Client Success Story: Paddlefish Brewing Company

March 09, 2023 |

The three owners of Paddlefish Brewing posing for a picture

Imagine, you’re walking the main street of a greater Minnesota community. It’s a nice September afternoon. Suddenly, the noise of the street traffic is overtaken by the sounds of good conversations and live music. You notice it is coming from a corner building. It’s a craft brewery with an open storefront, large garage doors opened to the elements. Good conversations are stimulated by beer brewed right on the spot. Farmers talk about plans for the upcoming harvest, professors converse about the incoming freshman class enrolled at the local college, while everyone talks about the prospects of the Minnesota Vikings football season.

 “When I first arrived in St. Peter. I asked myself, why doesn’t this town have a craft brewery?” Payneville native and Gustavus Adolphus College political science senior, Eric Johnson said. “Smaller communities with no colleges like Montgomery, Madelia, and Dundee, all have successful locally owned crafted breweries.”

Once Johnson turned age 21, he and his long-time friend, Dave Long, did a weekend trip to Duluth. “There’s a craft brewery on every corner there,” Johnson chuckled. After visiting various breweries and tasting different taps, the conversation turned to starting their own brewery. “I remember Dave making the comment that a craft brewery is just a good marketing firm that sells beer, so why not take a hard look at the concept and Dave was in,” he added.

When Johnson returned to Gustavus, he shared his idea with fellow “Gustie”, Luke Dragseth. Dragseth shares an interest in mastering crafted beer. “Luke’s hometown is Milwaukee, so he’s been brewing beer since he was eight,” Johnson joked. As the two talked about the concept, Johnson found that Dragseth, an environmental studies senior, has a real interest in crafting beer blending ingredients that are indigenous to growing in the Midwest. With Johnson’s interest in community building, Long’s background in marketing/management and Dragseth’s interest in becoming a brew master, the genesis was set for a new brewery.

“We were full of ideas, but didn’t know where to start? One of my Gustavus professors mentioned contacting Minnesota State University, Mankato,” Johnson said. From that call, Johnson connected with the MainStreet Businesses Focused on Food and Agriculture (MBFFA) Program and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). “They were instrumental in getting us off the ground,” he added.  

MBFFA’s and the SBDC’s team of business consultants worked with Johnson’s team doing market research, crafting financial projections, and building the business plan. From there, they were introduced to various financial programs and key leadership in St. Peter and the region.

Paddlefish Brewing Company of St. Peter will open in the fall of 2023 in 103 S. Minnesota Avenue. Johnson said Paddlefish will be a dedicated craft brewery initially offering up to eight different taps. The brewery will not offer food for sale, but plan to collaborated with existing St. Peter eateries to have various menus delivered to the establishment. Locals refer to the new Paddlefish Brewery location as the old Red Owl grocery store. Paddlefish will lease from Johnson’s father. “It’s our intent to make this the premier historic commercial building in downtown St. Peter,” he said.

Johnson said the biggest challenge has been to stay within budget. Inflation really impacted start-up costs. Through MBFFA and the SBDC, Paddlefish is hoping to hold the line in utilizing local suppliers and sources. One of those being Ed Allen a local table maker and logger who is creating the bar and interior tables. 

“We may be Gusties who started up the hill, but St. Peter really embraced us during our time here. We really want Paddlefish to be a place for all and occasionally, you may interact with a few Gustavus alum,” Johnson said.

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