Now awaiting license, Skaalvenn will specialize in all-natural, locally sourced spirits
Skaalvenn, a new Brooklyn Park distillery, is in the works. Named after the Norwegian words for “cheers” and “friends,” Skaalvenn (pronounced “skoal venn”) will offer spirits made from all-natural and locally sourced ingredients (when available).
Co-owner Tyson Schnitker has long been fond of mixing drinks for parties; at one point, friends started requesting his concoctions for special events and suggested he charge for them. Along with his wife and co-owner, Mary, Tyson toured distilleries throughout the U.S. and took classes on opening a distillery. A savings account and a personal loan provided the startup funds.
“We’re serious about making good spirits, but we don't take ourselves too seriously — we’re just average folks,” Tyson says. “We didn’t start the distillery to get rich and famous. We didn’t start it because it was the cool thing to do. We started it because it seemed to be the right fit for us, and we believe we can carve our niche into the market by bringing customers a fun experience.”
The Schnitkers both come from hard-working, entrepreneurial families. Mary’s parents are Cambodian refugees who came to Minnesota in the late 1970s and own a flower shop where Tyson helps out during the week. Tyson’s ancestors immigrated to Minnesota from Norway generations ago; his pride in his heritage was the inspiration for the company’s name. He fell in love with “the homeland” when he visited Norway in 2011 while a medic in the Army (he is now in the Air Force).
Mary, an aesthetician by trade, is well traveled, too, and that passion will inform Skaalvenn products. “It’s tough to incorporate some of those [international] flavors into alcohol,” Tyson says. “For instance, I’m not going to make a curry-flavored vodka. There are some things you don’t do.” The details of Skaalvenn’s product line are still under wraps as the company undergoes new branding with help from Minneapolis-based creative agency The Shinebox.
Tyson describes Skaalvenn’s 2,000-square-foot space as humble. “We didn’t want to be business-poor,” he says. “You need to be able to work in it, it needs to give you room to stretch your legs and grow, but you don’t want to start out with the Taj Mahal of businesses.” Luckily, the Brooklyn Park suite where Skaalvenn is headquartered has expansion potential.
Employees are also on the wish list for the future. “When the time comes we would really like to be able to pay our employees well and not just industry averages,” Tyson says. “We believe good employees should have good wages and benefits so they are excited and proud to have their job.”
While initially scheduled for January 2015, Skaalvenn’s big opening has been delayed by licensing hurdles. Though the paperwork was submitted to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau last October, the application is still in process. “It’s the toughest industry to give a date on,” Tyson says. “It’s made for a lot of sleepless nights." Upon licensing approval, Skaalvenn’s will have product available for distribution to local small businesses within 45 to 60 days.
Tyson knows that good things take time, and he is confident that Skaalvenn spirits will be worth the wait. “We don’t like having our name attached to anything subpar,” he says. “Mary and I are both perfectionists who would rather dedicate the extra time and money to ensure something is done right.”