someone wanting wine at 10AM on a Tuesday.

Four Daughters wants the combination of the food and the wine together to be an experience during visits. The restaurant holds special, reservation-only dinners on Thursday nights, featuring a handcrafted tasting menu with a food and wine pairing. Four Daughters constantly changes their menu and serves several different types of foods, from calamari to dumplings with an Asian flare.

Vicky’s family has been entrenched in wine production long before the doors at Four Daughters opened. Grape growing in Minnesota has some unique challenges compared to production in other areas of the country. Our climate here is damp and the grapes face mold and rot issues. It’s obviously a lot colder here than in wine country like California. Vineyards in Minnesota use special cold-hardy grape strains, many of which were developed at the University of Minnesota, that can survive temperatures down to thirty below zero. Vicky’s father was part of the Minnesota legislature in the 1980s; he fathered a bill appropriating funds to the University of Minnesota to study and develop these type of grapes. Unfortunately, he passed away in March 2010, at the time Vicky was writing the business plan for Four Daughters. But those same grapes made the restaurant and vineyard possible in the first place.

Four Daughters wines, made from these Minnesotan cold-hardy grapes, are popping up all over the place. They were served at the 2015 SXSW film festival. Four Daughters was even the Official Provider at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

How does a winery from Minnesota get into an international film festival? Apparently it takes a lot of time and the right connections. Ten years ago, Vicky created a large cancer research benefit and pulled in a band featuring Derek Hough and Mark Ballis from Dancing with the Stars to play. She became friends with their manager and poured at some of his documentary releases, which eventually led to Sundance.

Besides wine, Four Daughters also produces and distributes hard cider. The Four Daughters cider, called Loon Juice, additionally has strong Minnesotan roots. Honeycrisp apples, a fruit also developed at the University of Minnesota, makes up the base of the cider.

Five years after opening their doors, Four Daughters is still expanding. Quick growth is a challenge itself for the business.

“It’s hard to sometimes keep up with everything that you have to do to keep growing. We’ve been building since we’ve opened. And I’m hoping that next year will be a year we don’t build something. So we can just keep growing within the buildings that we have and continue that growth without a building project,” said Vicky.

Bleu Duck Brings Fresh, Kitchen Forward Dining Concept to Downtown Rochester

“We want to be a little bit of a different kind of restaurant in town. We want to have good food, good beverage, a casual atmosphere, great service. We just want to have fun with it,” said Erik Kleven, owner of Bleu Duck Kitchen, a brand new, sixty seat, American-style bistro in town.

Kleven and business partner Erik Paulsen are set to open Bleu Duck Kitchen on August 26th. For both chefs, Bleu Duck is the first restaurant of their complete own design and concept.

As a native of La Crosse, Kleven moved to the west coast during this high school years, where he also attended culinary school. Then he and his wife moved back to Rochester to raise their children in the Midwest. He worked both at Chester’s Kitchen and Bar and Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery, where he served as the Executive Chef and met Erik Paulsen, then the Four Daughters Sous Chef.

“You always think about wanting your own place at some point. …[Erik and I] get along pretty well. Fun is our number one thing. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families. So we better have a good time doing it,” said Kleven.

Bleu Duck Kitchen is a brand new concept for Rochester. The menu will constantly change and the experience will be new each visit. The chefs challenge Rochester residents to keep finding their new favorite thing on the menu.

“There’s going to be a wide variety of just really cool, classic dishes with new twists to them. We kind of have a very novel approach to our cooking. Dining is supposed to be fun. There’s no reason that the cooking towards it shouldn’t be as much fun,” said Paulsen.

Bleu Duck will make fine dining look effortless.

The chefs will implement a kitchen-forward concept so that diners feel like part of the cooking experience and become educated about their food.

Bleu Duck also has an event space, which following suit to the restaurant, will be completely unique. The main event area seats one hundred, while a private chef’s room can house twelve to fourteen people. This is not your classic venue. The space is very modern and completely customizable to what the customer wants.

“It’s their party. It’s not our party. They want it, we’ll figure out a way to get it done for them as much as we can,” explained Kleven.

Kleven and Paulsen are the chefs and owners behind Bleu Duck Kitchen, but there are other pieces to the concept.

Aynsley Jones, owner of The Doggery and also Bleu Duck, will also be sharing his cocktail making talent at the Bleu Duck bar.

Jennifer Becker, former Food and Beverage Director and Event Coordinator at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, is manning the event space and front of house.

Jennifer herself has been in the service industry since she was 13. She started by washing dishes and worked her way up. Jennifer and the Eriks worked together for a single night prior to jumping into Bleu Duck. Jennifer was volunteering at a fundraising gala for the Boys & Girls Club just this past May. As part of the event, the chefs Erik set up a popup restaurant in the Conley-Maass building.

“It was completely under construction. There was no running water. No bathrooms. And they were pulling out eight courses for forty people,” Becker said.

Kleven and Paulsen cooked a beautiful, eight course dinner smack in the middle of a construction zone. Jennifer was so impressed by the calmness and level of sanity they maintained, she knew she wanted in on Bleu Duck.

Kleven claims that their calmness stems from prepping and planning hard, but the pair are not easily rattled in the kitchen. Even opening a restaurant of their own, unique design has not shaken them.

Kleven and Paulsen’s biggest challenge came with taking off those chef hats and doing some design work.

“We’re cooks. We’re service industry. Hospitality industry. We’re not used to picking out lights and towel dispensers, things like that,” explained Paulsen.

Bleu Duck has a beautiful, historic venue to launch into this new wave of entrepreneurship for all of them. The restaurant is housed on the first floor of the Conley-Maass building on 4th Street SW. They even have table seating on the old storefront window platforms at the front of the building.

“You don’t get a lot of views like this out of any other restaurant in town,” said Kleven.

Plus, you just can’t beat the history.

“The history is very intriguing and I think that’s the selling point. People travel all around the world for places like this,” Becker related.

How to Pivot your Business Model: Transforming Sontes into a Rochester Brewpub

“But that’s part of being an entrepreneur, is forward thinking about where you’re going to be.  What do you want to do?  Where do I want to be in ten to fifteen years?” explained Tessa Leung, owner of Grand Rounds Brew Pub

Tessa has been innovating in Rochester’s food and drink scene for a long time.

This female businesswoman previously owned and ran Sontes, an upscale, locally sourced food and wine bar that used to sit right on the corner of 3rd Street SW and South Broadway.  While business at Sontes was great, Tessa could see that it was time for a change.  On April 15th last year, tax day for those keeping score, Tessa and her business partner/head brewer Steve Finnie opened up Grand Rounds Brew Pub, the very first brewpub in over twenty years in Rochester. 

Tessa previously met Steve at an event where he was serving up his beer and she absolutely loved his product.  “Then we looked at what was missing in Rochester and asked what did we really like,” she explained.  Tessa was passionate about wine.  Sontes was her “first baby”.  But when looking at Sontes’ business model, she realized the opportunity to really engage the local community and grow with Sontes was limited.

"Wine in the Midwest doesn't really scream camaraderie like it does in California, because we don't yet have that sense of wine culture, yet.  Wine is not a known commodity like beer in the Midwest.  But beer, it really is part of our Midwestern collective memories and consciousness."

Adding a community-focused piece was important for Tessa in this phase of her career as a food and beverage innovator.  While growing up in Stewartville, one of her favorite jobs was working at this local pizza place, a restaurant that was really inclusive and drew in everybody from the community.

“And it was the best pizza ever.  I’m not going to lie. …The whole town stood behind that.  The whole town got it.  The whole town was proud of that,” she said.

“I think in any business, and especially small business, I think involving the community and the local people, that’s what makes your business your business.  And that’s what makes your business really cool. …And it’s nice for Rochester people to say, ‘This is our beer.  We have this,’” Tessa explained.  

Even the Grand Rounds name is rooted in connectivity and community.  Grand rounds are part of the medical education process where physicians, students, and residents come together to talk about problems and to learn.  Gathering around the table over some beers at the end of the day is just an extension of this process. 

“What do people do when you get together and drink a pint?  You talk about problems.  You try to figure things out.  It’s kind of a grand round.”

The name Grand Rounds is a nod to Rochester’s past, but it also acknowledges Rochester’s future.  A future beyond these medical ties.  A future in entrepreneurship.  A future in beer.

The craft beer scene in Minnesota is one of the best in the country.  Minnesota has 105 craft breweries, or about 2.7 breweries per 100,000 people 21 years of age or older, according to the Brewers Association.  The beer scene in Rochester is starting to grow.  Kinney Creek set the pace, becoming the first brewery to open in Rochester since prohibition. 

“Rochester’s really starting to get this massive education on food and wine and beer and entrepreneurship.  Things aren’t what they were ten years ago.  And that’s good.  That’s really good,” said Tessa.

Now we have Kinney Creek Brewery, Grand Rounds Brew Pub, Forager Brewery, and LTS Brewing Company.  People are starting to take notice of our Rochester beers and breweries.  You don’t need to trek to the Twin Cities any more for a good, local craft beer.

“I’m so hopeful that this city becomes more like you see in Minneapolis or what you see in Portland or Seattle or Sonoma.  It’s a city that embraces that you have quality products and quality chefs and quality producers here and that Rochester does have a lot to offer,” Tessa explained.

Rochester has brewers making some phenomenal, award-winning beers from locally sourced ingredients.  As residents of this city, we’re starting to work through our beer primer and finally understand the difference between a brewery and a brew pub.  Our brewers are creating some innovative products.  Grand Rounds themselves just brewed their 100th batch of beer last month.  That’s 1400 kegs of beer. 

As a southeastern Minnesota born and bred girl, Tessa loves Rochester and the talent held within.  With all the changes happening in the community, Rochester is becoming an entrepreneurial hot spot in Minnesota and more and more people are finally starting to take risks

“I was the only one by myself for a quite some time that was doing something so different that it felt pretty lonely at times.  I really don't feel alone anymore.  It is nice be amongst fellow adventurers in the community, that are inspiring me!”