Success stories

Paddle Hard Brewing

Grayling, Michigan

“Their new loan helped us move from a one-barrel system to a 10-barrel system. We hope this increased capacity will help us keep up with demand!” – Dave Vargo, owner

Dave Vargo is quick to credit his wife, Cindy, with the name for their business – Paddle Hard Brewing. She felt they should embrace the popularity of the AuSable River that runs through Grayling. It was a prophetic choice since Paddle Hard Brewing has become a very popular place.

When Dave and Cindy moved to the region in 2014, they hadn’t planned to open a brewpub. They’d owned, operated, and sold a successful brewery in Cincinnati and weren’t quite ready to work that hard again. However, they quickly realized they were driving 30-60 miles each weekend from their home to enjoy craft beer and if they were, many others probably were, too.

Dave says, “We had three criteria that must be met to consider opening a brewpub: the location must be walkable, it must be in a small town, and it must have a strong tourism industry. When a perfect location in downtown Grayling became available, we took the leap.”

Through a successful Indiegogo campaign and owner equity, they were able to bring much of the required financial resources to the table. However, despite their history as business owners, Paddle Hard Brewing would be a new venture and as such, did not meet the criteria for traditional lending. They were also lacking local business credit. Vendors required credit and without vendors, the shelves couldn’t be stocked, beer couldn’t be brewed, and the doors couldn’t open. A friend suggested they contact Northern Initiatives and in short order, they secured a microloan. With the backing of Northern Initiatives, they proved their creditworthiness and it was full steam ahead.

Now into their second full summer season, Paddle Hard Brewing features 20 taps, craft beer, artisan food, and has a loyal following. They have surpassed their financial goals and have done so well, they are expanding.

Their second location is down the street from the brewpub and is earmarked solely for the production of Paddle Hard Brewing’s popular craft beer. Once again, Northern Initiatives is part of this growth. Dave says, “Their new loan helped us move from a one-barrel system to a 10-barrel system. We hope this increased capacity will help us keep up with demand!”

On any given summer night, paddlers from the AuSable, tourists, and locals mingle at Paddle Hard Brewing’s outside seating and enjoy unique and delicious offerings. The Vargos enjoy the downtown community they are helping to build, one handcrafted brew at a time.

Paddle Hard Brewing Impacts:

  • Jobs Created: 12 Full-time and 8 Part-time
  • Participated in a Downtown Revitalization
  •  Launched a New Business


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