Before they had a historied brewer, before they had a veteran chef, Rapids Brewing Co. was simply an idea to counteract a growing concern in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Bill Martinetto, general manager of Rapids Brewing Co. and one of its original members, explained that the brewery’s initial partners felt that downtown Grand Rapids had drifted far from its best days.
“It started with a want to help develop downtown Grand Rapids, which in some parts was kind of getting let go,” Martinetto explained. “That block, which we’re on, had a lot of old buildings and felt blighted, it was getting run down. The motivation for us was to get a project going downtown that cleaned it up and made the town more inviting.”
The team purchased three adjacent buildings in Grand Rapids’ downtown area. Two were torn down, making room for a large green space of grass, a patio, and Rapids Brewing Co.’s kitchen, one of the key centers of the business and home to their wood-fired oven.
Through connections with mutual friends and associates, the team added two talented veterans in beer and food to the team. One was Darin Jensen, who had spent 23 years at Alaskan Brewing Co., working at several levels of the business.
Jensen was looking for a new chapter in his life and took on the Rapids’ mission as a new and smaller-scale way to continue his passion. Having spent much of his time at Alaskan in the marketing and quality control fields, Rapids was a chance to go back to the brewing art he fell in love with originally.
The other new face was Eric Halverson, who brought 15 years of experience in fine dining in Minneapolis to the brewery. Halverson, whose last job in Minneapolis was at The Rabbit Hole, greatly expanded the ambitions of Rapids Brewing Co. in the kitchen.
Martinetto explained that while the brewery had always planned to serve good food, Halverson equipped them with a greatly expanded understanding of how to deliver the goods.
“We were planning a similar kitchen, in terms of the wood-fired oven,” Martinetto continued. “We were going to kind of focus on pizzas and that kind of thing. Bringing Eric on board gave us a fresh look at what our offerings could be.”
Rapids also offers a wide variety of pizza and side dishes on its regular menu. The pizzas use a variety of local foods, from duck to fennel, to show people new ways of interpreting foods they may have seen or had before.
Rapids Brewing Co. has prioritized establishing a good relationship with local growers and food companies for sourcing.
That same local aura applies to the taproom as well, where people are encouraged to socialize. The taproom seats 150 people, though the patio increases seating to a grand total of 200.
“Our goal is that we meet new people and create conversations. Our food menu is built as such that it’s meant to be shared,” Matinetto explained. “We want people to come together and meet new people and kind of have that safe space to come to and enjoy some food and beer and community.”
That sense of community was evident at several soft opening events that took place in early August, before the brewpub’s launch on August 26.
The brewery portion of the business is complemented by the culinary works of chef Halverson. Head brewer Darin Jensen’s operations have worked in sync with the food on many occasions, using beers to make butter or braze onions.
While some of the beer options look to bring a unique taste to the table—Jensen has a cantaloupe wheat ale in the works—Martinetto says the brewery plans to stay fairly traditional.
“We’re going to brew beer true to style and not getting too wacky,” Martinetto continued. “[We like] having a good array of beers, having a good malty side, some good hoppy beers going, a good mix of beers but brewing them true to style and focusing on the basics. Very drinkable and very approachable beers.”
Combining local products to create beer, food, and entertainment, Rapids Brewing Co. is hoping to kickstart a new age for Grand Rapids’ downtown. Along the way, its experienced brewer and executive chef are set to find new ways to be unique without forgetting the age-old traditions of brewing.
Brewer: Darin Jensen
Beers: Jam IPA, Oat and a Boat Stout, Mango Mama IPA, Brown Boot Brown Ale, Stand Up Pale Ale, River Pig Red Ale, Chili Willy Scotch Ale, Hoky Saaz Wet Hop Pale Ale, Vanilla Bean Cream Ale, Noble Pilsner
Address: 214 N Pokegema Ave, Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Hours: Mon–Sun: 11am–10pm
Official opening: August 26, 2019