Union 32 Craft House
Union 32 Craft House opened in Eagan, MN on July 7, 2017 with Minnesota’s first self-serve, pay as you go beer wall. Celebrating Minnesota’s burgeoning craft and microbrewery scene, Union 32 (named after Minnesota becoming the 32nd state in the Union) carries 32 local beers including a few that they brew themselves on site. Guests receive cards that allow them to sample beers from the beer wall, paying by the ounce of beer poured when they close out their tab. They also serve Minnesota made spirits and wines to continue the theme of locally made offerings. Lunch and dinner options rotate seasonally and are ordered through a food truck-like window built inside the brewpub.
We spoke with managing partner Dan Redpath about the unique concept, his passion for brewing beer, and how they worked with North American Banking Company to get their brewpub off the ground.
How did you come up with the concept for Union 32?
It kind of morphed from a few other ideas. For the last seven years I was trying to figure out how I could make a living brewing beer. I wanted to start a brewery. Two years ago I approached one of my partners, David Moeller, and he had some interest in getting into the bar and restaurant business. I said I’m not interested in that but I’d like to do a brewery. He said to take it to the next level, meaning put my business plan together and talk to him about it. I went back two weeks later and he was interested.
So when we first started down this road, it was going to be a production brewery. We were going down the line of what we were going to do, how we were going to do that, etc. Then came our third partner who wasn’t a partner at the time, Mark Zesbaugh, and we pitched to him what we were thinking about doing and wanted some of his advice on the financial and tax side of it, which is his expertise. He said that all sounds great, but he asked “What’s going to make you different?” At that time, basically on the spot, I just said we were going to be a production brewery making really great beer and we’re going to have a good marketing plan, good financing, and we’re going to make a play to compete in this arena. He said “Ok fine.”
But that answer I gave him bothered me. So for three days, I really thought about it and sat in my office and figured out what I had to do to make ourselves different. That’s where I came up with this concept, which is a combination of a lot of different things that I have seen, experienced, or other things I like. I love the brewery tap room. They are pretty much all about the beer. They don’t have a sports bar feel. They are usually a little stark and a little industrial. They don’t have food but they have food trucks outside on the weekends that you can order your food from. So I wanted to capture some of the vibe. A brewpub has to have food, so we brought the food truck concept to the inside.
Secondly, the idea that changed me from a production brewery to a brewpub was the fact that I wanted to make good beer but I am really digging what’s going on in the Minnesota craft beer scene. So that’s where it morphed from a brewery to a brewpub. I could have my beer but I could also have other Minnesota beer. That came from going to the Minnesota State Fair where they have the Land of 10,000 Brews and you have all of the Minnesota breweries there. I said “Why can’t you just do something like that year round where you can taste different things and rotate through different kinds of Minnesota beers and breweries you don’t see every day?” Moving that into the ciders, wines, and spirits was kind of staying in the spirit of celebrating the Minnesota craft.
The beer wall we had seen in different states. I’ve experienced it in San Diego, Denver, and Chicago. We really liked the idea of the self-pour wall and how people interact with it. The beer wall really gets the conversation being about and around the beer, like “Oh, you have to try #3” or “I don’t like #18. I want to try something different.” When I saw it in Chicago and Denver that was what I experienced. And being the first self-pour beer wall in Minnesota is also kind of exciting as well.
Self-service beer pour is a great idea. How do you prevent people from over doing it?
What we had to do is work with the local authorities, basically the Eagan police. We designed the program and presented it to them then they signed off on it. They were extremely happy. So after every 32 ounces, you get a responsibility shut-off. It’s basically two pints. It will stop pouring and there will be a responsibility check. Usually starting at 3 PM, we always have someone working the wall. Except for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays when we have someone working there all the time. We have our Beer Ambassadors that actually work the wall. They are there to answer questions about the beers, help them with the pour if they need help.
After the 32 ounces, it stops and it takes our beer ambassador less than five seconds to reactivate it and they can do that at any one of the screens so you don’t have to go back up to the bar and get reset for another 32 ounces. That way it gives us the ability to stop serving an over-served patron. I think in the first four and a half weeks we have been open, we have only stopped serving one for sure, maybe two people. It’s a way for us to have a quick conversation with them and see if that person is stumbling, slurring…most people aren’t. We can adjust the limit of the card if multiple people are sharing it. The authorities liked this plan because even on a busy night, we can have a more intimate conversation with the customer than a bartender behind the bar when they are running around and serving someone who is sitting down. Here we see them actually walk up, stop and look around and we can have a conversation about reactivating their card.
What’s it like working with North American Banking Company?
They’ve been great. They have been more than accommodating with all factors of what we’re doing. With our initial line of credit set up… that went as easy as possible. Working with Christian [Bergmann, Universal Banker] to get our documentation down for our checking account and signature authorities was a very smooth process.
What advice would you give someone starting a business?
I would say try to know that business as much as possible before you get into it. Not as a plug for North American, but make sure you have your financing in place before you head down that road. I’ve talked to a lot of breweries or brewery start-ups that never got off the ground because they were just going to try and piecemeal the financing together as they went or as they got more further down the road. The key to us, absolutely, was that we had our financing in place before we even signed a lease so I think that is a huge key.