Couple’s idea ferments into Lincoln Park venture
Jake and Valerie Scott expect to fulfill a dream that has been three years in the making come August.
That's when the couple aims to open the doors to Duluth Cider at 2307 W. Superior St.
But Jake's the first to admit that much remains to be done before they pour their first pint.
The couple has been scraping and painting practically non-stop in recent days, joined on the job by their future production manager, Christian Fraser.
"We've all got blisters on our hands," said Jake during a brief break in work on the 5,400-square-foot facility they've leased and plan to transform into a cider fermentation plant complete with an on-site taproom.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Scotts briefly moved east, where they discovered the craft cider movement. They had already been home-brewing beer and soon were experimenting with cider.
"Valerie was working at this cidery in Salem, Mass., and every time we went in there, we were like: Why doesn't Duluth have one of these? This place feels like it would be right at home in Duluth," Jake recalled.
"The idea started rolling around in our heads," he said, noting that it grew and grew.
About two years ago, the Scotts pulled Fraser into the equation.
"Since we knew running a business was going to be a lot to focus on, we wanted to have someone whose only job was making sure the product is still good, no matter what's happening with the business," Jake said of Fraser, also a UMD grad.
Fraser, an accomplished brewer and cider maker, said he leapt at the opportunity.
"I've lived in Duluth for about 11 years, and I always thought that it was fun seeing the town go from kind of this dying industrial city to an outdoor recreation capital to the craft beer capital of Minnesota. So I thought a cidery would be a really good fit," he said.
"It's a pretty great idea, especially for this region," said Fraser, noting the wide variety of apples grown in the area.
About a year ago, the Scotts returned to Duluth, where they faced a steep learning curve.
"We never set out to start a business. We set out to make cider in Duluth, and to do that you have to start a business," Jake said.
Valerie turned to Al Snape, a well-established East Coast cider maker for guidance.
"He was gracious enough to take me under his wing. So we owe a lot to him," she said, noting that he assisted in their development of a business plan.
Jake said they found plenty of local support, too.
"We are lucky enough to have found lenders who believe in us. Coming from Boston, doing business out there, and coming back to Duluth, it definitely feels like coming home because everyone is willing to help everyone," he said.
"Even in areas where we've come into this bright-eyed and bushy tailed, not knowing what we're doing, we've had other local business owners who have steered us in the right direction," Jake said, noting that they've received helpful advice from the owners of Bent Paddle Brewing Co,, Vikre Distillery and Duluth Coffee Co., among others.
As they laid plans for a Duluth cider house, the Scotts toured cideries from New England to Normandy. Jake said they came to appreciate producers' distinct subtleties.
"We think that with northern Minnesota and the Midwest and Bayfield area, we've got something to offer the world, too. We want to capture that and help to further develop our own regional product and pride in that product," Jake said.
Fraser said much like wine, ciders from different regions display unique flavors and nuances.
Duluth Cider aims to use local apples rather than hauling fruit in from other parts of the country, but Fraser acknowledged that the seasonal nature of production in the Northland will require careful planning.
Valerie hopes to open people's eyes to traditional semi-sweet or off-dry ciders, different from the mass-produced products now on the market, which she refers to as "fizzy pop ciders or Jolly Rancher ciders, because they kind of taste like an apple Jolly Rancher."
Valerie will offer a variety of styles, along with one steady standby.
"Our logo is part apple, part hop, so we'll always have a hopped cider on tap," she said.
Setting up shop
Initially, Duluth Cider will sell its products entirely on premises through its taproom and via growlers. As the operation grows, Valerie said she hopes other local drinking establishments will offer its cider on tap.
Down the line, her dream is to bottle or can cider for off-sale distribution.
But by starting simple, Valerie said Duluth Cider should be able to hold down startup costs.
The Scotts said they are sole owners of the business. While they've taken out loans, they have no other investors.
"For us personally, we're all in on this," Jake said.
The timing of the project has presented challenges, said Fraser, noting the cost of needed stainless steel equipment has shot off as tariffs take effect.
"Politics aside, it's hard enough to start a business. Luckily, a lot of this equipment was already made, so it's not going to have a huge impact, but as we move forward, it's not making things easier," he said.
But Valerie said it's a great time to open shop in Lincoln Park, considering the burgeoning local food and craft scene.
"Duluthians are choosing to go out and create their own really awesome local products," Jake said, "in this part of town that five years ago was not drawing much special attention."