What’s Brewing? With Jacquie Berglund, FINNEGANS Brew Co. Founder

The hos­pi­tal­i­ty and ser­vice indus­try took – and con­tin­ues to take – a mas­sive blow due to the pan­dem­ic. Cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion have been the name of the game for stay­ing afloat amid man­dates and ill­ness. For FINNEGANS Brew Co. – one of the very first craft brew­eries in the Twin Cities – those con­cepts are part of its DNA; so, while the past cou­ple years have been tougher than ever, they’ve stuck to their core val­ues to see them through and re-thrive.

Bell­mont Part­ners recent­ly start­ed work­ing with FINNEGANS to share the sto­ries of its unique busi­ness mod­el, which all start­ed with founder Jacquie Berglund, the self-pro­claimed “ram­bunc­tious social entre­pre­neur” whose vision and charis­ma has helped pull FINNEGANS from near clo­sure to resurgence.

We sat down with Jacquie to chat about the nuances of FINNEGANS’ busi­ness mod­el, how they’ve nav­i­gat­ed the pan­dem­ic and the rein­vest­ment in get­ting FINNEGANS’ name out there again.

FINNEGANS has come a long way since you found­ed it in 1999 – from con­tract brew­ing at Sum­mit Brew­ing Co. to today’s impres­sive one-of-a-kind four-sto­ry FINNEGANS House ded­i­cat­ed to social impact and bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er over a cause. What’s kept you ground­ed and focused through the evolution?

First, our mis­sion – turn­ing beer into food – is a huge dri­ver. A social mis­sion always keeps us centered.

I’ve also learned to sur­round myself with peo­ple who care and are pas­sion­ate about the work we do. Our small but mighty group of indi­vid­u­als moves moun­tains. That’s real­ly has been a con­stant over the last 21 years.

Final­ly, all the peo­ple who have engaged with the FINNEGANS brand. We always talk about it being the brand with a mil­lion fin­ger­prints on it. Know­ing that has helped me keep going – I feel a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty that all these peo­ple sup­port us. I can’t give up on even the dark­est days; I felt this espe­cial­ly dur­ing ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, which were prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing of my career. It kept and keeps me going know­ing there are so many folks engaged with and rely­ing on our brand.

Your busi­ness mod­el is a unique one! Through beer dis­tri­b­u­tion and the down­town Min­neapo­lis brew­ery, tap­room and urban court­yard, FINNEGANS deliv­ers on its mis­sion by chan­nel­ing prof­its and funds raised to fight hunger hyper-local­ly. How has your unique mod­el made weath­er­ing the pan­dem­ic both chal­leng­ing and inspiring? 

Since day one, we’ve donat­ed a por­tion of all our sales to hunger relief orga­ni­za­tions. When we’re los­ing mon­ey hand-over-fist, it’s hard to be donat­ing any mon­ey, right? So in spring of 2022, it was real­ly hard to see our dona­tion num­bers drop­ping. But a lot of peo­ple kept donat­ing. I remem­ber short­ly after George Floyd’s trag­ic death, we did a big emer­gency food and sup­ply dri­ve – when we only had three peo­ple on staff, so a bunch of peo­ple came to vol­un­teer – and peo­ple pulled up behind our brew­ery with bags and bags and bags of food, dia­pers and oth­er neces­si­ties for neigh­bor­hoods that were hard­est hit by the social unrest. That was real­ly uplift­ing and inspir­ing. Even when times are hor­ri­ble and hard, we still find ways engage our team, vol­un­teers and supporters.

There are so many dif­fer­ent ways local busi­ness­es can be mar­ket­ing or get­ting the word out about their busi­ness, and often own­ers are wear­ing many hats with a finite amount of time and bud­get – how have you been able to focus your team’s efforts to fig­ure out what’s best for you?

The biggest thing hap­pened last April when we hired a new chief oper­at­ing offi­cer. I was doing both the CEO and COO jobs and, quite frankly, I’m hor­ri­ble at the COO job. So it took all of the things I real­ly don’t excel at off my plate and now we have some­body who is bril­liant at those things. John, our COO, has real­ly helped us get orga­nized and get the right butts in the right chairs. We have an account­abil­i­ty chart so every­body is swim­ming in their own lanes and that’s real­ly helped take us from the sur­vival mode that we were in dur­ing the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic and moved us into a sta­bi­liza­tion mode.

And then in Q4 of 2021, we hit growth mode, which was the goal. We had a plan to do that and it hap­pened. We’ve all now start­ed fol­low­ing the EOS (entre­pre­neur­ial oper­at­ing sys­tem) process, which has just been fan­tas­tic for us to gain trac­tion and to get our busi­ness in order. Restruc­tur­ing the busi­ness has helped us get things ironed out and tight­ened up so we can stay focused.

We’re so thrilled to be work­ing with you and your team! Why did you feel it was time to rein­vest in get­ting FINNEGANS’ name out there, and what does suc­cess look like?

Restruc­tur­ing the busi­ness was the biggest piece in being able to do that. We raised some more invest­ment cap­i­tal and I actu­al­ly have a mar­ket­ing bud­get. Even though it’s quite small, com­pared to hav­ing noth­ing for three years, it feels fab­u­lous! And so we’re try­ing to get the most bang for our buck that we can with our mar­ket­ing strate­gies and real­ly regroup­ing and focus­ing on com­mu­ni­cat­ing our brand dif­fer­en­tia­tors to the pub­lic around the unique­ness of FINNEGNANS and all that we do.

Some peo­ple still think we’re only brew­ing three beers like we did when I was con­tract brew­ing at Sum­mit. But we’ve made over 100 dif­fer­ent – and good! – beers since we opened this brew­ery.  We real­ly need to raise the bar on what peo­ple think of – and know about – FINNEGANS. We’re kind of rein­tro­duct­ing and reeducating.

We’ve heard you dubbed the “God­moth­er of Inno­va­tion,” which is fit­ting con­sid­er­ing the FINNo­va­tion Lab you found­ed has cham­pi­oned dozens of social entre­pre­neurs and their busi­ness­es that are mak­ing impacts in com­mu­ni­ties local­ly and across the world. Why are inno­va­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion so impor­tant to you? 

They’re great for the col­lec­tive human­i­ty, real­ly. Inno­va­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and social entre­pre­neurism are part of who we are; part of our DNA from the very begin­ning has been launch­ing new ideas and new things. When we start­ed FINNEGANS 21 years ago, social entre­pre­neur­ship was­n’t even a thing. Peo­ple did­n’t even real­ly know what it was. Nat­u­ral­ly, what hap­pened when folks fig­ured out what FINNEGANS was doing, they’d say, “that’s real­ly cool!” and “I want to do that.” I start­ed hav­ing peo­ple email­ing and call­ing to ask how I set up my busi­ness, what my busi­ness mod­el is – and I love that! I love shar­ing every­thing we’ve done to help oth­ers because the more social entre­pre­neurs we have out there, the health­i­er com­mu­ni­ties we’re gonna have. Because every­body wins when we approach and try to solve social issues with a busi­ness mindset.

We blaze trails at FINNEGANS with the things we do and then we share those best prac­tices and lessons learned up in the FINN Lab through pro­gram­ming, cur­ricu­lum and men­tor­ing sup­port. I can give a great exam­ple: Wicked Foods, an inter­na­tion­al veg­an food com­pa­ny that start­ed in the U.K., recent­ly raised $14 mil­lion in ven­ture cap­i­tal and launched last year in the Unit­ed States after sign­ing a nation­wide deal with Krogers. And they head­quar­ter out of the FINN Lab. I got togeth­er with the founders for a beer one time and the CEO says, “we’d love to do a veg­an beer col­lab­o­ra­tion with you. We just did one in the U.K. and it’s gone real­ly well. And we’d love to do it with you guys.” So, guess what? This spring, we’re com­ing out with Wicked Twist­ed Berry Ale, a veg­an wheat beer. It will have a dona­tion ele­ment that sup­ports cli­mate change and sup­port­ing folks who choose to be veg­an. So that’s a great exam­ple of the kinds of oppor­tu­ni­ties the FINN Lab sparks.

Final­ly, What’s Brew­ing for you – and FINNEGANS?! What’s the lat­est on tap that our read­ers might love, and what have you been enjoying?

Jan­u­ary is our Dark Month, so we have eight deli­cious dark beers on tap. And then we’ll move right into the St. Patrick­’s Day sea­son, which is our biggest time of year. At the end of Feb­ru­ary, we will come out with a new Celtic Fan Pack, which will include some of our sta­ples, like Irish Amber, along with the new-ish Dead Irish Poet Cari­bou Cof­fee Stout and a brand-new Clover Hon­ey Ale that’s made with hon­ey from bees that pol­li­nate on clover at a farm in Scan­dia. There will be a fun twist with that, too – our COO is a trained chef and he’s going to cre­ate a fish fry recipe that we’ll include with the Celtic pack. Then in April, we’ll release a fruit-for­ward Fan Pack with the Wicked Foods beer I men­tioned, plus a Zita peach ale, a wild­ber­ry ale and a lemon­grass French Bel­gian-style beer like what the farm­ers used to drink com­ing off of the fields in North­ern France. The pack will be a nice mix of dif­fer­ent fruit-for­ward beers for spring going into summer.

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