A couple of weeks ago Surly Brewing Co. got a lot of attention because it is looking for a site to house a sparkling new $20 million "destination brewery" that will include a restaurant and event center. This is made possible by a new law that allows pints of beer to be sold at breweries in Minnesota, just like in many civilized countries.
Surly has consultants, real estate people and the enthusiastic backing of economic development agencies and politicians. It might be looking for tax breaks or public money because the brewery hopes to create 150 jobs.
This week Jamie Robinson advanced his seven-year dream for a brew pub in a decidedly more subdued way. He sat by himself at a small table that held a laptop, a fax machine and a cellphone inside an empty building that he hopes will be that dream in south Minneapolis, waiting for calls.
Robinson and two partners -- chef Bryce Strickler and house manager Amy Johnson -- have ponied up $15,000 each to lease the elegant building on E. 38th Street and 28th Avenue S. Unable to find large investors in this economy, the three have turned to a creative way to finish the pub: a fundraising effort that involves community ownership.
"In order to raise money for a for-profit business, we can't do general solicitation, we can't put up a billboard," said Robinson. "We have to put the word out and have people come to us."
Through word-of-mouth among craft beer aficionados and their website, Robinson and company are trying to raise $160,000 from about 150 "memberships." If they do, Park Midway Bank in St. Paul has agreed to lend them the rest of the start-up money for what Robinson calls a retro-style pub that showcases the history of the Standish neighborhood and serves up exquisite craft beer and smoked foods all made on premises. The pub would employ about 25 people.
"We tried to sell our plan to big investment groups, the traditional way of raising money," said Robinson. A lot of them liked the business plan, but either had their money tied up or were waiting for the economy to turn, he said.
Because of strict federal rules governing soliciting investors, Robinson can't exactly spell out the conditions of being a community investor, or as he prefers, "member." He can say there are levels of membership, but can't say if you get anything in return.
But I've employed my investigative skills to check out the rumors floating around, and feel confident that if I decided to shell out a little cash -- for argument's sake let's say $1,000 -- to help the community effort of a craft brew pub, I would be drinking free beer for quite some time.
Robinson is confident they will find enough contributors to secure the loan and open by late spring. "If the community wants it, this will happen," he said. "If it doesn't, it won't."
City Council Member Gary Schiff supports the project, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recently posted this on his Facebook page: "A creative approach to opening a Minneapolis brew pub. More local beer equals more jobs which equals a happier Mayor!"
Until 2006, Robinson was a craft beer hobbyist who ran a limousine company. But he sold that to pursue his dream. He interned and worked with brewer Mike Hoops at Town Hall Brewery and took a course at the Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago. At Town Hall, he met Strickler, who expressed interest in starting his own restaurant. Strickler has bought a smoker and has been testing recipes in his back yard, Robinson said. (Strickler is from the Iron Range, and would feature some of that cuisine, such as porketta.) Johnson has a degree in hotel/restaurant management and worked at Stub and Herbs, a craft beer lover's favorite.
Robinson's focus will be expanding the characteristics of classic craft beers such as Bell's Two Hearted and Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, as well as offering seasonal and more unusual beers.
The three owners will each control their own area of expertise and have a lot of "creative license," said Robinson. The working name of the brewery is Smokehouse Brewpub, but Robinson said they will likely add another word, once lawyers check for trademarks.
I can't tell you what it might be, but let's just say we can expect a revival in Standish if this thing happens.
If you want to know more about being a community supporter of Robinson's dream, go to the pub's Web page and fill out the disclosure form (www.smokehousebrewpub.com).
Or just drive by. Robinson will be the guy sitting in the empty building that may someday hold his dream, waiting.
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