Strong Women Creating Value, Part Two: Dawn Finnie

As part of Women's History Month, we are highlighting four women in the community who are making waves and creating things of real value. Check back in over the next few weeks as we share the stories of some real female innovators who are making significant impact in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota. 

This week, we're focused on local entrepreneur Dawn Finnie.


Who are you?

I’m one half of Little Thistle Brewing Company, along with my husband, Steve. I’m officially the CEO, but it’s really a team effort.

What value are you creating in the community? 

We’ve lived in Rochester for almost 20 years and we’ve seen its evolution progress over the past few years. My husband and I both grew up in small towns – he grew up in a little village in Scotland and I grew up on a farm in Iowa. Like a lot of people here, we never thought we would stay in Rochester, but we did.  Rochester has that small town feeling, like seeing people you know in the grocery store.  It has just enough to do and it just keeps getting better. We are invested in this community and we want to see it continue to grow and change, but still keep that small town vibe.

We’ve been going to breweries for a long time and we’ve always had the dream to open our own brewery and incorporate some of the cool things we’ve experienced along the way. We’re passionate about beer, and we’re passionate about family, and we love the Rochester community. While we’re a brewery and will be making and selling beer, we’ll also be community focused and family friendly. Traditionally, pubs were gathering places for family and friends to get together – a relaxed, social atmosphere where people can feel like a home away from home, but without laundry or dishes to do! We will have a game room with shuffle board and video games, an outdoor space with games, and we’re right on the Douglas Trail. We’ll have some fun family-focused programming, and we’ll be dog friendly.

We’re also hoping to create value in the Rochester community by partnering with other local businesses and entrepreneurs. There will be opportunities for local art and local music, and we have an amazing outdoor space and event space. I’m sure there are some opportunities that we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s exciting.

What are your responsibilities in your day to day job?

My day to day job is actually as a health services analyst at Mayo Clinic. I work with the Care Experiences Program in the Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. I coordinate the qualitative research unit, which includes pairing investigators with a qualitative research question with the resources they need to help answer that question. Our resources happen to be people with qualitative research experience and expertise.

My beer job so far has involved pulling together the messaging and building our brand. I also read a lot – what’s going on in the brewing industry, what are people brewing, what are people drinking, how are they running their business, what kind of social media are they putting out – those type of things. It also involves a lot of beer tasting and talking about beer – a lot.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in business?

I’ve been fortunate to work at Mayo for the past 15 years, and while there have certainly been situations when I’ve felt frustrated over being treated differently because I’m a woman; for the most part, and certainly on a daily basis, I’m surrounded by smart, successful women who are respected and supported for what they do. I’m sure others have had different experiences, but I often look around a meeting room and see women who speak up and are respected for their expertise. It’s allowed me to feel empowered to do the same.

The brewing industry has a long way to go. It’s made up of mainly white, bearded guys. But there are so many smart, creative people in the industry that are leading the charge to create an environment that supports and elevates women as well as those for whom gender identity is a barrier and people of color. Other women in brewing in Minnesota have been so supportive of our project and of me personally. I’ve been reaching out to try to get ideas on hiring and retaining a diverse crew of employees. It’s important to us that we hire good people with the same mentality and drive that we have. We can train people to understand, sell, and even love beer. We’re a family business, so we want to support our staff and help them grow as individuals just like we want to do for our family.

What ask do you have for women in the SE Minnesota business and entrepreneurial community?

There are so many amazing women doing great things in Rochester and in SE Minnesota. Supporting small businesses in general is essential, and that’s especially true of women in business. To me, supporting women means lifting each other up, knowing when to ask for help and when to stop and listen. Respect and kindness goes a long way.

What challenges do you think that women face in today’s society?

That’s a complex question. I think things are getting better every day. I think there’s still a lot of gender-divided roles and jobs, and that’s a good place to start. Teaching and educating women to pursue things that interest them, whatever those things might be. Diversifying the workforce by providing education and support – it’ll take time for things to shift, but each generation will continue to grow and change. We’re raising two boys and I’m quite sure they have a different perspective on work, women, gender, etc. It’s exciting to see these changes, and as a woman in business and as a mom, I hope that I can provide support, education, and opportunity – wherever I can.