“It was meant to be,” says Deb Loch, Head Brewer and Co-Founder of Urban Growler. Her partner, Co-Head Honcho, Jill Pavlak, nods.
And it was meant to be beer, said the universe.
Or maybe that pronouncement came from Wonder Woman who appears, on repeat, in cardboard cutout behind the bar. The Wonder Woman of those kickass red boots and lasso of truth, the Lynda Carter version, circa 1975. She presides as patron saint of this taproom, and this twosome.
“She’s a force,” smiles Jill.
Urban Growler exists at a midpoint between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Surrounded by remnants of the area’s industrial and railroad past, the microbrewery and beer garden sit at the foreground of new development, adaptive re-use, and a funky mix of established and emerging retail, artist and maker spaces, restaurants, and new housing. The neighborhood is on the cusp of urbanity.
There is an “old timey” feel to the Urban Growler space – the 1920’s blonde brick and exposed ironwork frame clads a stable building that, at one time, housed the horses of St. Paul’s police department. The vibe today, however, is distinctly au currant with gleaming stainless beer tanks and taps, and two women at the helm.
Starting Urban Growler in 2014, Deb and Jill weren’t trying to be trailblazers, “We are both entrepreneurs and starting the brewery together just made sense,” Jill offers. With complimentary backgrounds – bioengineering for Deb and sales and marketing for Jill – each had restaurant experience and sought a midcareer pivot that would allow creative freedom while connecting their skills and experience to the community.
“We love the German beer tradition,” Deb says. “Think Oktoberfest: communal tables, lots of people, camaraderie, a celebratory atmosphere. Joy. Besides,” she adds, “when Jill closed her eyes and imagined a work day doing this, she physically relaxed. I could see it in her face and body. She needed this.”
Their patrons and neighbors needed it, too.
The large interior beer-hall feel of the main taproom is further enriched with newly expanded event space for parties, weddings, and corporate events. Bookings are filling fast. But the real draw at Urban Growler is the patio: “Yeah, it really gets going out there,” Jill, says with sparkle.
And why not? People love being with others when the energy is high and the beer and food are good. The beanbag toss game, Giant Jenga, bright red umbrellas and strings of overhead lights add to the festivity. Mingling is easy. “You find things in common with strangers here,” Jill offers. “We have lots in common with others; more in common, in fact, that not in common.”
Divisiveness in the outside world is one reason that crafting this brewery as a place for people to gather was meaningful to the pair. “That was one of the driving points for us in opening Urban Growler,” says Jill. “The Catholic Church had just sent out a DVD to Minnesota Catholics about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, and the danger of otherness.”
Jill and Deb read it as a political act determined to divide people and separate folks into categories. Neither was interested in labels. “We are not a ‘Lesbian Bar,’ “ Jill offers. “We built the business with women in mind, but this is for everyone. We want to bring people together because we know what it feels like to be on the outside.”
Jill and Deb were on the outside when it came to initially funding their new enterprise, too.
Despite a solid business plan, years of work experience, and stellar credit, the partnership failed to secure a first-time business loan. “We were denied by 12 banks,” Deb recounts. “So we got creative.”
The duo relied on friends to get them over the hump before they secured financial backing. “First we sold our home brew,” Deb says, “and drawings and sketches, even T-shirts with our logo on it. A logo for a brewery that didn’t exist yet.” Deb and Jill relied on people from the community for support: “They wrote letters for us, they showed up." And they are still showing up to drink the beer at Urban Growler. Says Deb, "They are our best brand ambassadors.”
That community – a full community, diverse and representative – is what they celebrate at the brewery.
Urban Growler is part of the Creative Enterprise Zone, a local economic cooperative around the intersection of University and Raymond Avenues in which Deb and Jill are founding participants. “We make our beer here, we show local artists’ work here, and we host local music.”
The brewery draws from a wide customer base, including neighbors and tourists and folks from different demographics. “We’ve hosted the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans,” Jill offers.
Bi-partisan beer? A brewery as a great uniter, a force for good?
Jill shares a story that has proves her point. When an operative showed up to disrupt a rival campaign’s private event, instead of kicking the guy out, Jill offered to take him on a tour of the brewing facility. He respectfully agreed to the tour, and chose not to crash the scheduled event or make a scene. He even stayed a while at the bar watching a band perform in the main room.
“Disarmed him with civility,” Jill says, and smiles an easy smile. “People are people. Everyone’s welcome here.”
For more information: http://www.urbangrowlerbrewing.com/