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Brewing up family: Former teacher opens Prairie Brothers Brewing Co. in south Fargo

Don Kenna, owner of Prairie Brothers Brewing Co. stands in front of a board describing the traits of the beers offered in the south Fargo brewery.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Don Kenna, owner of Prairie Brothers Brewing Co. talks about some of the plumbing problems he has solved for the south Fargo brewery.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
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FARGO—Don Kenna still teaches, but the former Shanley High School employee isn't a teacher anymore.

In his past career, he taught teenagers physics and biology. Now, he's telling adults about his love for the science—and art—of brewing craft beer.

Kenna is the owner and head brewer of Prairie Brothers Brewing Co., a brewery and taproom that opened in early April at 4474 23rd Ave. S.

It's the latest offering in a community with a rapidly growing craft beer scene ever since Fargo Brewing Co. opened in 2010.

Kenna said he knew there was an appetite for more, especially on the south end of Fargo, when he started talking with acquaintances a couple years ago. While other breweries are concentrated in downtown Fargo or on the north end, he said people didn't want to drive from south Fargo, find a parking spot downtown and have to drive all the way back just to get a beer.

"We decided that it would be good to bring the mountain to Muhammed and bring beer to them, or closer to them at least," he said.

Getting together

Prairie Brothers has eight beers on tap at its 3,600-square-foot facility, which has a large seating area in front and an open production facility in the back. The goal was to start with an "approachable" lineup that had something to appeal to anyone, according to Kenna.

He'll add a ninth beer next week, and he's currently brewing a 10th variety.

Kenna's been brewing for about eight years, getting into it as a hobby with help from Wil Petik, who now serves as Prairie Brothers' operations manager.

Along the way, Kenna realized beer was more than a hobby, and he left behind his teaching career of 12 years to open the brewery.

Teaching and brewing are different, of course, but he said he still gets to use some of his former skills with this business, like when Kenna was furiously writing numbers on a brew tank to figure out how much water he needed to add to get to the right temperature within 10 minutes.

"The guys were laughing at me for doing beer physics," he said.

But more often than solving a beer word problem, Kenna combines his two passions by sharing his love for the craft with hobbyist brewers or the beer-drinking patrons who come to the taproom.

"The science behind it I love, but it's a balance of science and art that we really try and work with," he said.

Equipment can be programmed to make a somewhat predictable brew, but he said beer ultimately comes down to traits that can't rely on formulas alone. It needs to have the right taste and smell, and that's an art.

Kenna already has ambitious plans for the next two years. He's working on distribution, and said he's in talks with several bars to carry Prairie Brothers on tap. He also plans to start bottling or canning eventually to get his beer to more customers.

For now, Kenna said he wants the new brewery to be a gathering place. Even the name of his business plays off this desire—he doesn't have a brother, and he said people have to be more than just friends around here.

"We have to be family, and that's what we want this place to feel like is for people to come in, relax, start conversations, have a good time and feel like they're part of a family here," he said.

Business profile

What: Prairie Brothers Brewing Co.

Where: 4474 23rd Ave. S., Fargo

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and noon to midnight Saturday

Phone: (701) 282-7222


Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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