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10 Questions with John Machacek: Wild Terra Cider

John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Wild Terra Cider CoFounder Breezee Hennings.

01 Will you please tell us your Wild Terra Cider Company elevator pitch?

We are an urban cidery using our good time’s cider to promote positivity and connection.

02 What inspired you to establish a cidery here?

I was born and raised in Fargo and Ethan was raised in Bismarck, so we have roots in North Dakota. We spent our 20s in Olympia, Washington until we had our first daughter and then moved back to be closer to family.

Ethan had been home brewing for 8 years and we both are craft beverage lovers. When we came back to Fargo, we noticed cider wasn’t being represented at all, compared to Washington, and especially not the cider we wanted to see. Wild Terra started as and still is, a venue for us to express ourselves. So, initially, we went crazy with completely wild recipes. Some were amazing and some were hard to drink. We have since fine-tuned our approach to be both creative but also extremely delicious.

03 The building you are in is beautiful. I remember when I first heard Kilbourne Group was hopeful about the building being redeveloped, I must admit I was skeptical. The building was originally constructed in the early 1900s as a horse barn and looked to be in very rough shape. Will you please tell me about the decision and process of tackling this renovation?

There were several reasons we chose this building. We knew we wanted something old, a structure with a story and character. Secondly, we had essentially no money, so it had to be affordable. Since Ethan is a master carpenter, we knew we could take on a project that required some sweat equity. The horse barn was the last building we were shown, and it had no electricity or windows, so we had to look at everything with our camera phone flashlights. But when we saw the roof rafters, it was all over, we knew this was our spot. Ethan worked 15 hours a day for 10 months straight and I worked with him in the evening and weekends after I got done with work. Ethan and I made a conscious effort to preserve and reuse as much of the original structure as possible. For example, all the exterior wood was disassembled, then I pulled out all the nails that had been there for decades, sanded it down and reinstalled it on the interior walls. The baseboards are all the original floor joists, so if you get really close to them, there is still a slight hint of barn smell.

04 I also remember in the earlier years that you had to overcome some North Dakota laws that were mismatched for encouraging growth for a cidery. Can you tell me more about the restricting rules and the work to update them?

Before we opened the taproom, we worked side by side with our legislators and several other small businesses in the wine industry that were affected by a legal restriction. If this law had not been changed, we would not have been able to stay in business longer than a year. Originally, it had been stated that a winery operating in North Dakota would need to use 10% of local ingredients to make their products by the second year of business and every year the ingredient utilization would increase by 10% until it reached 50% by year 6. This model made it simply not possible for Wild Terra to exist due to the current lack of apples being commercially grown in our state. So, without growing your own orchard, an endeavor that takes 5-7 years of groundwork and to mention is an entirely different business than just cider making, you could not produce cider on the scale we set out to do. Unfortunately, we were unable to convince enough legislators to vote in favor of changing the law that first session. So, with faith in believing that when the next session came around, we would be successful, we kept remodeling the taproom and opened our doors for business in December of 2017. In the next session, we were able to change the law to fit our needs as a business and satisfy other concerned parties!

05 The readers may know Wild Terra Cider as a venue to meet for drinks, but some may not realize that you manufacture canned beverages that can be found in bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. How do you go about the distribution and getting your product out there?

Distribution is its own beast. We started canning in late 2019 and then when COVID hit, that is all we were able to sell. Initially, we sold just in Happy Harry’s and they were great partners, in that I had no idea what I was doing, so they humored me and answered all of my endless questions. Having our product out there for a larger market allowed us to plan our growth in years, not just months. Now, we are in all liquor stores and bars locally. We just recently partnered with two new distributors so that we can be everywhere in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

06 I notice the creativity and frequency of special events that Wild Terra hosts. How do events factor into your business and how do you go about coming up with them?

Thank you. Wild Terra is a very unique place with unique offerings, and events are our favorite way to interact with the community and possibly connect with someone that wouldn’t have come in before. Our first event ever is our legacy event, the Apple Harvest Festival. It started out mainly as a means in which to educate and immerse our customers in the cider experience. We just wrapped up our 5th one a few weeks ago and had over 2,000 attendees, so that was really special. Our mission at Wild Terra is to promote positivity and connection, and our events are a large way in which we do that. I also think about what I would like to see that hasn’t been done yet and what kinds of things are important to me personally. So, we have created Fargo’s First Vintage Market, a Mental Health Party, a Pool Party and we will have Fargo’s First Brunch Festival in June of 2023. For all these events, it is more than just throwing parties but really curating an experience for our community that hopefully impacts them in a positive way. It has been really very rewarding for me personally to add to Fargo’s culture.

07 Events require a good amount of planning. Between those, the product distribution and really, just operating a business, what are some things you do to help your planning and process?

I try to be as organized as possible, the tried-and-true pen and paper have been best for me. I know there are lots of apps out there but just a thick planner and sticky notes work fine. I plan my month, my week and my daily tasks in advance which is helpful in that chaos always seems to find a way in. Clear and direct communication is key. Never assume anything, ANYTHING! Also, it has been important for me to recognize that I am usually not the best person for many of our top-line projects, so finding someone more talented to complete them has been key. Lastly, we have started planning our strategies and initiatives a year in advance and that has tremendously helped us focus and not get distracted or fatigued by constant issues.

08 What are your hopes and goals for the future of Wild Terra in the upcoming years?

Our hopes and goals are very much intertwined in that we are focusing right now, on growth, but also sustainable growth so we can continue to show our commitment to our staff in wage increases, and to our customers in quality products and a valuable taproom experience. As far as infrastructure, we are planning to build a new production facility within the next 18 months and buy land to start our family orchard.

09 If you could go back in time to Breezee from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?

That is a hard question to ask anyone, especially an entrepreneur because our lifestyle is wrought with failures and mistakes. In general, I would say to Breezee in 2017, “Find a mentor fast!” Having a mentor is so important for more reasons than I can name. But also, be kinder to yourself, don’t put too much on your plate and remember to be patient.

10 What can we do as a community to help Wild Terra Cider succeed?

Continue to support a North Dakota company run by locals by swinging by the taproom, buying our cans and keep your minds open because you never know what us crazy kids will do next!

About John

John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.

Instagram: wildterracider
6 12th St N, Fargo

Written by John Machacek

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