Local entrepreneur uses "magnet" of strong economy, community support to expand
By Mary Ann Ford
When Matt Potts decided to open a gastrobrew pub combining his love of craft brewing and good food, the location was obvious.
“Bloomington-Normal is where my roots are,” said Potts. “It’s a great community; very supportive.”
He opened Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works at The Shoppes at College Hills in Normal in November 2007.
Despite the recession that hit soon after, Destihl was a great success, prompting Potts to work toward step two in his business plan and open a second location in Champaign, IL.
He received affirmation that his brewing techniques were on the right track when he took 10 of his craft beers to the 2007 Great American Beer Fest in Denver.
“Thirty minutes into the event, we went from being a brand no one knew to one of the most talked about breweries of the year,” Potts said.
Accolades and honors came pouring in from beer bloggers, magazine writers and more.
“We were noticed by beer distributors. They wanted our beers, particularly our sour beers,” he said. “Because of that, we could justify embarking on a brewery project.”
He converted a Bloomington warehouse into a Destihl brewery. Beer production increased from 1,000 barrels a year at the two gastrobrewpubs to an additional 2,000 barrels initially and now 12,000 barrels at the brewery.
“We export to 17 states. Seventy-five percent of our production is exported,” said Potts.
But the Bloomington site is limited, he said. The ceilings are too low for the necessary taller tanks and there’s no space for a tap room, something Potts said would make the brewery a destination where “people can see the process, taste beer and food.”
That’s why he’s embarking on yet another venture: a new $14 million brewing facility and tap room that opened in May 2017 on the northeast edge of Normal. It will increase beer production to 30,000 barrels a year at the outset and have the capacity to brew more than 100,000 barrels annually.
“It will be the first thing people see coming in on Veterans (Parkway),” he said. “It will make a statement to people coming into town that this town welcomes growth.”
Potts expects Illinois sales will increase “tremendously” because customers will be able to purchase and take home beer in bottles, cans, growlers and kegs.
“It’s really what I’ve always worked for; the big goal from the start,” Potts said.
While he said there could have been temptations to leave the state, his strong family ties, Bloomington-Normal’s economic strength and supportive people “were enough of a magnet to hold us firmly in the community.”
He’s not alone in finding entrepreneurial success in the Twin Cities. In 1922, George J. Mecherle founded State Farm in Bloomington. In 1934, Gus Belt started Steak ‘n Shake in Normal. And the Shirk family of Bloomington has been making the American classic Beer Nuts here for nearly 80 years.