FOUNTAIN — It started with a schoolhouse over a sinkhole. Then it expanded to the lumberyard. The plan is to take over a former bus garage next.
Eric Luoma and Sandra Seha-Luoma have big plans for Karst Brewing in tiny Fountain. The brewery, at 315 1st St., opened in 2017, and has been slowly growing its footprint, beer selection and entertainment options since.
“It was a fun little space. We had fun. Our customers had fun, but it just wasn't sustainable. We couldn't keep up with beer production,” Luoma said of running a brewery and taproom out of a one-room former schoolhouse. “There wasn't enough traffic to quit our day jobs, and you can't do both. You have to make a decision: Am I going to get on stage and in the corporate world, or am I going to brew beer? And I said I was going to brew beer.”
When the lumberyard closed without someone to buy the business, the former office building was offered to the brewery. Then when the neighboring school bus garage went up for sale, Luoma and Seha-Luoma bought that, too.
Moving the taproom out of the schoolhouse allowed the couple to add additional fermenters, which meant more beers could be made. They expanded from their original three — Maggie’s Farm, a cream ale; Ember Waves, a red ale; and Wry, a rye IPA — to include more creative offerings, like North Country, a wild rice blueberry reduced kettle sour.
On Saturday, 16 beers were on tap for attendees of the bimonthly Sinkhole Saturday 2x4 events.
A mix of live music, food, and, of course, beer, the event gets its name from the space's history. There are two more such events planned on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25. That doesn’t mean the fun stops, though. The brewery also hosts Thursday night trivia, as well as more impromptu-style events featuring food trucks and music.
Out on the patio, made with granite pavers that came from Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, there is now ample space for customers to spread out. The pavers aren’t just for outside — they also make up the bar top in the taproom.
“I like to tease that maybe Mary Tyler Moore danced on our bar,” Luoma said, referencing the opening credits of the 1970s sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" when she throws her cap in the air on Nicollet Mall.
A set of picnic tables, which seat six and are too heavy to move, making social distancing easier to maintain, and high-top tables are spread out on the patio for people to enjoy. For Mike and Julie Lane, of Chatfield, the expansion made the brewery more personal — Mike's cousin owned the lumber yard. The yard was still operating when the Lanes first started coming.
Julie Lane said what keeps them coming back is the friendly atmosphere and the "awesome beer."
A table over, Kenny and Susie Woltz, of rural Wykoff, enjoyed beers and food from the visiting food truck with friends.
"We waited for it to open," Kenny Woltz said of the brewery's early days.
“I’ll take Eric’s beer over anybody’s,” he added. “Eric has such good beer.”