A lot has changed in the beer world since Tim Nelson and Rod Raymond opened Fitger’s Brewhouse in 1995 as one of only four breweries operating in the state of Minnesota. Today some big changes for the Duluth brewpub were announced. Nelson is selling his interests in the business to Raymond and head brewer Dave Hoops is stepping down.
The changes mean that Raymond will own a significant majority of Just Take Action, Inc., the parent company of Fitger’s Brewhouse, Tycoon’s Alehouse, Burrito Union, Redstar Lounge, and Endion Station. At the Brewhouse, Frank Kaszuba will take over as head brewer, with Hoops staying on in a short-term consulting role, according to Raymond. Kaszuba started in Fitger’s front-of-house more than 15 years ago, and has been brewing there for the last decade.
Hoops said he’s still deciding what’s next for him.
“I’m so grateful to all of the people I’ve worked with over the last 16-plus years at the Brewhouse,” he said in an email. “All of the employees, the patrons and especially my team in the brewery. I wish everyone the best—it’s been a great ride.”
From a customer standpoint, Raymond says, Fitger’s and its sister bars and restaurants won’t change in any significant way. The one exception being of an overhaul of the Redstar Lounge, from a laid-back cocktail lounge to more of an alternative, adventure sports bar to better align with the outdoor culture in Duluth.
“We’re going to make it more of a bourbon and whisky bar versus a blueberry vodka bar,” Raymond says, adding that a name change is also possible.
For Nelson, he’s not planning on leaving the craft beer industry and says he’s going to take some time to decide exactly what he’ll do next. As one of the founding board members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and a two-term board member, he recalls that when he started out at Fitger’s, craft beer was still a novel concept to most of their customers.
“We were educating customers one pint at a time,” he says. “People would come in and they’d order their favorite brand and we didn’t have it. So, then you go, ‘OK, if you like that, try this.’ It was a long process and it wasn’t immediately successful.”
Nelson says he lived off his parents and didn’t take home a paycheck for the first three years the Brewhouse was in business. Years four and five he brought home $1,000 per month.
“This would have been my twentieth year as a founding member of Fitger’s Brewhouse and it was time for me to explore some new things,” Nelson says. “I’ve done this for 20 years. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in craft beer in Minnesota and Duluth especially.”
Nelson says he’s most proud of town’s more progressive cultural shift. “The culture of Duluth has changed and we’ve been a big part of why that’s happened,” he says, pointing to the Brewhouse’s focus on live music, quality craft beer and food, and the outdoors.
Raymond echoes that sentiment and says he’ll continue to foster the “craft culture” they’ve helped usher into Duluth at Fitger’s and the rest of the Just Take Action, Inc. restaurants. While he’s sad to say goodbye to Nelson as a business partner, Raymond is happy to see him go after whatever will make him happy.
“On the business side, he’s such a creative and fun guy, and I can’t speak to what his next idea is but I just know it’s going to be cool and I’m super pumped to see it come out … I’m really happy for him,” Raymond says. “To say goodbye and be sad about it? No, we only live a mile apart. We’ll be cross-country skiing again in no time at all and he’ll be telling me his ideas and we’ll be collaborating on some level, I’m sure, and moving forward in the same vein to keep Duluth a cool city.”