Today, I’m sharing with you another Shop Small post! I’ll be highlighting a new business in downtown Alton – one that is generating a lot of buzz since they first opened a few months ago.
Don’t forget to visit your local small businesses and thank the owners for all they do for our community!
So in this post, I introduce to you: Germania Brew Haus.
The Details: Owners are Jared and Carolyn Brynildsen
Hours: Mon-Thurs 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Fri 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., and Sat and Sun 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Location(s): 617 E Broadway, Alton, IL 62002
Tell me about your business.
Germania Brew Haus is a coffee shop by day, and craft beer self-pour taproom by night in the old Germania Bank building, downtown Alton. We take great pride in making specialty coffee drinks, and showcasing local breweries’ seasonal brews, as well as working closely with other local businesses and organizations that share a desire to see Alton thrive! We held our soft opening in early June, and our grand opening in early July. We’re expanding every month that we’re open with more menu items, retail, and collaboration with other local businesses, and are so excited for what’s to come as we plan more events and community-involvement activities.
What is your background?
We, Jared and Carolyn Brynildsen, both grew up in Southern Illinois. Jared grew up in Alton, IL and graduated from Alton High. He attended Western Illinois University and received his commission in the US Army as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot in 2007. His military career has taken him to South Korea, Afghanistan (twice), Kentucky, and now Hawaii.
I (Carolyn) grew up just down the road in Troy, IL and attended the IL Math and Science Academy in Chicagoland. I received my commission from the US Air Force Academy in 2010, and was lucky enough to start my career in Germany. I too am stationed in Hawaii currently, but we had a few less ideal stop along the way (Afghanistan, Kentucky, and the Middle East).
Ben Brynildsen is Jared’s youngest brother in a family of five boys, and Germania’s General Manager. He completed his degree in Software Development and has worked in Customer Service, which makes him the perfect manager of our staff and day-to-day interactions with patrons. He’s nearly impossible not to get along with and is definitely a people person.
While this is our first business venture, we have sought the council of trade-experts, local business owners, as well as relatives who are also entrepreneurs, and believe we are well-guided in this endeavor.
What item/service in your shop do you just love and think everyone needs?
The Germania Brew Haus Mocha by and far the best seller on the coffee menu. We just can’t get enough of these drinks, which you can order in hot, frozen, or iced form. For kids, the Frozen Hot Chocolates are always a hit!
The craft beer tap wall is an experience in and of itself – so we can’t choose just one beer. You receive an RFID-enabled wristband when you arrive, pour your own beer using the wristband, and pay for only what you’ve poured when you leave. Patrons can pour as few or as many ounces of up to 16 different beer styles. We typically have at least one cider on tap for those who may not LOVE craft beer as much as we do, and are expanding our menu with wine in the next week or two.
In what way have you gone above and beyond in the past for a customer?
The second or third week we were open, I made four different coffee drinks for one person because he wasn’t a fan of anything he tried. He loved the fourth drink! I want people to leave knowing they can come in and drink something they love. -Ben
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever had a client do for you?
We have a lot of cool customers. One of my favorite things to see is when someone goes to bat for Germania after a negative review is left on social media. It’s pretty cool to see that someone care so much to vouch for us. -Ben
What tool/equipment/vendor could you not imagine doing business without?
While they’re not necessarily one of our vendors, our families who are local have been pivotal to Germania even being open for business today. We cannot say that enough, and they continue to help out a lot, since Jared and I are so far away.
Sign Magic has made every advertising endeavor a breeze with their tantamount customer service and friendly disposition. They’re our one stop shop for all signage, fliers, etc – if they don’t have it, they’ll find it for us!
What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?
Obviously, we know better than to complain about living in Hawaii, but the time zone difference makes communication quite difficult at times (we’re 5 hours behind CST). It was more of an issue as we were building out the space, and starting up, but it’s made for quite a few too many EARLY mornings, definitely more than I’d like to recall.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in starting and running your own business?
You can’t do it all – sometimes it’s worth hiring someone or paying for a service rather than doing something as serious as taxes incorrectly, and saving yourself the headache and stress. We’re learning new things about entrepreneurship, the industry, and our community every day! It’s challenging and rewarding.
What advice would you give to high school seniors who might want to go into this business after high school?
Do your homework – and I don’t mean the homework that you receive from your teachers (though you should do that too). I mean the research it takes to really figure out what’s legal, what’s already available, where your niche is, and who or what you’ll need to thrive. I know we’re new at this, but we’ve already been asked how we knew how to accomplish x, y, or z. Most often my answer is I just Googled it, or I asked an expert. It’s not easy, but if you put in the time and research ahead of execution – it’ll pay dividends.
Know your strengths and weaknesses – we as owners and our shop managers all have very different strengths and weaknesses. Jared is the idea man – he brainstorms up future concepts and vision/direction, Carolyn is the planner – getting all the required moving pieces in order and ready to execute, and Ben is the man on the ground that gets the job done despite adversity or lack of sleep. Similarly, our management and staff all have different traits that make them really great at different things, so we try to put them in positions or roles where those traits will really thrive. They get greater job satisfaction, and in turn work really hard for Germania. We couldn’t have asked for a better staff!
What other local business do you love?
Frost Bakery, who actually just moved next-door into Jacoby Arts Centers’ kitchen, has been a huge hit at Germania. We sell Frost’s baked goods (both sweet and savory), and they’re always a huge hit. We’re hoping to expand our Frost-offerings now that they’re up and running in her new location!
WOW Furnishings is to thank for a lot of our furniture and décor throughout the building. A lot of patrons make a stop here and then go peruse WOW’s beautiful furniture, or vice versa on the weekends.
Tell me about you. What are you passionate about outside of your business?
Jared and I are very passionate about travel and exploring wherever it is that we find ourselves in the world. We’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to live and serve on four different continents, which has allowed us to see quite a few of the places most people only see on the Travel Channel or in magazines. We are by no means gloating, and these travels come with some sacrifice, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I answer these questions, Jared is actually in Asia training and advising partner nations’ forces. This is something else we are passionate about – teaching and advising – and we hope that we can teach and advise community youth in the future.
When did you know you wanted to go into this business?
We’d been toying with the idea of starting a business we could get passionate about for a few years, but nothing ever seemed quite right. We saw a few self-pour taprooms in the US and thought that would be a start. That is, until we found the Germania Bank building in late-2016. Its previous owners had transformed it into such a beautiful and comfortable space, that we agreed we absolutely had to make into a self-pour taproom AND coffee shop. When we lived in Nashville, we saw a few places that sold coffee and beer at the same venue, so we just put our own twist on it. The idea took fruition when we decided to turn this place into Germania Brew Haus, and convinced Ben to be the General Manager…it wasn’t a very hard decision. Ben actually came to Hawaii for 4 months to business plan, and live with us as we planned how to make Germania Brew Haus into a reality. In April, we started the buildout, and we opened our doors with an amazing team (who we endearingly call The Original Germaniacs), in early June. It’s truly been a whirlwind, and we’re so proud of where we’ve come and excited for where we’re headed.
Describe your perfect day.
Honestly, the job I have is really, really what I love, so the day is going to involve my work here at Germania. I’d love to kicking the day off with coffee followed by a massage and really long drive with friends. Then I’d end the day eating and drinking with friends. -Ben
Thank you, Jared, Carolyn and Ben, for the interview!
Small Business Owners: If you’re interested in having your business featured on the Emily Dobson Photography blog, please email me at info(at)emilydobsonphotography(dot)com. I’m currently booking for 2018 features and will showcase one business per month. Your feature is completely free and you’re welcome to use the images on your websites or social media sites. I look forward to meeting you!
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