They say you can't put a price on happiness. But one bar has come very close: They've put a price on a lifetime of unlimited beer.
Back in 2011, a pair of aspiring restaurateurs needed $220,000 to open and run their brewpub with an on-site brewery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Amy Johnson and Jamie Robinson asked family members and friends, but no one could offer up more than a few thousand bucks apiece. That's a generous amount, but not enough to get the business off the ground. And most of those people wanted a voting share in the company. That's standard for investors, but many of them lacked meaningful restaurant experience.
Johnson and Robinson were hesitant to give up a partial control of their business to people who might not know the best way to manage it. They just wanted to run a place that served great local beer. So that's where they found their solution.
Initially they considered Kickstarter to raise the money. In 2011, Kickstarter was just beginning to gain household name recognition. But this was before people were using it to fund million-dollar movie ideas or Reading Rainbow revivals. And Johnson said they were concerned about not making it all the way to $220,000, which would mean they wouldn't get a dime. They also wanted to offer free beer as one of the incentives, but Kickstarter doesn't allow fundraisers to offer alcohol as a reward — a restriction Johnson called "completely understandable."
ABOVE: Business partners Amy Johnson and Jamie Robinson
So the pair met with their lawyers and came up with a solution. Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub incorporated as a limited liability corporation, or LLC. The owners offered a variety of investment opportunities, including ones with voting equity.
But the big seller involved their prize product: For $1,000, you could get free in-house beer for the rest of your life. (Or until the restaurant closed — whichever comes first.)
Roughly 120 people took them up on their offer. The entire amount they needed was raised in less than three weeks, and entirely by word-of-mouth advertising.
Today, the brewpub is open and thriving. Johnson says they have six taps of beer they brew on-site, and six taps of local craft brews, all from within the state. Investors can order any house beer they want, including Honey Wheat Ale, Big Jim IPA, and a Smokehouse Porter. Sadly, they can’t share the liquid wealth — the membership is non-transferable.
ABOVE: Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub in Minneapolis, Minn.
"We say 'Please don't even let your friends taste the beer to see if they like it,'" Johnson told Fusion. "Our serving staff is willing to bring samples. We don’t want there to be a gray area."
Sadder still: This was a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity.
"Once we raised the money we had to cut [the campaign] off," Johnson said. "We do get asked about it, every day, still. Every day somebody asks one of our staff members if they can still get in on this — which feels great. It means people love the beer and want to be a part of it."