Drekker: An entrepreneur who came home
Mark Bjornstad grew up in Fargo-Moorhead before moving away and doing what he calls “the-grass-is-greener thing.” He was living in Minneapolis in 2010, when he and some friends started getting serious about their dream of starting a brewery.
They hadn’t decided on a home for it but had started seeing cool shops opening in downtown Fargo and interesting events popping up.
“We thought, gosh, maybe there’s something happening in Fargo,” he said. “We can either complain or do our small part. If enough people start doing things like that, it’ll become the place we want it to be.”
So in 2014, he and his partners founded Drekker Brewing with the idea of making great beer and incorporating community-mindedness, right from the start. Today, Drekker is located in an 1880-built locomotive repair building and distributes its beers to 30 states, the European Union, United Kingdom, China and Japan. They’ve also opened the latest phase of their expansion Brewhalla, a $20 Million, 100,000 square foot food and entertainment venue.
“We’re heroes now,” Bjornstad said, reflecting on the business’s success. “But it took years off my life.”
Why? As they prepared to renovate and outfit the railroad building west of downtown into a brewery, he and his team were seriously undercapitalized. They invited in no outside investors.
But that’s where the GFMEDC stepped in to help.
Bjornstad says he had been introduced to the GFMEDC through Machacek’s outreach efforts, which helped Drekker raise awareness and support through word of mouth and social media. Machacek was always ready to lend a hand, Bjornstad said.
“When you start a business, many times you don’t know what you need,” he said. “It’s a weight off your shoulders to not have to know where to do the market research and where to find the creative financing.”
With the EDC and Machacek telling them about financing programs, Bjornstad said, “It helped us start dreaming more, now that we had a partner in town.”
One challenge the Drekker team faced was that they needed to install infrastructure that could serve anticipated future demand while knowing their first-year revenues wouldn’t be enough to cover those initial expenses.
Because they were not considered primary sector certifiable yet, they didn’t qualify for some programs through the state. However, they did meet the primary sector requirements of the GFMEDC, so were able to get a low-interest Bank of North Dakota Flex PACE loan with the GFMEDC providing the required community match.
“It got us down to appropriate payments on those loans,” Bjornstad said of the low-interest financing.
And once they built out the brewery and further expanded their sales outside the region, Machacek helped them get primary sector certified with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, as well as worked with Drekker on additional Flex PACE loans for their subsequent expansions.
Today Drekker is a hub of activity, a popular gathering spot and sponsor of community-oriented events—Bjornstad and his partners are indeed helping make the Fargo-Moorhead area the place they always wanted it to be.
“It’s a quarter million people who still act like it’s a fifty-thousand-person town,” he said. “It’s kitschy, it’s weird, it’s a relic of a different time, but it’s also metropolitan, it’s progressive, and downtown is hyperlocal.”
With the EDC investing in local businesses and a growing number of people supporting them, Bjornstad said he envisions Fargo evolving into a place filled with homegrown businesses, restaurants and events.
“We’re going to have an incredible business economic sector that reinvests in the community, makes it a great place to live and enjoy your life,” he said.