By Jayne Armstrong, District Director (Iowa District) U.S. Small Business Administration
Great opportunities often arise out of disastrous events. Cedar Rapids’ renaissance following the flood of 2008 spurred many millennials to return home to contribute to its recovery and resurgence. Quinton and Ana McClain’s successful venture, Lion Bridge Brewing, represents the cornerstone of the Czech Village and New Bohemia’s revitalization.
Quinton, a Cedar Rapids native, and Ana, originally from Mexico, met while attending Colorado State University. His background as a commercial brewer and her expertise in management, human resources, and event planning provided the perfect formula for entrepreneurial success. Recognizing the window of opportunity, they returned to Cedar Rapids to make a difference.
“I was inspired to open a brewery in Cedar Rapids, because I saw the restoration and reinvigoration of the downtown area,” said Quinton McClain, co-owner of Lion Bridge Brewing. “I was inspired to help, in my own way, to make Cedar Rapids a thriving destination for tourism and a source of pride for the people that live here.”
The business name is inspired by the Bridge of Lions that connects New Bohemia to Czech Village over the Cedar River. The lion symbolizes Bohemia and best represents the area’s Czech heritage. Lion Bridge Brewing also has history on its side thanks to the Czech Republic’s stellar reputation as a world leader of the beer industry.
In September 2013, they purchased the former Fritz’s Food Market, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, as the future home of their craft brewery. Start-up costs, including equipment, renovations and working capital, were financed with a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed loan through Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust. Lion Bridge sold its first beer to the public on February 19th, 2014.
“While we did our research and fully believed in our idea, starting Lion Bridge was still a huge risk. Having the support of Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust and the SBA really gave us the confidence to make our dream a reality,” said Ana McClain.
The recent addition of a biergarten and bocce court was financed with an $8,000 Iowa Main Street Challenge Grant “Open For Business.” The biergarten expands seating with outdoor space and adds to the ambience of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street Community by modeling the design of the new fence off of the nearby Bridge of Lions. The result is the revitalization of an underutilized greenspace that is transformed into a community gathering destination.
Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street is just one of many business resources the McClains have utilized. During the start-up phase Quinton worked out of the Vault co-working space to collaborate with other businesses and reduce start-up costs with shared resources. He also worked with America’s SBDC, a key SBA resource partner, in Marion to access counseling and technical services. He now gives back to other local entrepreneurs by serving on the SBDC’s advisory council.
More recently the McClains have been working with the Entrepreneurial Development Center in Cedar Rapids to support Lion Bridge Brewing Company’s expansion into retail beer sales. The EDC team has helped them develop marketing and pricing strategies, initially focusing on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City markets.
“The beers we brew are catalysts for conversation and community,” said Quinton. He serves as the brewery manager and oversees the sales, distribution and production schedules. In addition to the on-site sales, its wide variety of beers is sold wholesale to over 300 bars and restaurants across Iowa.
The Cedar Rapids community is the center of Lion Bridge’s three tenants of giving – the arts, environmental causes and access to healthy, local food. Its relationships with local farmers play an important role in its community involvement. In addition to farmers providing key ingredients for the beer and food menu, the brewery participates in the Cedar Rapids Farmers Market once a month and hosts bi-annual farmers markets in its parking lot.
After four years of operation, the McClains are finally getting over the typical bootstrapping start-up phase when entrepreneurs wear so many hats. They quickly learned that the customer drives your demand and requires you to be flexible and adapt to change.
While still known for its quality craft beers, Lion Bridge’s restaurant sales quadrupled very quickly and presented new challenges with storage for food and supplies. Beer production focuses on only four ingredients – grain, hops, water and yeast – making inventory pretty simple. Ana did a lot of self-led research on restaurant management, but the rapid growth forced them to take a leap of faith and hire a manager. The important move has paid off with restaurant sales increasing 25 percent in the past year alone.
The special events aspect of the business has increased so significantly that Ana turned to the University of Iowa’s Event Planning Certificate Program to offer an internship opportunity to a local student. It also allows her to utilize her event planning and management expertise while mentoring a local student.
Cedar Rapids has come a long way since the flood of 2008, thanks in large part to a new generation of entrepreneurs like Quinton and Ana McClain who have tapped into the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community.
About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.