“Northern Initiatives helped pinpoint our deficiencies and provided coaching and advice that resulted in changes for the better.” – Ray Bauer, owner of 1668 Winery
“There was no way that project would fail.” Ray Bauer, owner of 1668 Winery in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, can look back now and realize his unrelenting persistence, plus support from friends and financial partners, has led to a successful new business. However, the journey was anything but easy.
In 2014, Bauer was the owner and operator of Soo Brewing Company, Sault Ste. Marie’s first craft microbrewery. This business chugged along well, meeting or exceeding financial and community-centric goals. But, Bauer, no stranger to hard work, wanted to build on this success, use his knowledge of customer service in the spirits business, and capitalize on a connection he had within the wine industry.
The perfect location became available and Bauer went for it. Little did he know, it would take every ounce of determination he had to purchase, rehab, and open the doors to 1668 Winery. Bauer says, “I had the right location, and thought I had the right building because it had been a bar and we all felt it could be rehabbed more efficiently than if I had started with a different type of business. The reality couldn’t have been farther than the truth.”
A local bank supported Bauer as he purchased the building, but there was a funding gap for a large renovation budget and equipment. Bauer knew of Northern Initiatives’ support in the region and reached out. Northern Initiatives recognized Bauer’s success – and his resolve. It bridged the funding gap and Bauer moved forward with his plan for a 50 seat winery with an outside deck overlooking the St. Mary’s River and freighters that travel through the Soo Locks, an upscale pub menu, and his own handcrafted beverages.
He opened in April 2015, and even though all the pieces seemed lined up, Bauer states, “The first season was brutal.” Traffic to the new location was lighter than expected and they didn’t have the mix of pricing, marketing, and menu just right. “Northern Initiatives helped pinpoint our deficiencies and provided coaching and advice that resulted in changes for the better.”
Today, 1668 Winery is exceeding financial and sales goals. With the addition of an experienced on-site manager, Bauer feels they have the right blend of product, staff and location. “It was a battle, but the sky’s the limit now.”