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Grand Marais brewery expands

Over the past eight years, Voyageur Brewing Co. has grown into a regular happy hour gathering spot for tourists and locals. The owners recently purchased an adjacent building to expand operations and explore barrel-aging production.

colorful tap handles at Voyageur Brewing Co.
When the tourist season slows down in the winter, Voyageur Brewing Co. focuses on crafting more complex seasonal beers, such as lagers.
Contributed / Voyageur Brewing Co.
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GRAND MARAIS — There's more room for growth at a popular North Shore brewery. After eight years in operation, Voyageur Brewing Co. opened the doors for expansion through its recent purchase of an adjacent property known as the cobblestone building.

When Mike and Sue Prom, along with Bruce and Rita Lee Walters first began brewing craft beer in 2014, it was a learning curve for the group of owners with a background in the tourism industry.

exteriorbuilding.JPG
Open seven days a week, Voyageur Brewing Co. has become a hot spot for tourists and locals since opening eight years ago. The Grand Marais brewery has plans to expand its operations into the adjacent cobblestone building.
Contributed / Voyageur Brewing Co.

The following year, they opened the taproom, and later a rooftop patio and deck with a view of the Grand Marais Harbor to the public. Since then, Voyageur Brewing Co. has become a common happy hour gathering spot for tourists and locals alike, said co-owner Mike Prom.

"Now, Voyageur Brewing Co. has became a part of people's vacation plans. We've been receiving more tourists and more demand," Prom said. "Then COVID hit. Business owners had to get creative when the J-1 visa student program was on halt, making it a challenge for businesses that relied on it for staffing. Grand Marais also had a fire downtown in 2020 that took out a few businesses, but we've overcome the challenges as a town and keep growing."

Open seven days a week, Voyageur employs up to 50 staff during the height of the summer tourism season, and about half that in the colder months.

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Year-round, the brewery regularly features up to six flagship craft beers brewed with water from Lake Superior. More creative seasonal selections are available in the winter months, such as imperial stouts and lagers. On some Saturdays throughout the year, it also offers tours to explain the brewing process, ingredients and equipment needed to make craft beer.

two soft shell tacos seen from above
Voyageur Brewing Co.'s fish tacos.
Jana Hollingsworth / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

In addition to beer, appetizers include dockside fish caught from Lake Superior and daily fresh-baked bread. More complex appetizer meals are also appear on the off-season menu, such as beer cheese fondue.

Winter tourism remains steady due to Grand Marais' 17-mile proximity to Lutsen Mountains, as well as 400 kilometers of cross-country ski and fat-bike trails. Ice fishing and snowmobiling along the Gunflint Trail is also a large draw for those seeking outdoor winter recreational opportunities, Prom said.

"The trend to stay in places with a sauna or hot tub, and experience Cook County and Lake Superior in a colder and relaxing hangout. It's a place to get out of dodge and enjoy some of the nice rentals that we have," Prom said.

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As a production brewery, Voyageur is allowed one taproom in addition to selling cans and kegs across the state. The need for additional space for kitchen preparation, canning, storage, setup, retail and events became evident as the business continues to grow. Expanding into barrel-aged products is also being explored, Prom said.

The brewery owners had been seeking possible off-site properties until the adjacent building at 211 W. Highway 61 became available.

"As the saying goes, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when the farm next door goes for sale, so you better buy it," Prom said.

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Voyageur Brewing Co. is a production brewery that distributes canned beer and kegs across the state, in addition to its Grand Marais taproom.
Contributed / Voyageur Brewing Co.

The cobblestone center purchased from Brian Olsen includes four leased spaces. Voyageur intends to expand its operations in the space currently occupied by First and Second Thrift Store, as well as the former space of Almost Home Appliance, which relocated to 615 E. Highway 61 over the summer. The other tenants, Studio 61 Hair Design and Two Birds Healing Arts Center, will remain in the building, Prom said.

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Although the thrift store's lease is set to expire Dec. 31, Prom said the brewery will be working to extend the lease until Feb. 1. The nonprofit organization is requesting the public's help in seeking a temporary affordable rental unit space until a new home for the thrift store is secured.

"We are trying to stay optimistic. We'd like to keep it open, but haven't found anything that would be available that we can afford," said First and Second Thrift Store co-founder and co-manager Louis Johnson. "Everybody that volunteers keeps track of their time. Whatever is left after expenses is divided between hours, and volunteers choose which non-profit organization within Cook County receives the money. Last year, it came out to $22 an hour.

"That's the idea we'd like to keep. If we are renting from a place that was expensive, we wouldn't be able to give back as much."

Over the past 15 years, First and Second Thrift Store has donated $850,000 to 37 nonprofit organizations in Cook County, Johnson said. It's sponsored by the Cook County Council on Aging since 2007, and is pursuing independent non-profit status.

This story originally listed an incorrect amount donated by First and Second Thrift Store. It was updated at 4:41 p.m. Nov. 7. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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