Wausau Pilot & Review
Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s featured business is Timekeeper Distillery, 720 Grant St., Wausau. Though the business officially opened its doors in 2018, the dream behind Timekeeper was years in the making and is now one of Wausau’s most popular destinations. Dan and Kimm Weber married just days after signing on the dotted line to purchase what was once a bustling Milwaukee Railroad train station. Built in 1902, the depot carried passengers to and from Wausau for decades and was at one point threatened with demolition after the popularity of railway travel faded and service finally ended in the city. But everything changed in 2017 when Dan and Kimm bought the building and began renovations in earnest, spending their honeymoon restoring the depot to its original beauty, one layer at a time. One of Wausau’s most iconic landmarks, the depot now houses a thriving distillery that includes a bar and tasting room along with a delightful, pet-friendly patio space in which the staff serves delicious, handcrafted cocktails and an array of complementing food dishes. Though the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges, Dan and Kimm rose to the occasion, producing hand sanitizer and pivoting their operations to keep their business on track. Their team includes production manager Aaron Aebly, floor manager Andy Larson, supervisor Christy Sann and “Jack of all Trades” Jenna Tomcek. Here, Dan and Kimm tell their personal story, sharing Timekeeper Distillery’s origin, name, evolution and their shared vision for the future.
Q: When was your business established, and what prompted you to start?
A: Timekeeper Distillery was established in 2017; however, its concept was two years prior. Dan was at his usual volleyball league and joking with friends that he needed to make more money. At the time he was the Brewmaster for the Great Dane Pub and Brewing in Wausau. Brewers are rich in quality of life, but not so much cash flow. As he brainstormed with friends, he joked he could make moonshine. Then he realized…he could make moonshine. At the time, Kimm was his girlfriend, and she humored his idea. As he dove further into researching his idea, Kimm jumped on board and they quickly met with the City of Wausau to secure an iconic location and sought classes in entrepreneurship and distilling. Meeting with the City was a critical component as they were guided to the iconic Milwaukee Road Train Depot. The couple viewed the building and moved on, and it wasn’t until their second visit to the site that they were sold. The out building had the perfect structure to house distilling equipment in a safe, effective manner. The couple purchased the building on Oct. 6, 2017, got married on Oct. 28, 2017 and then spent their honeymoon the following week partaking in the demolition of the interior to restore it to its original beauty. The couple, along with family and friends, hauled out six dumpsters full of dry wall, ceilings, office furniture and other pieces of the building that were hiding its original charm and beauty. The business then opened to the public in September 2018, after the restoration was complete and the distilling equipment was in place.
Q: How did you choose the name of your business? What are you trying to convey?
A: In order to ensure we captured the theme of the iconic Milwaukee Road Train Depot, we began brainstorming critical positions on the railway. A “Timekeeper” was a critical part of the train logistics as they managed train schedules, employee times and other facets of time management.
Q: Tell us about your business. What products or services do you offer?
Timekeeper Distillery specializes in craft cocktails and mixology. Its true classification is a manufacturing and processing facility for alcohol. Dan manufactures his spirits with local, organic grain and ingredients and barrel ages his products on site. Timekeeper has a portfolio of hand crafted vodka, gin, rye whiskey and bourbon whiskey. We also produce our own canned seltzers in the form of WET Vodka Seltzer. They are made with Timekeeper Distillery’s vodka and all natural flavors that are created by Timekeeper Distillery with a leading industry partner. WET Vodka Seltzer is 7.1% alcohol by volume, all natural, gluten free and free of high fructose corn syrup. Timekeeper Distillery also hosts one of a kind events, has a four seasons patio that is pet friendly and offers a greenhouse dining experience in the winter. We have also expanded our food menu and lead the community with pop up kitchens, allowing local businesses that don’t have a brick and mortar the opportunity to reach a larger clientele and showcase their cuisine and further build their brand.
Q: What makes your business unique? What sets you apart?
A: It starts with our iconic location, hand crafted cocktails and the innovation that we brought forward during the pandemic. Some examples of how we pivoted quickly and innovated during COVID 19 are:
- Production of hand sanitizer
- Implementation of a 4 seasons, heated patio
- Introduction of pop up kitchens
- Expansion of our in house food menu
- Cocktails to go
- Creation of WET Vodka Seltzer
Q: What do you love most about your job? What drew you to this work?
Dan: Being able to take an existing passion and set of skills and apply it to a new industry that was up and coming. The challenges of being a business owner and adapting through COVID has been something I have enjoyed as I have been continually motivated to do better and rise to the occasion.
Kimm: I have really enjoyed supporting my husband’s passion and leveraging my influence and experience to help support him through this journey, ensuring our family feels the success of his passion.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing?
A: Being able to weather the storm that is COVID and support the community in any way that we could. For example, sanitizer was a community necessity but it also assisted us in maintaining jobs during COVID and pivoting our business in the necessary direction with new innovations to keep us relevant.
Q: How have you changed and evolved over time? What’s different now from when you first started?
A: Our business as an on premise craft cocktail lounge, specializing in experience has helped us pivot to an off premise competitor in the vodka seltzer market. Our reputation in what we do has assisted us in this transition and allowed us to gain loyalty from the community that purchases and enjoys our products. The biggest difference now from when we started is that we started with a five-drink menu, our only sales being what we served over the bar. It has since evolved into a multi faceted business that focuses two aspects of the business. The first is the on-premise experience you receive when you walk through the doors, sit down to enjoy a cocktail and purchase a bottle to go. The second is the off-premise aspect, where we have pivoted to sell our seltzers to retailers and market our products all over Wisconsin. We have also expanded in terms of our 4-seasons patio experience, collaboration with other local businesses through promotions and products (malt whiskey with breweries, brandy with wineries, and other spirits with local vineyards), cocktails to go, expansion of food menu, ready to drink seltzer portfolio, and event offerings.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome? Basically, if you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently?
A: The biggest challenge was COVID. Our first year in business we spent getting our feet wet and learning from our mistakes, and adapting to the needs of the consumer. Year two was where we started to grow and gain loyalty…and then the pandemic came. It is challenging to answer what we would have done differently because hindsight is always 20/20. It is imperative to spend your time as a business owner looking ahead while cautiously dwelling on how you would have done things differently. I say cautiously dwelling because you have to be able to recover quickly and move faster ahead. I can think of at least 10 things I would have changed about our first year or how we navigated certain situations, but it ultimately allowed us to get where we are now. We are still making mistakes. That will not change. However, at the root of all we do is the consumer. What makes them happy? What do they want to see from us? Where is the industry need?
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Where do you see your business in five years? 10?
A: We want to continue to be an instrumental part of this community. We want to help non profits, community development, and make Wausau a more welcoming community for all.
Connect with Timekeeper Distillery:
Timekeeper Distillery: 720 Grant Street, Wausau
Facebook: Timekeeper Distillery