Photo courtesy of Instagram @urbangrowler
Urban Growler, located in St. Paul, just celebrated their 6 year anniversary with a special canned release of a beer they put out last year called “Peachy Queen.” But not all was “Peaches and Cream” when bringing their dream of owning a brewery to fruition. In fact, the road to success was a bumpy one, but with “grit, resilience and incredible spirit,” owners and life partners Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch pushed through setbacks and blatant discrimination until they opened the doors to Minnesota’s first female owned and operated brewery.
Jill and Deb met 14 years ago at a craft beer bar. While enjoying one of Deb’s homebrews, they decided “we’re gonna open a brewery!” They quit their corporate jobs and wanted to commit to learning all aspects of the business. Jill took the hospitality route, getting a job as a hostess for a restaurant group and made her way to management in 6 months, while Deb worked at a homebrew supply store as a recipe curator for homebrew kits.
Some years had gone by when Deb reached out to Mark Stutrud, founder of Summit Brewing Co., to seek mentorship. He suggested getting her Masters in Brewing, which she did, and by a stroke of luck, much faster than anticipated. She returned to MN and landed a gig at Summit.
Deb and Jill found a beautiful building with natural light and lattice steel beams that screamed to them, “beer hall!” The building itself has a pretty cool history too. It once housed the police horses of St. Paul and was the manufacturing plant that made Northland Pro Hockey Sticks. After settling on the space, then came the hardest part: finding a bank that would support their vision.
After forming a solid business plan (not their first rodeo, Jill had owned two small businesses in the past) and finding a team of “everyday folk” to invest around 10k, they went to bank after bank, 12 to be exact, with no luck. At first, they thought they were dressed too professionally, so they began to dress like brewers. Then, it started to become more apparent. They were met with condescending questions like, “how will you ladies keep those late night hours?”, “how will you even carry those big bags of grain?”, and worst of all, “wait, you’re married? Well, what happens if you get divorced?” a question that struck them and provoked the thought, “would they ask us this if we were a hetero couple?”
As a last ditch effort, they were referred to a farmers bank about 2 hours away. They proposed their plan, and were met with success, the loan officer saying “it’s a no brainer!”
The SBA (Small Business Association) caught wind of Jill and Deb’s story and were furious by the way they were treated. They invited Jill to speak at a conference, where those 12 banks were present, to share Urban Growler’s story of success. Since opening, they expanded three times, purchased a canning line, began distributing, and had grown their staff from 12 people to 50. What a satisfying moment for Jill and Deb.
So, I asked Jill, since she and Deb had their fair share of setbacks in getting started, what piece of advice would she offer to people, women especially, on opening their own brewery. Jill replied, “We’ve had women come here and break down because they’ve hit this wall. Keep sharing your story. Having grit and determination is not enough. You also have to be vocal about your experience, which is hard. Being vocal about the fact that you deserve to be heard … You will be told no but don’t let them be right. If you are truly passionate about what you want to do, you will make it happen.“