September 7, 2022

Minneapolis Cider Company (Season 4 Episode 35)

 Minneapolis Cider Company is a craft cidery and Pickle Ball court destination started by Jason Dayton as a college course. Located in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood, fresh-pressed apples are used to make flavorful hard ciders, including their Blanc, Mango Habenero, and a new line of 100-calorie light and dry ciders, as well as the newly introduced “Trail Magic” cannabis-infused cider in Berry Basil or Hop Water flavors.

Minneapolis Cider Company Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. I’m here with Jason Dayton today, and he is with Minneapolis cider company. And Jason, people are crazy about your cider. You guys opened right before the pandemic, but you also have become like part of this whole pickleball scene. So you guys are sort of on the cutting edge of lots of fun things that are happening. Tell us a little bit about your salary.

Jason Dayton 0:42
Yeah, well, thank you so much for having us on. Excited to be on the podcast and talk a little bit about Minneapolis cider company. So as you mentioned, we started back in 2018. We opened our doors in May of that year. And so we had a great eight months or so before, the pandemic February 2020, was the best month that we had had on record. It was, it was a few months after we had opened our pickleball courts, we had leagues up and running, we had the courts booked every night, we were really starting to find our groove. And like most businesses, we were closed and shut down and everything stopped. Thankfully, we were small at the time. Our team was pretty small, our overhead was pretty low. And so we were able to adapt and get through it. But it was definitely challenging like everybody else has had. The really interesting thing here about Minneapolis cider is we’ve focused on community since the day we opened pickleball was not originally part of that plan. Actually, believe it or not, we ended up in a space larger than we expected to, we actually had a building about two and a half miles down the road from us. And we got into the building we got into construction, we put plumbing into the ground, only to find out that the soil underneath the building wouldn’t support the weight of our tanks. And so we stopped everything we were doing. Wow. We were able to get out of that lease. Thankfully, our landlord was pretty kind to us. All things considered and started looking for new space. We ended up finding our current home here on at 701, South East Ninth Street. But it was 15,000 square feet. And originally we were looking at 7500. So we opened at the time it was empty warehouse. We thought maybe we’ll get people to store things in it. People wanted to put their cars RVs motorcycles, yeah, now that that’s never going to work. Axe Throwing was our first idea. Actually, we got so far as to build the courts announce it, that we were about to open it. And our landlord decided that maybe alcohol and sharp objects was not a great combination. Sure. So we pivoted really quickly there and open the pickleball courts couple months later after that. And we got the inspiration from pickleball. Actually, one of my partner’s wives, Taylor events directors from Kansas City, and there’s a company down there called Chicken and pickle. The concept is very simple. It is fried chicken and pickleball. Right in the name. And it’s just been a wild success. And what Pickleball has really captured is this active active activity that you can do as a group. It’s a great way to meet new people to socialize. But it’s also a sport that’s very easy for anyone to pick up. It doesn’t matter if you are a pro tennis player, or you’ve never even played ping pong, within five minutes, we can have you on the court playing pickleball having a really good time. And for us, it’s really allowed us just to flourish as a business and grow our community. We get a couple of 100 people a week in every single week to play pickleball in our leads in our regular court rentals and special tournaments. And those are all folks, you know, coming to the tap room and playing pickleball. But having the cider having a cocktail trying to train the food. And it’s just been wonderful for our business and a lot of fun.

Stephanie Hansen 4:18
It’s kind of crazy to think about because I picked up pickleball myself coming out of the pandemic and I was so I just needed to get back to exercising because I’d left my gym. And then it was so stressful at first because like you had to meet people and talk to people and it was people you didn’t know. But it was also what I loved about it. Like I realized I was really craving connection with people and I’d miss that so much. And so I think like part of the zeitgeist of why Pickleball has become such a thing, I think is people were just craving connection and it all sort of coalesced and came together at exactly the right time.

Jason Dayton 4:59
I think that’s exactly true. We see that, you know, week after week with our leagues where, you know, we’ll get this group of people together a total strangers at the beginning of the league. And by week seven people are bringing cookies to each other. They’re talking about signing up for neck the next season together about getting your kids together their dogs together. It’s really just this amazing to watch this happen. And a lot of people in the hospitality world they talk about building community Pickleball has allowed us to really do that in a way that’s been wildly successful beyond anything that we could have imagined to begin with.

Stephanie Hansen 5:39
So happy serendipity, I guess tell me how you got into the cider business and why it wasn’t cider versus like, just like a brewery or something else? What was it about cider that attracted you guys.

Jason Dayton 5:51
So this started several years before Minneapolis cider, opened our Taproom doors here in Northeast, back in 2013. And 2014. I had traveled to England, one of my co founders, separately, we didn’t know each other at the time, but also spend time in the UK. And we really just fell in love aside, we fell in love with the product, the culture, it was exposure to a beverage that we weren’t really familiar with at the time we were you know, we were legal drinking age in the UK, but not in the US at the time, we were about 20. And it just opened our eyes to this category being so much broader than the super sweet ciders that were widely available at the time. Coming back to Minnesota after studying abroad. I actually started dating my wife, my now wife whose father was born and raised in southwest England. He grew up in the heart of English cider country. He’s from a county called Dorset along the Jurassic Coast. It’s just absolutely picturesque, beautiful rolling hills, big orchards. And he had learned how to make cider and wine from his grandmother, as a teenager on the farm. And he’d been doing it his entire life, they actually converted their basement into an industrial kitchen for home brewing. And when we go over there, we’re never drinking anything that’s purchased at the store. It’s all it’s all made in the basement. So my bonding activity with my future father in law was making alcohol in the basement. I love it. And we were making a lot of cider. So fast forward a couple of months from there. Going into my senior year at the University Minnesota, I joined a class called entrepreneurship and action. And the premise of the course is to bring students together for an entire year, have them pitch business ideas, and then over the course of the year, build and launch a real business. And this is enabled by a small amount of actual funding to start the business. So I joined the class, I immediately came in pitch cider. I plan that all summer, you know, day one of the class pitching hard cider David, my co founder and business partner he had actually pitched a different product, he was working on a handheld plumbing device. And he did that for a couple of months during the class but then ended up joining the cider team. And when we started the class, I stood in front of the class and gave a presentation and I said cider is easy. I estimated it was gonna cost us $2,500 We’re going to sell in 750 milliliter bottles and nice little gift boxes and we’re going to be inserted by Christmas. That was the plan homebrew cider put in the liquor store? What could possibly go wrong? Turns out a lot of things did. We were we were very fortunate in the class to have some connections in the alcohol industry on the advisory board. And through the course of the year, we were able to make progress on it. And we ended up launching the Lionheart cider brand in July of 2015. In package 16 ounce cans across the state of Minnesota, we got insanely lucky. And

Stephanie Hansen 9:13
if you back up and you said $2,500 in glass bottles, insert X, what did that number end up being? And I remember those being in cans if I recall, but I do remember seeing it at SURTEX.

Jason Dayton 9:30
So Lionhart yeah cost close to $50,000 to launch a single SKU in Cannes and we didn’t launch until July the following year. So we were over optimistic to say to say the least. But the learning process there was going from I know how to homebrew cider to you know how to actually make and sell this in stores. And there was a lot in the middle that we simply weren’t aware of at the time and that was that was the learning experience of the class. And we were extremely fortunate that we were able to get funding from the class to do this, the class syllabus a it says no vices. So alcohol was not supposed to be allowed my somehow convinced are professors are allowed to allow us to do that. John Saavik, the head of the home center at the University of Minnesota. And then in theory, the theoretical maximum that you could get funding for the class is $30,000, not 50. And most most groups get to $3,000, close the business down by the end of the year, hopefully pay back the loan and that and that sort of it. So we started going down this process exploring how we’re going to make it original glass bottles, sell insert x, we have to do market research. So I went to Total Wine and bought the entire cider selection and got to expense. That was a pretty great college senior move. And then we quickly found out that our homebrew recipe was not going to scale we tried to take we actually took our homebrew recipe written out of she didn’t know book Paper and went up to Cold Spring brewing. Because our first our first person was a small farm winery, they turned us down, like why don’t you go talk to Coldspring they do they do co packing we’re so great. These are the guys and they truly white claw monster, I mean, massive, massive production. So we go up and there’s probably an alumni connection there that I’m forgetting about. And they give us a tour. And they’re very kind to us. We sit down in the boardroom and I pull out my recipe that is my homebrew recipe times 50,000 I think was basically the numbers, which is absurd. It’s nowhere near how you actually make cider. So they respectfully turned us down and probably quite wisely at that point. At that point that we got connected with another alumni, alumni who owns a local company called Bev source source is a company that if you have a beverage idea, you go to them and they will help you figure out how to manufacture the logistics and the program. They gave us a student discount, they gave us half off their their normal setup fee. And so we were able to finally start making real progress. We had an actual formula, we had an actual manufacturer, we got the CANS made. And so we leading up to production, we had basically spent about 30, grand and all of these different things leading up to production. So to do our actual production run, we needed additional funding, and John, our professors that I will cover the difference. But you guys need to come up with $10,000. And there were seven or eight of us in the class at the time in our group. So we each, you know, scrounge every penny we could begged, borrowed and pleaded from our parents managed to come up with 10 grand. John funded the rest. And that’s how we got our initial production run out the

Stephanie Hansen 12:55
door. That’s such a great story and such a real learning experience in action. Are you still close with that? Professor?

Jason Dayton 13:05
We are. We’re very close with John, I actually served on the advisory board for the class this year. We will frequently host the class at least once a year here at the site every couple of years ago before the pandemic, one group was doing a hard kombucha. And we actually made the product here for them for significantly less than $50,000 MindView and did a launch party and sold it here at the tap room and they were able to kind of pay back their ingredient costs and make a couple grand. That was actually the year it was actually 2019 2020. So I think that party happened in January or February. And then the pandemic came, classes went remote. And so they just were never really able to continue the project for that class for that year.

Stephanie Hansen 13:51
What brands are your workhorses what flavors that you sell.

Jason Dayton 13:56
So it varies between the tap room and out in distribution. And the tap room group is definitely one of our leaders. People looking for that dry champagne Apple forward style cider, it does really well for us in events, weddings, things like that. Out in market, Mango Habanero is actually our best seller.

Stephanie Hansen 14:17
That is an evil cider.

Jason Dayton 14:20
Thank you. It’s it takes a little hand selling when we go to stores that we sample it with buyers. And we tell folks this is this is going to take you a little bit of hand selling but when you get this liquid to customers when people try it, they’re gonna love it. And that’s why we find people come back again and again and again. To mango and it’s definitely one of our most fun. Raspberry dioxide depending on the season blueberry for us is really strong. Blueberry borealis is our partnership with friends of the Boundary Waters. So they’re an organization that works to protect the Boundary Waters from copper sulfide mining, and then also sponsors scholarships for discipline. as youth from around Minnesota to be able to go to the Boundary Waters. And so a portion of the proceeds from every, every canceled here in the taproom glass will do in the tap room. Cancel that and mark it goes to support their work. I love

Stephanie Hansen 15:13
that organization so much. So thank you for doing that. It’s near and dear to my heart.

Jason Dayton 15:19
Where there a ton of fun to work with. I also have a family connection. We have a cabin in Ely that we’ve had for about going about 70 years now. Where’s my grant? It’s out on the Fernbank. So if you drive straight through Ely, you go about 25 miles and turn around to Canadian borders road. We’re on Jasper

Stephanie Hansen 15:40
like, Okay, I know right where you are.

Jason Dayton 15:44
Yeah, it’s, it’s It’s our little piece of heaven. I wished it was a little bit. I wouldn’t want it to be anywhere else. I just wish it didn’t always take four hours to get there. Yeah, same.

Stephanie Hansen 15:55
We have a place on Burnside and you love that you’re far because it keeps sort of that rustic North feel. But you also wish you could just snap your fingers because you could go more and you could get there faster. Tell us a little bit about your new cider line. Light and dry.

Jason Dayton 16:17
Yeah, so this is a series of 100 Calorie ciders. One gram of sugar 4% ABV. Still made from 100% real fruit. What we’re trying to do with this product was create something for cider drinkers. And this is very specifically a cider, not a seltzer. But that still meets that I want something really light, fresh, bubbly need cider drinkers have that too, just like beer drinkers and everybody else in the category. So we set out to create products that matched the quality of cider that we’re making in all of our core lineup. But we’re 100 calorie and 4% ABV without taking shortcuts. And it’s really,

Stephanie Hansen 17:02
the 100 Calorie part is a big piece of it, isn’t it?

Jason Dayton 17:06
It’s huge. I find myself continuing to go for those those light products. I’m one of those folks that I enjoy. Being able to, especially in a hot day have several. So 100 calorie and 4% It’s kind of thing that you can drink, you can actually drink all day.

Stephanie Hansen 17:22
Yep. And when we tasted them, they were very refreshing. I’m not a big seltzer drinker. And I don’t really love sort of the maltiness of seltzer. I just felt like this was really a refreshing alternative to like a light beer. And we really liked them a lot. They come in a variety pack, there are four different flavors. I did a taste testing with some friends and the matcha scored really high, which nobody really knew when I gave it to them that much it was in there. I just kind of said, okay, here, try this one. I also really liked the prickly pear version. So just I thought they were really delicious. When you think about the cidery and the taproom and pickleball, you’re kind of at the cusp of I mean, people are just starting to really get into pickleball. So that’s kind of just really be launching you into are you thinking about expansion or just continuing to be community based and do what you do? Well?

Jason Dayton 18:28
Yeah, I mean, you’re right. And that Pickleball is just continuing to grow constantly. We just expanded our space, we doubled from 15 to 30,000 square feet. We added two additional pickleball courts and our new events venue, the Harrelson room. And we’re really trying to understand we don’t know the answer yet. But we’re trying to understand what comes next for the business. Pickleball is amazing in the winter for us. We’re all indoor courts. So really hot days are really cold days. It does great. We don’t know what a real summer looks like yet. We opened in 2019. So that was our first summer nobody knew about us, the last few have been really hampered by the pandemic. And so we’re kind of seeing what this looks like and whether we want to expand with additional locations, whether that’s continuing to build and grow the taproom here, expanding distribution. We haven’t necessarily made that decision of where we’re going to go next.

Stephanie Hansen 19:32
Yeah, cuz you have like three businesses, you have this pickleball business, you have the cider Taproom business, then you have this whole distribution of cider in liquor stores and retail business. They are sort of three distinct different brands and ways that you go to market. So as an entrepreneur yourself, I bet you’re finding this all really fun.

Jason Dayton 19:55
It’s a blast and to add a fourth one we have a 7000 square foot events venue that Just like weddings, rehearsal dinners. Yeah. So So that’s, that’s one of the best things about this is we’re not hemmed in by the amount of space we have. We’re not in a very small buildings, we have a ton of flexibility to throw huge events to expand and do weddings to think about growing distribution. Yeah. And it’s just challenges that we, we get to solve as entrepreneurs. We started this in college as entrepreneurs. We knew we wanted to build something we knew we wanted to be entrepreneurs, we didn’t really fall, fall into this kind of accidentally, like some people in the beer industry do. And so it’s fun. You know, I don’t I don’t know what that growth answer is yet. There’s lots of ideas thrown around. I think for Robert had cider maker. I want to open an orchard and maybe we could have an orchard with outdoor pickleball courts and another wedding venue. Yeah. And yeah, we don’t we don’t really know yet. But we’re definitely going to keep growing, keep finding and exploring new ways. Cider is at the core of that. And that’s been great for us.

Stephanie Hansen 20:59
Thank you. I look forward to releasing this episode in a couple of weeks. And congratulations.

Jason Dayton 21:05
Thank you so much, and really appreciate the time and thanks so much for highlighting us. Let us know if you wanting any more cider or anything else. All right. Talk to you soon. Thank you. Alright, take care. Bye bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai