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.