Even before entrepreneurs Steve and Deb Long opened Woodbury’s first craft brewery, Steve had plenty of experience working with stainless steel tanks, pumps, valves and other sophisticated brewing equipment. Several decades ago, Steve, who co-owns 3rd Act Craft Brewery with wife Deb, worked for the pharma company Abbott Laboratories, overseeing the manufacture of liquid solutions used in intravenous bags. While living in Austin and attending the University of Texas, he also dabbled in home brewing, using his background as a chemical engineering major.
The Longs opened 3rd Act in late November in a new, custom-built building at 4120 Radio Drive and immediately did brisk business that confirmed their assessment of the market potential for a brewery in the area. “We were inundated” with customers, Steve says. There’s no shortage of craft breweries in the Twin Cities, but the Longs admit they lucked into a combination of ideal timing and location—as local beer-lovers know, Woodbury was still in the dark as the craft-brewing boom started to hit the rest of the metro in recent years.
The Longs started thinking about getting into the beer business shortly after Steve retired from 3M, where he was head of labor relations. Then the Long family farm in Texas was acquired by a new owner, and the Longs found themselves with the time and capital to develop the business.
Steve Long says he did plenty of advance study on a fun business he considers “hard to screw up.” He did every bit of research he could do on breweries, met with 47 different brewery owners, and completed the brewing technology program at Dakota County Technical College. Scouting possible locations, he placed red dots on a map to indicate existing breweries. “Lo and behold, there was a huge, open space here, a 10-mile circle with Woodbury right in the middle,” he explains.
Then the Longs found what they consider a perfect location, a vacant corner lot at Hargis and Radio Drive. To help make the brewery possible, city officials amended a licensing ordinance which required a certain percentage of food sales versus alcohol sales. Steve said the process of working with city officials to get the necessary permits and approvals was “awesome. They wanted it more than I did,” he says with a smile.
Another advantage is that Deb Long, who handles marketing, is an experienced business owner; she runs Business Forms For Less. “She has a wonderful marketing mind,” Steve says. The brewery has 38 mostly part-time employees. The head brewer, Tommy Rodengen, has an impressive pedigree; he is finishing work on a Ph.D. in geobiochemistry from the University of Toronto.
The Longs, who are longtime Woodbury residents themselves, originally moved here in 1990. Steve’s work for 3M took the family to Europe and to California before they returned to Woodbury in 1996. Their daughter Ashley grew up here and is now a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “We’ve lived in Texas, California and England, and out of all the choices we had, we wanted to live here,” Steve says. “It’s clean, safe, and a great place to raise kids, with great schools and a great culture. Why would we leave?”
Serving beer directly from its finishing tanks, the brewery has 60 recipes for 60 different types of craft beers they will offer on a rotating basis, with 12 at any one time—one for each of 3rd Act’s dozen taps. When we stopped by shortly after the brewery opened, tap options included the Berliner Weisse, a sour beer; Session Pale, a SMaSH-style (single malt and single hop-style) beer made from Minnesota-grown grains; an oatmeal coffee stout; and a blood orange beer. “We want to introduce people to an eclectic bunch of beers,” Steve says. “We don’t want to just make German beers; we want to have beers you can’t find everywhere else, tastes and combinations you don’t see very often, brewed in the traditional way, going back to the roots of beer. When we serve a French saison beer, you will get a real saison beer, not a dolled-up American beer.”
Steve Long plans to regularly meet with his three-member brewing team to discuss ingredients and recipe “tweaks.” The Longs also installed a brick-fired oven to make artisan pizzas and pretzels to offer simple but satisfying food choices. The drink menu includes root beer and other craft pop made by Arden Hills-based Northern Sodas.
The brewery also sells crowlers (32-ounce aluminum cans), growlers (which are 64-ounce, air-tight jugs of beer) and offers a line of souvenir T-shirts, hoodies, bottle openers, coozies and caps. Games are available for customers to play, including a variety of board games, and bocce ball on the patio.
To keep up with the opening weekend rush, Deb Long’s role as an executive included bussing tables. “We were thrilled to death at the response. We can’t thank people enough,” she says. “We received a cake from one family. We’re in a very supportive situation and a perfect location for a brewery, facing the sports dome, so we get the hockey families, the baseball families, and so on.”
To make the brewery a community resource, the Longs plan to use the facility to benefit a variety of worthy causes. When it opened, they already had fundraisers on the calendar for Shriner’s Children’s hospitals, and the Woodbury police K9s. The facility can hold about 150 people, with another 50 on the outdoor patio.
In another local twist, the Longs found several farmers in the Hastings area who take their spent grains (hops, barley, oats and wheat used in the brewing process) to feed their cattle.
The most challenging part of getting the venture off the ground was getting the subcontractors to finish their work in time for the opening—in the middle of a small-business boom in Woodbury, says Deb. But everything worked out in the end, Steve Long says. “We just want to offer quality beers and keep the customers happy, give them a place they can feel at home.”
3rd Act can seat around 150 indoors, plus 50 on the patio in fair weather. The staff offers brick-oven treats like pizza and pretzels, and there are board games and bocce ball to play.