Finally! Our corner of the Twin Cities gets its very own brewpub. No longer must we trek down to the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis to be trendy and relevant. Yes, you can get a great local brew at Granite City or 3 Squares, but now you can chug a craft beer that’s minutes old in an official taproom.
So, where is this place? Well, it’s a bit off the beaten path on Deerwood Avenue, north of Maple Tavern. It’s the result of the passionate collaboration of two guys with a bit of knowledge and a lot of ambition. Welcome Zack Ward and Justin Walsh to the neighborhood.
Ward is the brewer. He began mixing batches of beer while he was in college. During a garage tasting session with Walsh, he shared his lack of enthusiasm for going back to school for an MBA. “Justin said, ‘You don’t have to do that. I’ll do the business side and you be the brewer,’” Ward remembers. It was 2012. Walsh had already completed his MBA and was working in corporate accounting and financial analysis. The partnership seemed viable, and Ward began reading voraciously about scaling up to a microbrewery while he shadowed some fellow brewers to pick their brains. The idea for a brewery soon grew larger to include a taproom, with future options for canning. “We knew we were basically signing our life away anyway,” jokes Ward. A license to dream big seemed allowed.
So, what do you call a big dream like this? Looking through the dictionary, the partners found one word that actually had Minnesota smack in the middle of it: “omni.” It relates to the words “omniscient”—all knowing—and “omnipresent”—always present, explains Walsh. “It fit our attitude of making all kinds of beer for all kinds of people.”
And Omni Brewing Co. truly is welcoming to all. There is an ever-present dog dish outside the front door, so animal lovers can drop in. A patio allows outdoorsy types to soak up the sun, and for those who would rather imbibe indoors, there are different types of seating, so anyone can find a couch or bench or high-top, or pull up a chair or bar stool to perch upon.
However, the most surprising customers welcomed at Omni Brewing Co. are kids. What? Kids at a brewery? Don’t get me wrong—of course your child isn’t going to be served beer at Omni Brewery (and yes, they check everyone’s ID), but kids do have their own small area in which to hang out, with board games and blocks and a water dispenser (and a bottled natural Joia soda option). It’s actually a place where parents and kids can hang out together, without being underfoot of other patrons.
All of this to say that Omni is different from other taprooms you might have visited. It is unpretentious—a place where everyone seems to enjoy themselves without looking around to see what other patrons think. “You don’t need a mustache or man bun to enjoy craft beer,” Ward says, referring to a few current “hipster” trends. Here, the bartenders are attentive and friendly, and the owners are ever-present—wiping down tables, drawing a tap or sweeping the floor among the large stainless vats that sit in full view of the tap room.
A Place to Belong
Walsh and Ward both live in Medina, and they started their search for a brewing location close to home. But they soon found Maple Grove to be more welcoming to a new business like theirs, as well as offering a location that felt right immediately. They bought the empty building and, almost by divine intervention, were open three months later with a complete brewing setup and furnished taproom.
The guys were helped by the addition of partner Steve Hayes, who came with years of experience in advertising and brand management at companies such as General Mills, Land O’Lakes and others. “I know advertising, and I’m learning about social media,” Hayes says. The three were also assisted by a successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter. They met their initial funding goal of $25,000 in 20 days and added an extended goal of $10,000, which they far exceeded, for a total of $47,040 from 436 backers.
“Justin was brilliant in putting together a taproom club,” Hayes says. That perk for funders was the ticket for many crowd members to become involved financially, as well as creating a sense of ownership. Other perks for Kickstarter backers included a coaster, naming rights for a table, funding a full brewing tank, naming a beer or holding a private party at the brewery. “We didn’t know most of the names on the backers list, but we noticed that the majority live in the area,” Walsh says.
Since opening last September, Omni’s marketing campaign has consisted mostly of family, friends and social media, as well as some coverage in local media. “We will start talking about Omni when we have something to say,” Hayes assures. And, gauging the steady flow of customers in the door each day, that might be farther off than most businesses would judge prudent. From the beginning, these partners decided to do things a bit differently. For instance, they eschewed announcing a start date. “We wanted to avoid all the horror stories about not getting permits or opening late,” Hayes explains. So, the people who knew the most about their opening day were those who had already shown their support via social media.
“Some doubters say there are no craft beer drinkers in the Maple Grove area,” says Ward. Omni Brewing has proven them woefully misguided. “We started with eight bartenders, but almost immediately we needed more help,” Hayes says. The craft beer lovers came from near and far.
Word of mouth has been wholly adequate to give the establishment time to gear up to regular production levels. However, the tight timeline has been stressful. “We were kidding ourselves to think we could all work full time and open a business,” Walsh reflects. All three founders retain their day jobs (although Ward has transitioned to part-time), spending six to eight additional hours daily in “beering,” but “it’s the cleaning and prep work that takes a lot of time,” Walsh says.
“We plan to have six base beers year-round and other seasonal brews,” Ward says. “And we have to have an IPA (India pale ale). Thirty percent of craft beers sold today are IPAs.”
Upon opening, Omni served Pilot pale ale and Hopfull American IPA—which remains their most popular beer. They’ve since expanded to Lake Day session ale, A Little Hoppy session IPA and Sweetness, a dark stout. They also now offer Omnipotent, a Scotch ale.
Each beer takes two weeks from the time it comes from the water tap until it gets to the draw keg. And, brewing in the area has its own challenges. “I took into consideration that Maple Grove has hard water, which is full of minerals, which makes a good stout, but all water goes through a reverse osmosis system to prep for the other beers,” Ward says. They hope to produce enough to sell to area restaurants by the time you read this story.
So, whether it’s via a growler or at an area restaurant, Omni’s brew may reach outside the neighborhood, but it will always carry a fairly unique feature—one you won’t find connected to other craft beers. The very name of its birthplace, Maple Grove, is part of the logo. If that’s not commitment to the neighborhood, I don’t know what is.
(Steve Hayes, Zach Ward, and Justin Walsh)
What’s A Growler?
Thirty-one lucky early investors became members of the Omni Growler Club. This means they
receive half-priced growler fills for life. OK, so what’s a growler? Although historians somewhat disagree, the name most likely came from the late 1800s custom of carrying drink, especially draft beer, away from the brewery in a small galvanized pail. As the beer sloshed around in the container, carbon dioxide escaped through the lid, creating a “growling” sound.
Today’s 64 oz. (half gallon) beer-to-go growler is most often a dark-colored, refillable glass jug with a capped top. It’s a good way to create brand loyalty while insuring a fresh brew can be enjoyed at home during the following week, if not longer, when left unopened.
Catch one of the many different food trucks that show up in the parking lot at Omni Brewing Co. on Fridays and Saturdays. After all, you should probably have something in your stomach before you check out all their great brews.
Omni By the Numbers
5,800: Square footage at the brewery
4,000: Barrels produced per year in 3-5 years
750: Barrels of beer expected in first year
436: Initial Kickstarter supporters
150: Growlers pulled each week
70: Seats in the taproom
5: Beers available as of Jan
1: Craft beer brewery in Maple Grove
Omni Brewing is open Wed. and Thurs. 3–10p.m. Friday 3–11p.m. Sat. Noon–11p.m. Sun. Noon–10p.m.