Alum finds success — and ways to give back — running La Crosse brewery
La Crosse has a long history of breweries since its founding in the mid-1800s — Gund, Heileman and City, to name a few. For long-time craft beer enthusiasts, there’s a new keg on the block. And a UWL alum is at the helm.
Tami Plourde, ’98, is a psychology major and English minor turned brewer. She credits those studies for her success with Pearl Street Brewing Co.
Plourde is part owner, along with director of marketing and sales for the brewery that opened in 1999. The English minor got copywriting experience working remotely from La Crosse for a Minneapolis design firm during college.
“I got a lot of experience writing copy for MSP Design Firm and worked with clients such as 3-M and learned a lot about marketing and creativity,” she explains. “I still use those skills today.”
The Lakeville, Minnesota, native says her psychology major helps her understand people — and to some extent predict buying habits and trends.
“I’m very interested in sales and marketing and promotion and both of those things are very essential skills in the craft brewing industry,” Plourde explains. “The rest is a little touch of fate and a lot of life leading me down the path.”
Plourde didn’t start at the brewery when it opened. She was working for Enterprise Rent-a-Car in La Crosse and Wausau. Then, she opened a lunchtime and late-night eatery restaurant in downtown La Crosse.
When the business failed two years in, Plourde reconnected with Pearl Street’s founder, Joe Katchever. He was looking to expand from his Bodega-based brewery.
Plourde helped the brewery with a move to a Second Street distribution center, which eventually grew to another switch — the brewery’s current location on St. Andrew Street in the former La Crosse Footwear factory. Today, they also share a personal life together with their 11-year-old daughter. And another business: On Three Printing & Design.
Over the years, Pearl Street Brewery has become known for its community work. Among the many beneficiaries of their fundraisers: the Boys and Girls Club, La Crosse Soup, Beer By Bike Brigade, Riverside Park Bandshell, GROW La Crosse, Lobsterfest, Your Northside Neighborhood Clinic, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and others.
Plourde says it’s important for the brewery to be involved. “Our company only grows as we can afford to grow,” she explains. “We rely on the support of our community. And for over 21 years, La Crosse has believed in Pearl Street Brewery and in the past seven years has supported On Three Printing and we could not be more grateful. And, so it is our honor to give back and support our community.”
In Plourde’s passion for the community, she founded the Sprout for Kids Foundation, a 501C3 nonprofit. “Our mission is to give monies directly to the need in our community,” she notes. “So 100% of the money that comes in goes back out directly to the families and organizations that need it.”
Plourde says the foundation has supported many organizations, causes and families. The money is garnered through fundraising events and donations.
Helping out the community has become even more important during COVID-19, which has had a major impact on the two businesses Plourde oversees. They rely on bar and restaurant partners just like retailer partners.
“It was like having the perfect storm of business loss overnight,” she explains. “It is really hard to mobilize that.”
Pearl Street had to lay off its entire staff. She and Katchever worked alone for two months. At the same time, they utilized their foundation to start a relief fund — the La Crosse Bar and Restaurant Relief Fund — to raise money to fill in the gaps where federal grants and other funding sources didn’t cover.
As the first day of summer neared, Plourde noted the challenges aren’t over. She says most bars and restaurants remain closed or operating at under 50% capacity. Those challenges remain, along with the loss of nearly all events and festivals where they sell beer.
“It is really challenging, but we have to keep trucking and keep coming to work,” says Plourde. “We are slowly getting staff back and starting to release our summer beers and new beers in cans.”
Plourde knows everyone is impacted. “So we are really all in this together,” she says. “We have to hope for the best. And do our best.”