Dawn Finnie

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.”

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.

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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.