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Brewhalla Market vendors hope downtown Fargo flavor makes venture a 'magic factory' success

Blackbird Woodfire and Nichole’s Fine Pastry and Cafe plan to run satellite operations, while Unglued is moving its full operation to Drekker Brewing Company's $20 million Brewhalla complex.

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Ashley Morken stands in front of her Unglued shop Friday, July 1, 2022, on Broadway in downtown Fargo. She is relocating her shop to Drekker Brewing Company's expanded Brewhalla sometime in November.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Drekker Brewing Company’s Brewhalla Market is going to have some distinct downtown flavors to go with all of its beer when it finally opens.

Blackbird Woodfire and Nichole’s Fine Pastry & Cafe plan to run satellite operations, while Unglued is moving lock, stock and party room to the 22,000-square-foot market, going up as part of the $20 million Brewhalla complex taking shape on the west side of 1666 1st Ave. N.

The owners of the downtown businesses have solid track records, but when you talk with them, you can’t help but get the impression that they’re teens strapping in for a roller coaster ride. The words crazy, weird, adventure, spring from them all, as they go through their to-do lists for the planned late-fall opening.

Unglued owner Ashley Morken said the COVID pandemic forced some soul-searching in the summer of 2020. Where to lean in? What to give up? Retail? Events?

And then the Drekker offer came. And the decision became more of an all of the above proposition.

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“Maybe we go into a new space that is super collaborative, with other people who want to do weird, fun new things and work together (and) create a crazy cool experience for the Fargo-Moorhead community and beyond, and the people that are visiting,” Morken said Thursday, June 30.

Morken says Unglued will have 2,000 square feet at Brewhalla. About 1,500 square feet will contain the store, while the party and craft room will take up 500 square feet on the mezzanine level.

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The new Brewhalla construction continues Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at Drekker Brewing Company located at 1666 1st Ave. N. in Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum

A sweet shop, put together by Morken’s sister-in-law, Kristina Lau, will also be part of the move as a shop within a shop.

Morken said the food hall plan, with a hotel, apartments and event center providing lots of potential customers, supports “a leap of faith.”

“Drekker is leveling it up by having … the hotel, plus the event center,” Morken said. “It seems like (it’s) really thoughtful, in a really magical experience type of way, making it unique to Fargo.”

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Nichole Hensen, owner of Nichole’s, says it took her awhile to commit to Brewhalla, but the food hall concept eventually got her hooked. Now she looks forward to the possibilities of her “little square spot” in the food hall/market.

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Nichole Hensen, owner of Nichole's Fine Pastry and Cafe in downtown Fargo. Hensen is preparing to open a satellite location of her shop into the Drekker Brewing Company's Brewhalla Market in late fall.
Submitted / Nichole Hensen

"Mark (Bjornstad, Drekker president and co-founder) had reached out to me a couple of years ago. I knew instantly it was a good idea. … Well, then, OK, COVID hit,” she said Wednesday, June 29.

One night as she worked on the Nichole's website, she found herself mulling the idea and reached out to Bjornstad.

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“I thought, ‘You know, it’s a quarter to midnight, I should email Mark to see what’s going on.’ I had a reply back in five minutes,” Hensen said. “And I was impressed.”

Hensen debated the decision. Hard. It wasn’t until the night before the Brewhalla expansion was announced that she signed a contract.

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Cakes and other fine baked goods are on display at Nichole's Fine Pastry and Cafe in Fargo on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

“A food hall is a good thing, and this building puts us on the map. It’s huge!” Hensen said.

She’s toured food halls in New York and Italy and seen what works and what doesn’t.

“It has to be local businesses, and it’s the camaraderie, the dynamic or the energy that creates, because we’re all going to learn from each other, too, and we all are going to have to support each other,” she said.

“This business has got a sweet reputation in town. And they need a pastry spot in there. And I was like, we should be the one to do it,” Hensen said.

The success of the food hall will depend on how the talents and energy of the participants mesh, she said.

“I think this will be an experiment,” Hensen said. “We’re either all going to look good or we’re all going to look bad. And hopefully, we’re all going to help each other look good.”

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Teegan Nordstrom and Casey Absey serve up Blackbird Woodfire pizzas at Drekker Brewing Company on Thursday, June 30, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Blackbird Woodfire owner Casey Absey is well into the detailed planning for his 400-square-foot space. Every square inch of space will have to get maximum use, he said Friday, July 1.

He’s got his pizza oven picked out. He’s coordinating with an architect and talking with city officials about what will be needed to get up and running.

Absey was approached about the plan a year ago, and he, too, took his time deciding, but he’s getting fired up about firing up a new oven in Brewhalla.

“Just the opportunity to work with those guys, the Drekker guys. They’re really nice guys. I just thought: that will be fun. And it will be an adventure. I think that place is going to be crazy, especially at first. It’s one of those places people are going to want to go see, so kind of a destination. An opportunity you don’t pass up, I guess,” Absey said.

Absey said it was the brewery part of Brewhalla that most attracted him. A menu focused on pizza and sandwiches that pair well with some beer should do the trick, he said.

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Karley Litchy monitors a pizza baking in the wood-fired oven at Blackbird Woodfire in downtown Fargo. Friday, July 1.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

“In big cities, you see things like that, and I always say that’s sort of exciting. Fargo just needed something like that. It’ll be fun to see a couple years down the road how it evolves. I think that will be the fun part,” Absey said.

Drekker’s Bjornstad said that the Brewhalla remains on track for a late fall opening - sometime in November - ahead of the holiday season.

The planning for the project was done over two and a half years, he said, and the bulk of the bidding and contracting for the materials was completed in late 2020 and early 2021. While there have been weekly hiccups, they’re getting dealt with, Bjornstad said.

“It's fun to see that building taking more shape. There’s a flurry of activity there every day,” Bjornstad said.

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Display cases are filled with sweet treats Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Nichole's Fine Pastry and Cafe, 13 8th St. S, Fargo. Nichole's will be one of the partners opening a location in Drekker Brewing Company's Brewhalla Market just west of downtown Fargo late this fall.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

Beyond Unglued, Blackbird Woodfire, Nichole’s, and Drekker Brewing, other market partners include:

Luna Market, Mangata Wine and Raw Bar and Unicorn Park Fine Foodery (all owned by local restaurateurs Nikki Berglund and Chef Ryan Nitschke); Cows & Co. Creamery , Duchessa Gelato, Thunder Coffee, Red River Refillery , The Plant Supply, Living the Dream Pottery, and Bark & Biscuit .

Oddly, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, Morken said she might not have opted to make the move from Broadway to Brewhalla’s not-downtown-but-you-can-sort-of-see-it-from-there location.

Morken said that those glued to Unglued found “our risk tolerance is higher than we thought it was,” and that perhaps they can extend the bounds of downtown by creating a new “magic factory.”

“We want to do more magical experiences,” Morken said, and Drekker Brewing is less than a five-minute drive from the heart of downtown.

“We’re not going that far away,” Morken said. “Come by Drekker and do all this really cool stuff.”

Hensen said she’s still got a lot of decisions to finalize, but she’s looking forward to the collaborative aspects of the venture. And to a new direction for growth.

“It’s good timing for me, in this business, because after these 20 years, it’s not really about me anymore. It’s about those helping here who want careers. And trusting that they’re going to carry on this vision that I have had,” Hensen said.

“We’re already talking about ideas. Once we can sit down and actually look at a floor plan, it will come together,” Hensen said. “That’s good for us to have a goal.”

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Workers at Blackbird Woodfire interact as they cook, prep and clean at the downtown Fargo restaurant on Friday, July 1, 2022. Blackbird Woodfire plans to open a satellite location this fall in Drekker Brewing Company's Brewhalla Market.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

Absey said he likes the mix of businesses that have been brought together for the food hall and market.

“I think it’s awesome. I think it’s a nice assortment of what Fargo has, I really do,” he said.

That should make Brewhalla a good bet for the businesses taking the leap, Absey said.

“I just think it’s going to be a really unique experience in Fargo. I think it’s going to draw people from all over the place that want to see it,” Absey said. “I think they’re on to something.”

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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