In a way, it took an African refugee from war-torn South Sudan to add something new to the Twin Cities microbrewery boom.
Isaac Tut, who quit an $80,000-plus technology job in 2016, after earning degrees in math, physics and aeronautical engineering from Minnesota universities, is a founder and CEO of Running Tap.
The small business, based just north of downtown, employs three full-time workers and several part-time employees and drivers and claims that it is the first delivery service devoted to connecting a growing list of 20 microbrewers with customers who don’t want to drive across town.
Tut, 28, who also played soccer and ran track at St. Olaf College, and his former roommate, Chris Ho, an international banker for several years after college, used to travel annually with several other friends. They always enjoyed sampling local beers.
“But we had to go to the different taprooms,” Tut recalled. “We couldn’t get local beers delivered.”
Same situation locally. They brewed an idea that became Running Tap.
“If people enjoy these [craft] beers as much as we do, we thought it might be a good business.”
Tut and Ho have invested about $100,000 in cash and sweat equity. They also have raised $500,000 from private, local investors.
The business has grown from three breweries at the beginning of last year. And this will be the first full year of operations from a company that basically is in the logistics-and-delivery business.
The Running Tap principals, who project revenue this year of $200,000, say they will hit the break-even point at $500,000 in revenue, which they hope will be 2019 or 2020.
The business model is pretty simple. Running Tap charges a fee to the participating brewer as well as the customer to generate revenue from the sale of growlers, cans and mixed-brewery variety packs it delivers throughout the Twin Cities.
“We charge the breweries per growler sold on our website,” said Moses Tut, a part-time employee and Isaac’s brother. “Also we get revenue from beer tastings and catering, deliver fees and tips. We’re excited about the results.
“We like to imagine our service as consolidating the brewery experience into one delivery at the customer’s discretion.”
The Tut brothers and Ho see beer as a deliverable item, such as pizza, and want to turn your living room into taproom.
Minnesota, mostly in the Twin Cities, has grown from about 25 small breweries in 2010 to more than 110 today.
“The brewers don’t pay us unless they make a sale,” Isaac Tut said.
Isaac Tut, who was working at Seagate Technology, was able to apply his tech background to the logistic-software end of the business.
Relaxing for an hour one afternoon at Running Tap’s warehouse-offices off Glenwood Avenue N., he conceded that planning and scaling the business has proved more daunting than expected. There are also a lot of moving parts to collecting inventory from distant breweries and getting it delivered around the Twin Cities.
About seven months into its operating life, Running Tap is about “a quarter of the way” to declaring success, Isaac Tut said.
“It’s not a bad start, and we are still pushing,” he said.
The Tut brothers are grateful American entrepreneurs. Their family of nine, including seven kids, was displaced by the Sudanese civil war.
They lived in an Ethiopian refugee camp for years, until they were selected for immigration to the United States in 1999.
The Tut family is part of the lucky 1 percent of the world’s growing class of refugees who are able exit the world’s refugee camps and immigrate to a new home.
The Tuts, thanks to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee, moved to Texas and then to the Twin Cities, where they had a few friends.
They started here by bunking with a minister’s family who helped them acclimate.
The children grew up in Northfield, where Isaac graduated high school before earning a scholarship to St. Olaf, and in Storm Lake, Iowa.
Their mother, Rachel Tut, was killed at age 41 in 2011. She lost control of her vehicle in a snowstorm and collided with a semitrailer truck on her way to work at a factory in Carroll, Iowa.
Hundreds of South Sudanese immigrants from Minnesota and Iowa, as well as their white neighbors, attended the funeral in Storm Lake, Iowa, their home for several years. Her husband, Jacob Tut, is a Presbyterian minister in Storm Lake.
Another Tut child graduated St. Olaf and works in admissions at Harvard College, in Cambridge, Mass. A sister is a St. Olaf student, and another sister is raising a family in California.
The two other sisters attend high school in the Twin Cities and live with Isaac and his wife.
“We are grateful to be here,” Isaac Tut said. “And without organizations like the American Refugee Committee, we wouldn’t be here to tell our story.”
And Minnesota’s economy and culture would be less rich without hardworking immigrants.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.