NOBA 2021: Lake of the Woods Brewing Company is Company of the Year (over 51 employees)

Kenora’s bustling brewery drawing enthusiastic crowds with craft beer and nostalgia

Taras Manzie had a fortuitous moment driving home from work in January 2010.

The busy Kenora entrepreneur was about to quit his day job in a suit and tie at the local credit union to don a chef’s apron for the evening service at the boutique inn and bistro. He and his wife Audrey were running the Southview Inn near Keewatin when a radio report caught his attention.

The City of Kenora has listed its main fire station, a 100 year old heritage building, as surplus property. A request for proposals (RFP) process would be launched to find viable suitors for its redevelopment.

Just weeks before, he and Audrey were relaxing, taking stock of their hectic work lives, and throwing up new business ideas or potential growth avenues.

The craft brewing industry was booming in North America and Audrey recalled that Kenora once had its own local brewer at the time, Lake of the Woods Brewing.

“It was as if lightning had struck,” Manzie said, turning in his head the possibilities of what could be accomplished with an architectural gem in the brick, concrete and stone structure built in 1910, complete with steeple.

“Wouldn’t that be a great idea?” A brewery in a historic old fire station in downtown Kenora.

When the Fire Hall RFP was released, Manzie called his lawyer to explain how to go about registering the name of the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company (LOW). Luckily, his lawyer had handled the brewery’s bankruptcy proceedings in the 1950s. A paperweight with the company seal sat on his desk.

After securing the fire station in late 2010, the couple spent another year concluding negotiations with the city before embarking on two years of interior demolition and renovation to correct structural deficiencies and preserve the tin ceiling of origin of the building, the wooden staircase handrails and the white metro. floor tile.

The fire departments’ compartments have been converted into a restaurant and valve room with on the second floor a lounge and games room for private meetings and social events.

The opening of a craft brewery was much more than installing tanks in some building in an industrial park in Les Manzies.

It was about creating local jobs and restoring the bricks and mortar of a centerpiece.

Being in the hospitality business, they espoused the idea of ​​locally brewed beer in a unique location that would be a summer draw for tourists and locals alike in a revitalized city center.

“That’s exactly what we did, and it’s grown like mushrooms,” Manzie said. “The beer, itself, has taken on a life of its own as part of the total lake life experience.”

The renovated fire station opened on June 29, 2013 to a growing crowd and a full house. Meanwhile, the oft-delayed brewing equipment was in storage as construction at the back of the house continued.

“We actually opened without our beer,” Manzie said, the thirst of the growing crowd was quenched with eight taps and cans from other breweries.

“There was a line up at the door and it was a really ‘oh shit’ moment. The place was packed, there was a line in the street, it was like, wow , I’m not even sure what I’m doing.

“We had to figure it out, and, in all honesty, we’re still figuring it out.”

Today, the Lake of the Woods Brewing, which employs 65 people, has expanded to include two satellite microbrewery sites in downtown Winnipeg and Warroad, Minnesota. This year, LOW Brewing is expected to produce over 10,000 hectoliters (one hectolitre equals one liter) and two million cans sold.

To meet growing consumer demand, the company secured a second location in Kenora as a dedicated production facility capable of brewing 16,000-18,000 hectoliters (one hectolitre equals 100 liters). The start of production is scheduled for the second half of 2022, with scalability to reach 40,000 hectoliters.

LOW Brewing intends to get into distilled spirits as part of a larger plan to grow into a beverage business with more ready-to-drink cocktail mixes like seltzer water, beers without alcohol and sodas.

Like many operators in the hospitality industry, COVID-19 has taken its toll.

From the pre-pandemic days when 150 full-time and part-time staff were employed in the height of summer, LOW Brewing has been forced to do its share of painful staff cuts, a decision they are struggling with today. Today on the re-employment front as the economy is gradually reopening.

“The whole business changed overnight,” Manzie said, with no bars or restaurants for long periods or reduced hours due to staff issues. Take-out beer sales flourished, but the hotel side of the business collapsed completely.

But the pandemic forced them to take a break, Manzie said.

“We’ve grown so fast and so strong for so long, the pandemic has made us take a step back and really look at the organization and understand how we need to manage our growth.”

They focus on the familiar markets of neighboring Manitoba, examine the market potential of northeastern Ontario, and avoid the crowded craft brewery markets of Ottawa and Toronto.

While still focused on production and funding growth, Manzie said supporting the community has always been one of LOW Brewing’s top priorities from the start.

Through its Charity Pints ​​program, a portion of beer sales are donated to non-governmental and non-profit organizations, the brewery organizes fundraisers for women’s shelters in the markets they serve, and it organizes d ‘other supportive charitable efforts and in-kind contributions. for community trails, sports teams and with their annual tree planting day.

To support regional agriculture, LOW Brewing donates its spent grains – a minimum of 25 tonnes during shoulder seasons – to farmers for livestock feed, which was particularly appreciated by beef producers in the Rainy River District. last summer hit by drought.

Since their launch in 1986, the Northern Ontario Business Awards have grown into the largest annual gathering of its kind in Northern Ontario. These awards serve to increase the visibility and influence of businesses in the North and to bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.

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