Successful restaurant saves farm | Brothers grow own malt barley and hops for beermaking
Losing the farm can drive people to alcohol to hide the shame and kill the pain.
And so it was for the four Warwaruk brothers of Minnedosa, Man. They turned to beer — selling it.
“It all came to a head in 1997. The local credit union called Dad’s equipment loan. Then (Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp.) pulled the pin on his land,” said Chris Warwaruk.
“It was a collaborative effort. The credit union and MASC did a quick one-two punch to kill the farm. Within the span of a year and a half, Dad lost pretty much everything.”
Chris said his father started ex-panding the farm in 1990, buying land, expanding the feedlot and making room for his four sons if they wanted to become farmers.
However, the reality of low commodity prices in the late 1990s proved disastrous for producers who borrowed money to expand their farms.
Older brother Lawrence said his father never gave up the fight to keep the farm when the notices started arriving.
“He was a very passive negotiator,” he said.
“Instead of getting mad, he’d go in and talk to the creditors and show them his plans for pulling the whole deal back together. The sad part is that he had everything just about paid for when he started expanding in the late ’80s, but then in the ’90s everything went bad for us.”
Their father managed to salvage some land from the wreck, but they had lost all their implements and couldn’t farm it.
The only way the brothers could think of to help him remain current on land payments was to go looking for good wages in Winnipeg.
But the year was 2000 and finding a good job was difficult. Working in someone else’s restaurant for minimum wage plus tips was not on the brothers’ menu.
So, with their entrepreneurial spirit, the four brothers stuck started their own restaurant.
By chance, they found a fully equipped vacant restaurant in a quiet residential neighborhood that the landlord was desperate to sell.
Also by chance, that strip of Osborne Street South would shortly become Winnipeg’s next chic hot spot destination.
The Luxalune Gastropub was successful. Not only could they send money back home to help their father with land payments, but they eventually bought another building down the street and established a second restaurant. The entire business was eventually consolidated into the new building.
At that point, with more than 130 beers on the menu, they realized that it would be more profitable selling beer they brewed themselves.
They created a micro-brewery, Farmery Beer, using malt barley and hops they grew themselves on their own farm.
“Here we are, on the Canadian Prairies, where we grow the best malt barley in the world, but then we ship it all over the world so other people can make beer and sell it back to Canadians,” Lawrence said.
“Generations of us grew up thinking that the farmer’s role in life was to grow as many bushels of wheat and raise as many pounds of beef as we possibly can. But that whole plan ignores profit.
“We decided to build our own profit. Farmery Beer is definitely a value added project. That’s what drives us every day.”
The next step was to buy a quarter section of land on Highway 16 near Neepawa, Man., where they grow malt barley. It is then shipped to a small plant in Ontario that brews their Farmery beer.
“Not only do we grow our own malt barley, we’ve started growing our own hops. We harvested our first hop crop this year,” Lawrence said.
“People think hops is an exotic, but the live hops we’ve been buying from the U.S. originated at the Morden Research Farm right here in Manitoba. Hops from those basic Morden strains are used all around the world.
“Our next big step will be to build our brewery. We’re going to put it right along the highway and develop it into somewhat of a tourist destination.”
Lawrence and Chris want to pattern the operation after the wineries of British Columbia.
“Education is a big part of what we want to do. We want the brewery to be an interesting place to visit,” Lawrence said.
“We want to show people barley and hops in the field. Let them rub the hops between their palms so they can smell them. We want to give people an idea of what agriculture is all about.”
Farmery is the only estate craft micro-brewery in Canada that grows its own inputs, he said.