For Every Thirst, A Beer

Raise a glass to the woman who quenches drinkers while feeding the hungry.

Jacquie Berglund
Jacquie Berglund

Jacquie Berglund changed the world because of what may have been the most important church basement stunt in Twin Cities history. “For confirmation class we had a sleepover,” says the co-founder of Finnegans. Finnegans is now the fifth biggest beer brand in Minnesota, but back in the 1980s, in that Lutheran church basement in Mahtomedi, the brew was just a glimmer in her sleepy eyes.

“We all had to pretend we were homeless, sleeping on the church floor. Then in the middle of the night, bandits came and stole all our stuff. On the one hand, this seems ridiculous—the ‘bandits’ are your friends.” But the experience made a huge impression on Berglund. What if you did lose everything? How could you get through?

Her older sister emerged from that sleepover equally moved; Tracy Berglund is now the director of housing and emergency and youth services for Catholic Charities. The sisters grew up knowing what it meant to scrape by; they also knew they were lucky. “When I was growing up, we had food issues,” Jacquie Berglund says. “My dad was a janitor; my mother was a waitress. My dad started as a janitor at Gillette Children’s Hospital, but after many years he became the director of the orthotic and prosthetics lab. So I was also very aware from a young age that there were children just like me but without arms or legs or feet. This makes you feel very blessed but also like you should really help if you can.”

Berglund was still in college when she met Kieran Folliard. Years later, she found she needed back surgery. Folliard, who had opened The Local, invited her to work at the restaurant so she could get health insurance. Within three years, she was the director of marketing for his growing family of pubs. Through it all she knew she had to make a difference in vulnerable people’s lives. She and Folliard had many discussions over a pint about how it was impossible to do good without a focused strategy and a plan. “He was always saying, ‘You have to have clarity, Jacquie, absolute clarity.’”

Clarity arrived in a flash. “When it came to me, it was like my hair was on fire—I was so excited,” she says. “It would have been a good place for my hair to actually be on fire, because the idea came to me, like all good ideas, in a bubble bath.”

The idea was this: a beer, with all the profits going to local food shelves, which contract with local farmers to get the food they need most. So a Duluth food shelf gets a Duluth-area farmer to grow potatoes. A St. Cloud food shelf gets a St. Cloud–area farmer to grow broccoli. Money circulates through the community, directed by people who live there.

“I always thought it’s just not sustainable to have governments and nonprofits behind every charity,” Berglund says. “Sometimes governments and nonprofits have money to give and sometimes they don’t.” Finnegans was rolled out in Folliard’s pubs, and soon enough Folliard told her: “‘You’re more passionate about this beer than about your job.’ I said, ‘I know. Do you care if I go do this?’”

For nine years, Berglund was the sole employee of Finnegans. Now the for-profit charity has six full-timers and more than 1,500 volunteers, and it has raised roughly $340,000 for hunger relief in five states. “We create wealth and give it away at the same time. The more wealth we can create, the more we can give away. The sky is really the limit.”

Last year Finnegans added a snappy blonde ale to go with the original rich, malty red ale. This year, from November 1 through December 31, beer distributors are matching Finnegans donations, so every 12-pack bought will translate into a pound of food in a local food shelf. Who can resist? That’s why Berglund expects her company to have its best year yet. That and a good business plan.

“I asked for a Small Business Administration loan once and they said, ‘You want to give away all the profits? No.’ All I could think was, ‘Why not?’ We have sales goals that increase every year. We have targets. We hit them,” Berglund says. “Just because we’re motivated by the greater good doesn’t mean we’re incompetent. In fact, we might be more motivated than a lot of for-profit companies.”

Motivated by church basement bandits and by the idea that with clarity, strategy, and a plan she could skip the grinding road of amassing wealth so she could give it away later and instead pave her own path to creating wealth that immediately feeds strangers. “I think if I was born now and my mom was a waitress and my dad was a janitor, we would not have fared well,” she says. “That’s a lot of motivation.”