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At St. Paul's Urban Growler, there's 'Pride in every pour'

Urban Growler — the first women-owned microbrewery in Minnesota — is nearly a decade old but the path to this point wasn't easy.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — A craft brewery was the perfect location for a first date between Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak. 

The pair met through Match.com in 2006 and had their first date at The Happy Gnome (now The Gnome Craft Pub). 

"We both loved craft beer," Loch said. "Little foreshadowing there."

At that point, Pavlak had already owned a couple of small businesses; Loch grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. 

"We wanted to do something together and it was a very divisive time politically," Loch recalled. "So we wanted to do something that brought people together and what better way than a brewery?" 

It led to six years worth of planning with both immersing themselves in the craft beer industry. 

Pavlak worked at a restaurant to learn front of house operations, as well as working at a large liquor store to learn why they carry certain craft beers. 

Meanwhile, Loch was an assistant brewer in northern Wisconsin and received her masters in brewing at the University of California, Davis. Loch went on to do her apprenticeship in town at Summit Brewing Company. 

During that time, they also put together a business plan and ended up getting first runner-up in a national business plan competition. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak of Urban Growler Brewing Company.

"We have industry experience, an award-winning business plan, award-winning beer (Deb won some homebrew competitions at the Minnesota State Fair). We felt like this is a no-brainer," Pavlak said. 

But when it came time to find a loan, bank after bank denied the pair. 

After the fifth bank denied them a loan, Pavlak said they started asking the banks why. 

"'How will you girls carry those big heavy bags of grain?... How will you girls keep those late night hours?' And I'd been working for a restaurant in town, working quite late and getting up quite early. Also, 'You're married. What if you get divorced?' It was like, would you ask that of a heterosexual couple?" Pavlak said. "It was blatant discrimination and it still happens today."

But they kept going after their dream and finally the thirteenth bank — Pioneer Bank in Mankato — approved them for a loan. 

"We share our story every opportunity we get and we're hoping we can help make some movement... and more equity and inclusion when it comes to bank loans," Pavlak said. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Urban Growler in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Urban Growler Brewing Company opened its restaurant and taproom in July 2014 in St. Paul's Creative Enterprise Zone as the first women-owned microbrewery in the state of Minnesota. 

"There are times when we have those moments when the beer garden is full, and the taproom is full, and things are just humming along and we will have goosebump moments," Pavlak said. "Often we can be moved to tears or a lump in the throat because it was a lot of work to get open and it is very rewarding."

The community has been there for them, especially during the pandemic. They also give back to the community. The month of June is especially a busy time for them. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
A malt liquor called "Crystal Queer" for Pride Month.

"It's Pride Month which we wholeheartedly celebrate although we're gay year-round," Loch said. 

Urban Growler has many different Pride celebrations going on for the month, including offering a Rainbow Pride Flight of seltzers and a malt liquor called "Crystal Queer." Every June, Urban Growler brews a beer in honor a gay icon. This year, they chose KARE 11's Jana Shortal. A portion of sales from the beer will benefit the nonprofit Family Equality. 

The IPA will debut at the Pride Beer Dabbler with each brewery featuring a Pride icon beer. The event, which features 85 breweries, kicks off Twin Cities Pride Festival on June 23, 6-9:30 p.m, at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Tickets can be bought online.

Twin Cities Pride Festival runs June 23-25. 

Pavlak added, "We're gay year-round so celebrate pride with us all year-round, not just June." 

Urban Growler
2325 Endicott St.
St. Paul, MN 55114

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com.   

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