Bent Paddle Pours Heart & Soul into Craft

Working in breweries and attending beer festivals, Laura and Colin Mullen and Bryon and Karen Tonnis started dreaming about opening their own brewery. After 3 years of dreaming, the couples turned their ideas into plans and opened Bent Paddle Brewing Company in Duluth, Minn., in 2013.

Despite their careful planning, Bent Paddle’s popularity was more than the founders anticipated.

“When we started Bent Paddle, we had a 7-year business plan that we basically blew out of the water and reached those numbers in year 2,” explains Laura Mullen, co-founder and vice president of outreach and marketing.

Bent Paddle has grown from a small taproom that held about 50 people, employed 5 and had 12 distribution accounts in Duluth into a 30-barrel production craft brewery and taproom that seats 200, employs 45, and has 2,700 distribution accounts in 4 states.

“Along the way, all of that growth and all of that change was supported by our banking relationship,” Laura comments. “Your banking relationship is incredibly unique. To go to a place where you know the people (as opposed to a large corporate phone number) has just been a game-changer for our business. It’s my number one recommendation to new entrepreneurs. It's important to have a personal connection with your business bankers, because they really get to know the ins and outs of your business.”

With a mission of brewing a sustainable craft beer while creating a unique and interesting craft beer experience, Bent Paddle brewers use water from Lake Superior, which Laura says is incredibly soft and mimics the water of Pilsen, Czech Republic – the birthplace of Pilsners.

“The beer is incredibly good, and I'm really proud of it,” Laura remarks. “Beer brings people together, and I'm so proud of that every day.”

Listen to Laura tell her story, and get a glimpse inside Bent Paddle:

Bent Paddle Finds Kindred Spirit in Bell Bank

One of the things Laura appreciates most about working with Bell is the bank’s spirit of giving – especially through the Pay It Forward program, which gives employees money each year to donate to people and organizations in need.

“Our business has what we call a Paddle It Forward Program,” Laura notes. “Since we started in 2013, we have given money, products, and beer to over 500 nonprofits, totaling a half a million dollars in value. We saw that as a complete alignment with the Pay It Forward program that Bell so wonderfully does in all of their communities. So it was just really a no-brainer. Duluth is an incredibly supportive community, supporting their local nonprofits like crazy, and Bell fits right into that story.”


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