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Bemidji Brewing continues to pivot as pandemic wanes

Since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, businesses like Bemidji Brewing have had to adjust to ever-changing restrictions.

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Brewer Matthew Magnuson works on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at Bemidji Brewing.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — After two years of pivots amid pandemic-related challenges, the crew at Bemidji Brewing is looking ahead as it prepares to celebrate 10 years in business.

They continue to expand their wholesale operations and welcome customers to the taproom while discontinuing food offerings from their own kitchen.

“I think we’ve learned throughout these past two years to not have expectations that are set in stone,” said Megan Hill, who owns the business along with her husband, Tom, and Justin and Tina Kaney. “I think this will be a new iteration of Bemidji Brewing operations, and I look forward to seeing how it goes forward.”

Since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, businesses like the brewery have had to adjust to ever-changing restrictions. Bemidji Brewing closed its taproom for about three months, reopened it with limited capacity for a time, then closed it again in the fall of 2020 for a couple of months.

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Taproom Manager Bailey Odegaard pours a beer on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at Bemidji Brewing.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Through it all, the beer kept flowing and the business stayed afloat.

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“We have a multi-pronged business in terms of retail in our taproom but also a wholesale arm where people can buy our product in bars, restaurants and liquor stores,” Megan said. “In 2020 we made the decision to put all of the beer we produce into cans. We had only been putting our three year-round beers in cans at that point."

The choice to put everything they made in cans turned out to be a good one.

"Liquor stores were very busy and all of those loyal customers were buying what we were putting into cans, Megan explained. "So it accelerated something that we thought would take a few years. We just had to do it much sooner than expected.”

Expanding their market

Bemidji Brewing also expanded its wholesale reach into the Grand Forks and Fargo-Moorhead markets.

“We had plans in 2020 before the pandemic happened to expand our distribution over toward North Dakota,” Megan said. "We began self-distribution to Grand Forks in early 2020, and in March we were planning to do the same to Detroit Lakes and Fargo-Moorhead.”

At first the brewery self-distributed to those markets, but in late 2021 it partnered with McKinnon Company and D-S Beverages to get the product to Grand Forks and Fargo-Moorhead.

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Brewer Matthew Magnuson works on Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at Bemidji Brewing.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

All this has meant the brew crew has had to ramp up production.

“Our staff in the front and the back have been so flexible to the rapidly changing environment,” Megan said. “That resulted in our production team really working so hard to crank out as much beer as they could to move beer through our system as fast as they could so we could send it out our door. They worked really, really hard.”

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'Return to our core'

The company was founded by the two couples in 2012, at first brewing beer in the community kitchen at Harmony Food Co-op. It moved to the former Iverson Corner Drug location at 401 Beltrami Ave. NW in July 2013 and opened its first taproom.

Three years later the brewery moved to its current location at 211 America Ave. NW, with a much larger production space and taproom. It also was able to add a kitchen.

The recent decision to stop offering food from the kitchen was a business strategy, Megan said.

“As we enter 2022 there are so many things out of our control in terms of increasing prices for everything we do,” she explained. “We planned and executed putting a kitchen in when we went to this location, but we’ve just decided we need to return to our core competency, which is making and selling beer.”

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Bemidji Brewing recently stopped offering food from their kitchen and instead is encouraging customers to bring food from other local eateries and enjoy a variety of beer options available exclusively on tap at the brewery.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Customers are encouraged to bring in food from local restaurants as they did at the brewery’s former location in July 2013 and opened its first taproom.

“We’ll have some small snacks like chips, but we’re really going to encourage people to bring in food,” Megan said. “We’re partners with nearly every bar and restaurant in Bemidji.”

She added that the brewery hopes to have food trucks in the parking lot at some point.

Megan said the owners have been overwhelmed by the backing they’ve received from loyal customers.

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“The support that we’ve gotten throughout the pandemic is incredible,” she said. “People were so supportive in terms of buying our beer at liquor stores and still coming in to buy at the taproom, too.

"We’ve been buoyed for sure by the support of the community. In a time that has kind of brought out the worst in people, it’s also brought out a lot of the best in people. We’ve been really fortunate.”

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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