It’s been a long haul, but Brennan and Jessica Rosenow’s brew pub dream is about to become reality.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances — and there have been some of those over the past couple years — Half Bushel Brewing plans to open its doors this week in downtown Litchfield. The novelty of a local brewery, in addition to a new business on main street has stoked enthusiasm in the public, as well as for the new owners.
“I think it will be an attraction, which will be nice,” Brennan Rosenow said. “We’re excited.”
The initial plan is to be open from mid-afternoon to evening Thursday through Sunday, but adjustments could be made in response to demand, the Rosenows said. Along with 10 taps of a variety of local brews, Half Bushel Brewing has a kitchen where a limited menu including made-from-scratch pizzas, garlic bread and other items will be made.
The brewery is something that’s been, well, brewing for quite some time.
Brennan Rosenow grew up north of Litchfield and graduated in 2010 from Litchfield High School before heading off to Purdue University to earn a degree in engineering.
He says he was “bouncing around the Midwest for a couple of years” before he and Jessica decided to pursue a dream inspired by college experiences.
“I learned to brew in college,” Brennan explained. “A few of my fraternity brothers were really into it.”
“And we’ve always liked the brewery vibe, brewery crowd,” Jessica said, explaining that’s where the couple met. “It’s always been kind of at the center of our relationship. Any date night was at a brewery … and just something that we liked — the crowd, the vibe.”
Brennan’s dream was stoked further during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when many businesses shut down or went to remote work. His position as an engineer went remote, and his friend, who owns a brewery in Iowa City, Iowa, invited him to spend some time there.
“They had put in a canning line,” Brennan said. “He called me up (for his engineering expertise). We had both done a lot of process work together, and he’s like, this was kind of my wheelhouse.”
He spent the better part of a week there, observing and offering ideas to improve the canning line process. But as he watched operations from behind the scenes, Rosenow was convinced.
“I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I could do this,’” he said.
And they began to work in earnest on having their own brewery. The couple purchased brewing equipment as they saw it come up for sale. Most of the brewing equipment was purchased from Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson, Wisconsin, whose owners built a new building for their operation and invested in new equipment.
“So our system is their old system,” Rosenow said.
With family still in Litchfield, the couple thought the area might be the right spot for their dream brewery, and they began looking for the right place to put it. They toured a few buildings on main street before the former Pizza Ranch building at the corner of Sibley Avenue and Second Street West came up for sale.
“We weighed our options, and went with this one,” Brennan said of their purchase in December 2020.
Opening a niche business like a brewery in a town with population less than 7,000, on a main street that has struggled at times — and now, additionally, in the throes of a pandemic recovery — might seem daunting. The Rosenows don’t necessarily disagree, but they also didn’t let that deter them from their dream.
“Every business is a gamble, right,” Brennan said. “You’ve got to let water find its level, I guess, is what I’m looking for. Everywhere has got its ups and downs, and you pick the ones you’re comfortable fighting, and that’s how we ended up here.”
It’s been a whirlwind of work and planning ever since — some expected, much that wasn’t expected, the Rosenows said.
Some of the unexpected actually had positive influences, like the fact they could move back to Litchfield to begin remodeling the building that would be home to Half Bushel Brewing.
“That’s part of how COVID helped, as well, because I could work remote full-time, which enabled us to move back here,” said Jessica, director of data and analytics for an insure-tech startup. “Otherwise, my career would not be feasible in Litchfield.”
Though they knew it would take a lot of work, Brennan said, getting Half Bushel Brewing up and running was an enormous undertaking that always seemed to have at least one more hurdle to overcome — from remodeling the building, to acquiring equipment, to meeting licensing requirements.
“You know, there are just a lot of legal hoops to jump through in any alcohol-related business,” he said. “And I think I especially underestimated how much time a lot of those departments and forms and approvals would take. So, you’re kind at these steps where you can’t move on until you get approval and kind of ripping your hair out waiting for one form. But, there’s the government, right?”
They eventually satisfied all of those legal requirements, as well as their own expectations, to the point where the Rosenows had what they called a “soft opening” on a Saturday afternoon in late February. It was a kind of dress rehearsal, they said, allowing them to gauge how many employees they might need and to fine-tune processes for serving customers.
Lightly publicized via social media, the soft opening drew a large crowd of locals curious about the business whose sign they’d seen on the outside of the building for several weeks already. In addition, some patrons arrived from further-flung locales, including Jessica’s boss from Ohio, as well as some coworkers from the Twin Cities.
“A lot of people were excited that we’re in town,” Brennan said. “Kind of a different vibe than anything else in the area right now. We have a lot of people from out of town show up.
“People that just love breweries and keep their eye out for new ones that are opening, kind of like us,” Jessica said.
The soft opening saw eight of their 10 taps open, but Brennan — who’s the brewer of the couple — expects he’ll brew 30 to 40 different styles, many of them seasonal. For the February soft opening, more than half the menu board featured dark beers — two stouts, a black IPA and a brown ale. As spring approaches, lighter fare will be featured more heavily, he said.
“So, 10 (beers) at a time, but probably 30 to 40 different styles,” Brennan said. “It’s just economics, seeing what sells.”
The micro brewery industry has taken off, with options throughout the region, including breweries in Hutchinson and Glencoe, in addition to the St. Cloud and Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Rosenows don’t see that as competition or reason for concern, but instead proof of the, pardon the pun, thirst for the brewery vibe.
“We’re still at the rising tide lifts all boats kind of mentality,” Brennan said as he launches into a brief history of brewing.
Prior to Prohibition, the United States had almost 1,000 breweries, he said. The number dropped to fewer than 30 during Prohibition. Last year, breweries numbered in the neighborhood of 12,000.
“Relative to population, we’re kind of back to where we were pre-prohibition as a country,” he said. “I think a lot of people that don’t understand that are saying, ‘there’s breweries everywhere.’ It’s like, well, there used to be, too.”
They look forward to being part of that new generation, both as a brew pub and as small-town businesspeople.
Facing a wastewater treatment plant expansion project of up to $65 million, the city of Litchfield is looking at funding options, including support from the federal government.
The improvements are largely needed due to recent and future expansion of the First District Association plant in downtown Litchfield, a major city industry and employer. Although First District will fund much of the expansion, plus pre-treatment operations on its own site, part of the expanded need is prompted by growing water use of other businesses and residences within the city.
Since improved wastewater treatment should benefit the entire community, in addition to providing additional jobs and revenue for the entire region, the Litchfield City Council decided March 6 to request $8 million in federal funds to assist the city in constructing these environmental improvements. City Administrator Dave Cziok told the council that FDA would also help the city advocate for this allocation through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water section. On a unanimous vote, the council agreed to contact the offices of U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to seek their support in adding Litchfield to the list of environmental projects worthy of federal aid.
The council briefly discussed other projects that could potentially benefit from federal support in future years.
LARC funding discussed
Cziok also brought to the council’s attention the eventual need to bridge a funding gap between anticipated sales tax revenue and annual bond payments to repay bonds sold to construct the voter-approved Litchfield Area Recreational Center. Although there should be enough in the city’s Capital Equipment reserves and from the city sales tax and other sources to fund most of the city’s share of this recreational complex, sales tax revenue would only cover $350,000 of the anticipated $422,000 annual bond payment.
Various ways to bridge the gap were discussed by the council, including a suggestion from Councilor Eric Mathwig that the city begin claiming its state-authorized 10% share of proceeds from pull-tabs sold within the city limits. Mathwig noted that nonprofit organizations net more than $1 million per year from pull-tabs, and that the state allows municipalities to claim up to 10% of the proceeds for civic purposes. The council concurred that this could be a reasonable source of revenue to bridge the $72,000 gap and/or help with operational expenses. The council agreed to take a closer look at this potential revenue source.
Tobacco shop license approved
There are several places in Litchfield where adults can legally purchase tobacco, but there has not been a specialty tobacco shop in town. An application from F. F. Quimseya for Litchfield Tobacco and Vape Inc. to set up such a business downtown was tabled twice by the council last month, pending further background review. The council has also had questions about the limited information provided by the applicant on the initial application. Quimseya responded to several of those questions in person several weeks ago.
Police Chief Pat Fank told the council on Monday evening that his office had not uncovered any further information that would preclude approving the application. Several council members expressed their opinion that they do not personally approve of tobacco use, and that they really don’t want a tobacco shop downtown, but since tobacco is a legal controlled substance, they could not justify denying the permit under the current city ordinance. “The law is the law; we have an ordinance and we have to comply,” stated Mayor Ron Dingmann.
Councilor Betty Allen expressed her opinion that the original application did not meet some of the current ordinance, but the council eventually voted 5-2, with Allen and Councilor Darlene Kotelnicki opposed, to approve the application. Fank told the council that the shop would need to pass annual tobaccos sales compliance checks, as do all places that sell tobacco in the city. It has also been noted that, because the business will specialize in tobacco products, juveniles would not be allowed to even enter the store.
Among other business:
In March 2020, all schools in Minnesota — including parochial schools — transitioned to e-learning due to the governor’s proclamation related to the unknown fear of COVID-19.
Everyone felt it was the right thing to do at the time. Some students and their families acclimated easily to the new way of learning while others floundered. The many problems remote learning presented made it clear that it wasn’t a long-term substitute for in-person education.
Public schools either remained closed or opened up to hybrid situations in the fall of 2020, based on the governor’s Minnesota Safe Learning Plan.
Parochial schools, following guidance of their religious leadership, chose to return to in-person classes, taking precautions, following health protocols such as spacing desks, hand sanitizing and wearing masks. Many parochial schools — including those in the Hutchinson and Litchfield area — saw enrollment increase as families who struggled with the public school protocols, or didn’t like the instability it presented, sought the private in-person option.
Northwoods Elementary School in Hutchinson has preschool through eighth grades. It is part of the Seventh-day Adventist school system, a nationally recognized Christian education organization, second to Catholic schools. Its curriculum is determined by the national group with high standards and a Christian foundation.
In March of 2020, Northwoods had an enrollment in the upper 50s. In the fall of 2020, they offered in-person learning. To accommodate the distancing needed in the classroom, the school converted a multipurpose room into a classroom and hired another teacher in anticipation of more new families. That year, the school’s enrollment increased to the lower 60s.
The following year, 2021-22, the school dropped the mask mandate, making it a choice for students and families, and enrollment rose to 70 students.
“Families were looking for less regulations and a Christian-based environment,” Principal Jamie Madden said. “We added the staff to handle the growth.”
Among the reasons he credited for increased enrollment was the school’s small class size.
“Our class size is manageable — 17 students per classroom,” Madden said. “It’s a more one-on-one experience for the student. They or their parent can stop in and talk to teachers. It has a family-oriented feel.”
St. Anastasia Catholic School in Hutchinson, and the School of St. Philip in Litchfield both saw increases in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both accredited through the Diocese of New Ulm, with teachers who are also licensed with the state of Minnesota, the schools offer a faith-based education with a focus on academic excellence, moral and social development and a sense of community. St Anastasia has grades kindergarten through sixth grade and Kids Depot preschool, while St. Philip’s has preschool through fifth grade.
St. Anastasia opened to in-person learning in the fall of 2020-21. Since then, it has seen a steady increase in enrollment.
“As the pandemic diminished, we had several more new families enroll in the lower grades that brought upper grade siblings,” Principal Betty Jodzio said.
Principal Jenna Scheevel at St. Philip’s in Litchfield reported pre-pandemic enrollment of 51. In the 2020-21 year, it rose to 53, and in 2021-22, the school had 57 students.
Immanuel Lutheran School, west of Hutchinson along State Highway 22, has preschool through eighth grade. It is a joint mission of two congregations —Immanuel Lutheran Church and Grace Lutheran Church, both of Hutchinson. The two churches belong to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or WELS, which has one of the largest Lutheran school systems in the country. Immanuel’s teachers are also licensed by the state.
The school experienced similar enrollment results as other area parochial schools during the pandemic. Students numbers have especially grown in the preschool and kindergarten programs.
When all schools — including public — opened without COVID protocols in 2022, the parochial schools retained their families. Families who came during COVID were satisfied with where their children were enrolled, according to leadership at the schools, as the only students lost were those who graduated.
“Since COVID-19 restrictions lessened, our enrollment has stayed consistent,” Scheeval said.
The four schools have gained new students, too. While the pandemic might be over, other issues being pushed by legislators at the state and federal level concern many parents, who say they want their children’s educational content to be less partisan. Most are looking for a Christian environment that reinforces the parents’ values.
FROM A PARENT’S VIEWPOINT
Josh and Kristan Koehnen moved to Hutchinson five years ago. They attended Grace Lutheran Church’s block party where they learned about Immanuel Lutheran School and Children of Grace preschool. Their oldest was already registered at West Elementary for kindergarten and they left it that way.
When COVID hit, their daughter struggled with the online option. Kristin chose to home school their children the following year. That lasted two years as their family grew, and it became difficult to do. The family remembered Immanuel and thought about enrolling their children there. They attended the Sports Camp the school offers during the summer and their oldest, especially, enjoyed it. She was excited to start at Immanuel that fall and see her new friends.
“We are really happy at Immanuel (and Children of Grace),” said mom, Kristen Koehnen. “Our oldest daughter struggled with anxiety and was overwhelmed at the public school. She’s excited about school and hasn’t missed a day. We love the smaller class size and the Christian aspect. The public school system is getting more questionable.”
Jack and Molly Daggett are excited with their experience at St. Anastasia in Hutchinson. Their children were enrolled at Kids Depot. When the children turned 5, the Daggetts enrolled them in the public school for a couple years, but felt something was missing. They kept hearing from friends about the positive opportunities they were having at St Anastasia. Jack and Molly decided to try the school this year. They’ve been thrilled.
“We had very good experiences at the public school,“ Molly Daggett prefaces. “We just wanted the Christian values and faith-based education.”
The Daggetts aren’t Catholic but have felt welcomed at the school. They liked the small class size, and the family interaction.
“They had family night at the indoor pool and the place was packed!” Molly cheerfully said. “They also had a campfire night, where the older kids were coming up to my younger ones, giving them great big hugs.”
“That’s something special we learned to appreciate as we’ve been at the school — the interaction of the older kids with the younger ones,” Jack Daggett added. “The school has activities they do formally to encourage this — like older students come in and read to the younger ones, serving as mentors and role models.”
The Daggetts appreciate the weekly Mass the school offers. Each week a different grade is responsible for leading it.
“The kids look forward to it. What impressed me is the public speaking skills they are learning through this experience,“ Jack said. “I never got that until later.”
Not all families started with the public system. One family moved to Hutchinson from Bemidji. The mother had been homeschooling her children but when they moved to the community, she heard about Northwoods, and the family decided to enroll. She was nervous at first, but saw many positive aspects — supportive teachers, a fair principal and wholesome kids. She felt the school had enhanced her children’s abilities since starting at Northwoods. She also appreciated how the school allowed parents to make choices for their children.
The parochial schools in the area have strong populations and are looking positively to the future. In 2023-24, St Anastasia will add seventh grade and in 2024-25, eighth grade. This spring, Immanuel Lutheran School and Children of Grace will be breaking ground for a new building as the current school’s capacity of 70 has been reached.
“I believe there are two main influences ... the first is the positivity of our close-knit school community ... the second main influence is our Christian education curriculum. Our students hear about God and their Savior every day in the classroom,” Principal Brian Gephardt of Immanuel Lutheran said of what brings families to the school.