Community comes together to get business brewing

Nov. 8, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association.

At first, Hartford doesn’t seem like a market for a craft beer brewery.

There’s a population of about 3,300 and a downtown that even city leaders said could use more energy.

But Hartford leaders and some determined new business owners did have some key ingredients: The willingness to collaborate and a strong shared sense of community.

That’s why Buffalo Ridge Brewing will open this weekend in downtown Hartford, about nine months after city leaders and four entrepreneurs started – literally –brewing up a business plan.

“Our Chamber of Commerce, economic development corporation and City Council were looking at ways to redevelop Hartford and find opportunities where there’s a lack of business. And downtown was a perfect opportunity for us to redevelop,” said Jesse Fonkert, director of the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce and Hartford Area Development Corporation.

A city-owned downtown property that had been vacant for decades became a focal point for that effort.

“One of our city councilmen had said, ‘What if we put a brewery downtown?’ And we thought that might be a good idea.”

The proverbial stars began aligning when four friends – Damon and Krystal Sehr and Chris and Callie Tuschen – started talking through a business plan.

Chris Tuschen grew up in Hartford but moved to Oregon in 2003. There, he was introduced to the growing craft brewery scene and started brewing beer at home.

“We started … really enjoying creating the product and getting feedback from people that they really enjoyed it,” he said. “We thought it would be fun someday to run a brewery.”

The Sehrs describe themselves as “strong appreciators” of craft beer, beginning with Krystal discovering different brews on business trips.

“We visited one evening about business strategies and beer in general and kind of hit it off,” Damon Sehr said. “I have some business-ownership background and just am always looking for an opportunity.”

They started thinking about locations. They thought about downtown Sioux Falls and surrounding communities, and they originally leaned toward something rural in the Buffalo Ridge area – more of a warehouse-style building for production with a small taproom.

When they started looking for ways to get their beer out to customers before building out their brewery and distribution network, a call to Fonkert started things in motion.

“We ended up talking with them, vetted their business plan, vetted their ideas, and we had a really fun meeting where our development corporation met with the owners of the brewery and sampled their beer and talked about their plans, and lo and behold nine months later, here we are.”

The city transferred the land to the nonprofit development corporation, which transferred it to the brewery.

“We talked about it, and it just made sense,” Sehr said. “We get the best of both worlds. We get to be around a community that’s proud of us and that’s going to support us, and we get our production space that’s not as cost-prohibitive.”

They will start with a 5-barrel brew system that can ferment between 500 and 600 barrels annually. There will be five original beers on tap to start, with plans to grow it to more than a dozen.

“I’m a fan of the traditional styles — keeping things balanced, keeping things flavorful, not getting too overpowering on anything,” Tuschen said. “I really like to play in some of the Belgian styles of beer where you get those really unique flavors. I don’t think a lot of that is being done around here, and I did see it being done on the West Coast, and it was really enjoyable. So we look forward to bringing that here.”

They also will have some appetizers and sandwiches. Hours will be 6:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 to 11 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re very, very happy with how it turned out,” Sehr said. “We feel like the community is proud of us.”

Fonkert agreed – and the effect of the community’s investment in Buffalo Ridge Brewing already is starting.

Since the brewery announced its plans, two more businesses, including a boutique, have decided to open in downtown Hartford.

“The brewery’s not even open yet, and businesses already want to be downtown,” Fonkert said. “And other businesses that are already here are finding ways to be more competitive and finding ways to capitalize on the attention that’s happening right now.”

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Community comes together to get business brewing

Hartford might not be the first place you’d expect to find a new brewery. But the story behind Buffalo Ridge Brewing, which opens this Saturday, shows what’s possible when a community comes together.

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