When they returned to Minnesota in late 2011, Deb began working as an apprentice brewer at Summit Brewing Company. She stayed on at Northern Brewer, too, eventually becoming the store’s new product development manager. All the while, she and Jill were on the lookout for the ideal space for their own brewery. After their initial choice—the current Fair State Brewing Cooperative space, in Northeast Minneapolis—fell through, Deb and Jill’s real estate agent put together a list of 20 prospective properties to consider. One option, number 19, caught their eye.
“It was the same space Jill and I had seen two years earlier, just from the outside,” Deb says. “As soon as we saw it on the list, we yelled, ‘That’s the place! That’s the place!’” They came, looked, and knew this was it. “It had the brick, it had the beams, it had the ceiling—it had it all,” Deb says. “Then we thought, well, what are the chances we can afford it? It was exactly, to the penny, what we had in the business plan. It was meant to be.”
Then a hurdle larger than choosing a location emerged. “We were denied loans because we were women,” she says. “They’d say, ‘How are you going to lift those sacks of grain?’ I was like, really? This is 2015!”
Eventually, Deb and Jill found a banker and started piecing together all the other parts of opening their own brewery. Some of those things included little nods to female patrons: chairs with ears to hang purses on, a vestibule to keep cold air out and warm air in, the thermostat set on something other than freezing, a range of alcohol levels in beer—“things that would appeal to guys, too, but that women notice,” Deb says. “But we don’t have girly beer; we have beer that appeals to men and women. It’s not pink and fruity.”
Six years after choosing passion over practicality and chance over caution, Urban Growler opened for business. The staff is up to more than 40 employees; the brewery’s chef, Paul Suhreptz, just got a larger kitchen; and plans for a brewhouse expansion are in the works. Every day brings with it something new. But they’ve been through the cycle once, Deb says, and they’ve survived. “We’ve gotten a lot better, a lot faster. We’re getting it figured out.”
Sitting back in her chair, Deb looks calm, unfazed—as if she’s talking about a math equation rather than figuring out how to operate a growing brewery. But then that’s what you’d expect from a project manager, whose job it is to anticipate the bad and work with whatever comes her way. “I am well aware of what can happen and I don’t expect everything to be perfect,” she says. “That’s not how things really work.”
Things may not be perfect, but with every pint of beer poured and with every customer satisfied, Deb is achieving the goal that made her start brewing in the first place: to bring people together through beer.
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