DeKALB - An Ottawa-based brewing company will plant roots in DeKalb this fall, the Tangled Roots Brewing Company co-founder confirmed Monday.
The brewhouse and restaurant will set up shop in the former location of Tavern on Lincoln, 124 E. Lincoln Highway, with sights set on a September or October 2021 opening.
Chief commercial officer and co-founder Scott Struchen has ties to DeKalb and said he’s excited to hit the ground running in the regional brewing company’s move to expand its footprint to 15 locations.
“My sister went to Northern [Illinois University], all my friends went to Northern,” Struchen said Monday. “I do believe that we are ready to make an impact on the community and people there, we’re ready to be a part of their lives as much as they’re going to be a part of our lives. We’re truly blessed to do this.”
The popular brewhouse and eatery opened its flagship location in Ottawa in 2013 and touts “Farm to Foam” beers and embracing local ingredients as its signature style. The brewing company has locations in Lockport and Glenview, and will soon open in DeKalb and LaSalle, according to its website.
Struchen said Tangled Roots has been eyeing DeKalb “heavily” for years, and cited DeKalb’s burgeoning economic development as a selling point, including the arrival of Ferrara Candy Company and Facebook to DeKalb’s south side, and Northwestern Medicine Health System’s local expansion over the years, along with local rumblings in the beer and spirit industries.
“A few years ago we were looking at a couple locations downtown,” he said. “We were looking at the fact that DeKalb is a growing city. There’s a lot of movement happening not only between the university, but also a lot of businesses are moving up there because of the infrastructure. And what follows that is small business, and looking at where do people go if they need to eat and have something great to experience.”
Foti Pappas, vice president of development at DeKalb-based Pappas Development, said his company still will own the building, but will lease it to Struchen and his team.
“Tangled Roots is an amazing organization,” Pappas said. “We’re very excited for them to come to town. And we’re even more impressed with the downtown momentum that has started.”
Tavern on Lincoln opened in June 2019 in the ground level of Cornerstone DeKalb, and closed less than a year later because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s safety precautions imposed on local restaurants and bars. It hasn’t reopened since. Pappas said the plan for the ground level of the Cornerstone building -- a $7.5 million mixed-use, high-end apartment complex with outdoor event and dining space and retail on the first floor funded with $3 million in tax increment finance money from the City of DeKalb -- always had been to find someone to use the space and “take it to the next level.”
“Our goal with Tavern was similar to the Ellwood [Steak & Fish House], where we get the business up and running and we want to remain the landlords,” Pappas said. “We love to create and build the restaurant and venue, and then find an amazing buyer like Tangled Roots to come in and take it to the next level.”
Struchen said he just recently signed the lease with Pappas Development and his team will soon make their way into the former Tavern on Lincoln.
“John and Foti Pappas came and presented us with this awesome property,” Struchen said. “We see this beautiful relationship and partnership starting with them, and it really gave us the confidence that DeKalb is the next hot spot for us to be. The new mayor is very business friendly.”
After witnessing the devastating effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on the bar and restaurant industry, Struchen said he knows that the prospect of opening additional locations while the industry struggles to staff to capacity is ambitious.
“We just had a meeting about this. It’s become extremely rough finding employees,” Struchen said. “Nobody has really come back to work yet, we can’t even find managers. Overall the industry is hurting extremely bad and I don’t foresee anything changing until we can get a handle on unemployment and what’s being paid out there. If you can make more money sitting at home, why would you want to work?”
Struchen said it’s a “real testimate” that Tangled Roots -- which on its website states as of Monday no longer requires staff or guests to use masks at any locations, though guests may request their server use a mask while servicing their table -- is able to run its current locations still. He said the DeKalb location is actively hiring now.
What’s on the menu
The menu specific to Tangled Roots’ DeKalb location remains a work in progress, Struchen said, but will be tailored to include local fare formulated to fit the scene.
Tangled Roots is already fostering partnerships with DeKalb-based Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. and downtown neighbor Byers Brewing Company, he said.
“When we come up to DeKalb, we’re specifically going to start making beers in conjunction with Whiskey Acres crops they grow,” Struchen said. “Beer produced in DeKalb is only for DeKalb.”
The brewing company makes up to 20 styles of beer at a time. The company also grows all its ingredients from a hop farm in Ottawa, where the barley also grows before being processed in Indiana and then brought back to the Prairie State. The local exception is for certain German-style beers, such as German Munich malt, which is imported.
Tangled Roots boasts beer such as the 4188, a pale ale which gets its name from the latitude and longitude of the hop farm in Ottawa and has flavor notes which “captures the essence of Illinois,” Struchen said.
For the beer drinkers, Struchen said Tangled Roots plans to expand the former Tavern on Lincoln space.
“John Pappas did a great job [on that building],” Struchen said. “We will be upgrading it to become a more Tangled Roots experience, but keeping it familiar. We’re building a brew pub next door, growing into several more spaces inside the Cornerstone building. I can’t tell you where yet but we’ll be building a brewery with a taproom.”
In the restaurant, Struchen said popular items range from Illinois-grown beef burgers with beef from Slagel Family Farms, German-style pretzels inspired by Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s old-school concoctions, a charred cowboy cut ribeye and for the non-meat eaters, a cauliflower steak with pistachio pesto sauce served with red beets.
“It’s unbelievable,” Struchen said. “We focus on healthy items and great portion sizes.”
The ultimate goal? Ensuring the spots has food or beer for everyone, Struchen said.
“We’re really looking to please the community overall,” he said. “You should have something for everybody, whether great-tasting farm-to-foam beer or farm-to-table items.”
Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.