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From Bartending to Owning: The Belquist Story

If you had talked to the Belquists just 13 years ago, the question you would have asked them is, “so, what are you going to do?” Today, you could still ask that same question, however, with a current portfolio of six restaurants under their belts, a more fitting question might be, “what’s next?”

But before we get into that, let’s take a look back at this couple’s story that truly exemplifies the American Dream.

Alex

Downtown New Rockford
Downtown New Rockford

Growing up in New Rockford, ND, Alex, like most children from small towns, participated in just about every sport and activity available.

In high school, he participated in football, basketball, track & field, baseball and golf. However, he was also exposed to a very different scene at a young age. One that the average person might assume would be foreign to a future Nine-Man Player of The Year and North Dakota State Receiver.

“My mother was in theater, so, I was exposed to a lot of different people and things,” said Alex. “She was always having different sorts of people come to stay with us. When ‘The Blenders’ would come through town, they would stay with us and just hang out in our hot tub.”

It was also in those early years that Alex was first exposed to the food industry. Alex’s mother owned four Pretzel Maker franchises across the midwest, including Manhattan, Kansas.

“I would travel all over to these different places with her and that’s when I really got used to the chaos,” Alex said. “It wasn’t chaos to me though. It was just fun. I got to roll pretzels.”

As the years passed, Alex would eventually move on to college where he became a legitimate threat for an NDSU team that went 11-1 his junior season with an upset win over the University of Minnesota.

In the classroom, Alex began to hit his stride in the last few years and found himself most interested in the business and accounting classes he was taking. The problem, was those were part of his minor, his major was in physical education.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got to college,” Alex said. “I think originally, I wanted to coach. I ended up really liking the business and accounting classes, but I was too far along the phy ed track to change.”

Alex Belquist playing for NDSU football
Alex against the University of Minnesota.
Photo provided by NDSU Athletics

Britt

Britt’s journey began in Crookston, Minnesota where she “tried to be involved in as many social activities as possible.”

“I was a lot different than Alex,” Britt said. “The only reason I was really in sports was for the social aspect. I was not a great athlete.”

However, like Alex, Britt was exposed to the restaurant industry at a very young
age. She took her first job at the local Happy Joe’s when she was just 14-years-old.
At that same time, she also began working at Videos on Broadway, a “beloved” local video store that Britt claims to have helped her develop her customer service skills, which she has held onto throughout her career.

After graduating high school, Britt took a gap year and then went on to attend North Dakota State for a year.

At NDSU, Britt mulled over what she wanted to do. At one point she wanted to be an architect, but she enjoyed her time working at the now- closed bar and restaurant, Playmakers, more than she liked attending classes.

After taking another year off, she took up classes at Minnesota State University Moorhead where she studied International Relations, but the service industry remained a mainstay.

“I worked everywhere in Fargo. The OB, Playmakers, and, of course, Labby’s Grill & Bar,” Britt said.

Crookston's Grand Theater
Did you know?
Crookston’s Grand Theater, which opened in 1910, is
the United State’s oldest continuously operating movie theater and has hosted famous acts such as Mark Twain and Harry Houdini!

The Beginnings

Labby's Grill & Bar

The reason behind Britt’s “of course” when mentioning Labby’s Bar & Grill is because that is where the duo met!

“Originally I started in the kitchen, I was never going to be a cook very long there, but I really enjoyed it. Cooking is a similar rush to what you find in athletics to me. It’s active and there’s a lot of action. I never wanted to sit at a desk and have a desk job,” Alex said. “That was really my first job. Growing up, I played sports all year round. I mowed lawns and whatnot, but this was different. It was a really fun job and was a good thing to transition to right after playing five years of college football.”

Eventually, Alex became a bartender, where he met Britt, who was a server at the time. They began dating, and naturally, the couple talked about work. This lead them to talk about what they would do if they were to ever open their own place together, however, nothing was ever seriously laid out. It wasn’t until Alex decided to move
to the Twin Cities that things started to progress to where they are now.

“Labby’s played such an important role in our history,” Britt said. “Dan and Carol Labernick (the Owners of Labby’s) did such an amazing job at creating a fun team, which was really more like a family, to be a part of. Dano still sends Happy Birthday texts to us.”

Minneapolis/St. Paul (August 2010-May 2011)

Photo provided by Explore Minnesota

The reason behind Alex’s move to the cities was actually to begin sharpening his culinary skills.

“I figured that if I wanted to work in this field that I should learn how to actually cook,” Alex said, referring to why he originally decided to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Minneapolis/St. Paul. “I wasn’t into cooking that much, but I thought I had to do it. My time there helped me get the fundamentals.”

However, Alex eventually realized that he was more interested in owning a business than being a chef. So, he got out of the school after 6-8 months and started searching for a job. He found one working at a high-end restaurant in Minneapolis called Heidi’s (closed 2013). Alex also delivered pizzas to supplement the income he was earning as a chef.

Britt moved to the cities in December of 2010 and worked a number of serving jobs. The couple describes their time in the twin cities as a time of learning. “We lived in a really cool little neighborhood,” Britt said. “This is really where we were first exposed to and gained a love for craft beer and neighborhood pub food.”

However, the couple was still left looking for a sense of direction. Slowly, without knowing it, they began to find it on their drives back and forth to visit Alex’s family in New Rockford.

“Once Britt and I met, all we talked about were restaurants and what kind of place we would open,” Alex said. “We probably planned four to six concepts on drives home to New Rockford to visit family.”

While none of those exact concepts came to fruition, and many of the pieces of their original plans have yet to be utilized the couple admits, those car ride conversations likely laid the groundwork for the entrepreneurial leap they would eventually take.

The First Establishment (May 2011)

That leap took place shortly after Alex had a conversation with his mother about possibly heading back to school.

“She told me ‘you’re not going back to school’,” Alex said. “Eventually she found a spot for lease in Perham, Minnesota that had previously been used for events. I decided that I would do pretty much anything to get away from what we were doing at the time. So, we went for it.”

Eventually, they struck a deal to lease the space and work with the restaurant that was attached. Their first business venture, Brew Pub & Wine Bar, owned the liquor license. The restaurant sold them food, and they sold them alcohol.

The bar was small and social media marketing wasn’t what it is today, so, the Belquists did things like handing out buy-one-get-one-free coupons on foot, trying to cultivate a consumer base… and it worked.

“It really took off for a little bar place. We did some craft beer and some different cocktails. It was a really good experience for us to begin learning some of the back-end business stuff,” Alex said.

The First Restaurant (May 2013)

Eventually, the couple was unable to come to an agreement to continue leasing the space; so, they moved on to another venture, their first restaurant, which opened right across the street.

Named, Brew Ales & Eats, the restaurant saw very early success.

“We really learned how to grind and work at this new place,” Alex said. “The food really took off in that first summer with the place and we were much busier on the food side than we expected to be. We were really surprised.”

“We were there, working in the business every single day,” Alex said. “So, I think we really had the respect of everyone because we were very involved.”

However, Alex also now admits that in order to push their business efforts forward he had to get out of that mindset.

“I didn’t want to just be a bartender or a cook,” Alex said. “I wanted to build a company. And luckily we had an awesome starting crew, some of whom are still with us today. Those who still are with us today have taken over a number of the day-to-day duties. Taylor Beiswenger is our talent artist and general manager, Charlie Larson is our bar manager who has been with us from almost day one, and Susan Ayers is our Kitchen Manager”

Expansion Begins (June 2014)

Alex and Britt began building on that goal very quickly by opening their second restaurant, which also used to have “Brew” in the name, in Detroit Lakes with a group of partners in June 2014.

They would go on to sell their ownership of the restaurant to their partners in 2017.

The Couple Becomes a Family (September 2015)

In September of 2015, Alex and Britt welcomed their first child, Dash, into the world. He is pictured here with Alex.

A Friends Dream is Realized (August 2016)

In 2016, the Belquists opened Up North Pizza Pub with their longtime friends Jesse Johnson, who they met at Labby’s, and Kyle Cash.

“Jesse does a fantastic job there and completely runs the place,” Britt said. “He’s from East Grand Forks and it had always been his dream to go back there and open up a pizza place. Kyle has been an amazing partner as well.

The Belquists Come Back to Their College Town (November 2017)

The Belquists moved from Perham to Fargo in order to be closer to family and more centrally located between all of their businesses.

The Hall Opens (January 2018)

The Belquist’s fourth restaurant, City Brew Hall in Wahpeton, ND, came about after they were approached by the former Mayor of Wahpeton Jim Sturdevant who talked to the couple about how the town could really use a restaurant in their downtown.

“At the time we came into Perham, downtown Perham was really lacking a bar &
grill,” Alex said. “The side of downtown we are on was quieter and there definitely weren’t cars lining the streets after 5 p.m. due to there not being any restaurants. This was the same for Wahpeton’s downtown. We realized we had the opportunity to provide the same thing that was missing in Wahpeton.”

This project also marked the beginning of another key partnership in the Belquist’s entrepreneurial journey.

When looking for a space to open City Brew Hall in Wahpeton, they ended up settling on the old city hall building which had been vacant since 1997. In choosing this space, the city of Wahpeton provided “amazing incentives” to aid in the renovation project which turned the building, which was set to be demolished, into a beautiful 150 seat restaurant with a 300 seat event venue. Enter the Terstrieps.

This is where Shelby Terstriep, Alex’s sister, and Chad Terstriep enter the picture. Shelby was originally drawn to the project due to the possibility of an event space. The Belquist’s brought her and her husband on as partners and she ran with the opportunity, playing an instrumental role in designing the space and helping with events once the space opened.

“Again, our partners and our team here are amazing,” Britt said. “This wouldn’t be possible without the Terstrieps or our Bar and Restaurant Managers (Sarah Kummer, TJ Opdahl and Teresa Guck) or our Events Team which is led by Neely Zach.”

You Gotta Be Cluckin Me, a Fifth Restaurant? (September 2019)

The Belquist’s fifth restaurant took off as a bit of an accident.

The space where the restaurant, a fried chicken joint named Brew Bird, is now located became available over a year and a half before the Belquists were set to open their marquee project 701 Eateries (we’ll get to that later).

“We decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start building up staff for 701 Eateries and I’ve always wanted to do fried chicken,” Alex said. “It came out of nowhere. It took about a month to plan some recipes and we were up and running. It was more of an accident than anything. The initial people that were working at Brew Bird were really holding out for the opportunity to work at 701, but Brew Bird really took off in its own right.”

Joining the Belquists in the Brew Bird venture are Shelby and Chad Terstrieps. They also heavily lean on their General Manager Sam Ellingson and Kitchen Manager Rico Perojo.

“Shelby really adds the “funk” to funky fried chicken here with her keen eye for design,” Britt said. “She’s to thank for the funky pink couch and summer tiki parties.”

The Family Grows (August 2020)

The Belquists welcome their daughter Blakely to the world.

A Catering Business is Born (Winter 2020/2021)

Pictured here is a take-and-bake pie. The Belquists hope to offer more online marketplace and take-and-bake options through the new catering business.

In the winter of 2020, the Belquists began developing their prep kitchen and catering team in the old Prairie Roots Kitchen location in Fargo. Originally, this arm of the Brew family was named Brew Restaurants/ Brew Bites, however, they will be transitioning to the name Golden Rooster Catering Co. while trying to expand the catering options and building up the operations team.

Alex hopes this space, which is headed by Amber Orvick and Eric Henre, can help sharpen the food supply chain among their multiple restaurants, and eventually, the couple plans to offer more take-and-bake options through this location.

The Restaurant Family Grows As Well

In May of 2021, the Belquists, alongside their partners Shelby and Chad Terstriep and Eric and Sara Myhre, opened what may be their crown jewel, 701 Eateries.

701 Eateries provides visitors with two distinct and complimentary dining experiences under one roof. As soon as you walk in the doors at 701 Eateries, visitors are introduced to Prairie Kitchen, a restaurant with a uniquely Scandinavian design and taste. Think Swedish meatballs, lefse and delicious steaks in a cozy atmosphere. Upstairs is another Midwest experience all its own, Camp Lone Tree, which is named after Alex’s and his dad’s favorite pheasant hunting spot, and is a party area complete with a patio and the perfect mix of pub food and midwestern favorites.

“We’ve tried to be really intentional about hiring people that are better than us,” Alex said. “At 701, we have great partners in ownership and a great team running the place including our Chef de Cuisine Kara Deaton, our Executive Director of Culinary for all
701 Eric Watson, our General Manager Jenni Carriveau and Assistant General Manager Johnna Kringen.

The Belquists with Shelby Terstriep Photo by Dan Franci

What’s Next?

It remains to be seen what’s next for the Belquists in the restaurant world. However, there are already more business plans in the works.

“I want to focus more on our company benefits and building the best team to be a part of,” Britt said. “We are currently working on retirement options, wellness benefits, employee retreats and recognition. Leslie Coronado has been taking over as executive director of operations. She has over 20 years of industry experience and is just amazing, and with a third baby on the way, I really want to step back from day-to-day operations. I am also in the works of opening a small home & lifestyle boutique in the space next to Mint + Basil that will open this around the spring/summer.”

701 Eateries
701eateries.com
701 N University, Dr.

Brew Bird
brewbirdfargo.com
30 N University Dr, Fargo

City Brew Hall
citybrewhall.com
120 4th St N Suite A, Wahpeton

Up North Pizza Hub
upnorthpizzahub.com
314 4th St NW, East Grand Forks

Brew Ales & Eats
brewperham.com
124 E Main St, Perham

Written by Brady Drake

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