The Green Bay Packers might be the greatest tourist draw in the area, but Tom Feld, owner of Paradise North Distillery in Green Bay, is hoping his new business will become another talked-about destination.
Located on 101 Bay Beach Road, Feld opened in 2021 after years of planning. He came to the project with decades of business experience in everything from high-level consulting to partnerships in other businesses.
“Other than the hospitality industry, there isn’t any other type of business that I haven’t been part of, but prior to this, I had never had a startup business,” Feld said. “What I learned through working with others owners is that if your No. 1 focus is to make money, it won’t end up well. ”
The most important ingredient, he said, is to be passionate about the business. That’s what he was seeking when he started to pursue his dream.
“The No. 1 reason for doing this was that I had a desire to own a business where I was hands-on, “Feld said.” I’ve loved everything I’ve done, but never made and sold product; had never been on the front line. I wanted to have a craft-based business, and spent 20 years thinking what might be and looking at a number of things. ”
Nothing felt quite right until he stumbled upon the idea of opening a distillery. That was about 10 years ago, and he spent years conducting research and gaining an understanding of what that might look like. As he planned, things seemed to fall in place and his family members, who often discouraged his ideas, thought he should continue.
In 2017, Feld, who has a long background in accounting and finance, says he put pen to paper and started working through the numbers.
“The first thing I had to do was determine if the numbers made sense,” Feld said. “I followed a standard business plan process and looked at whether or not there was a market for it. I spent a year checking all of the critical boxes. ”
During that period, he also spent time at other distilleries around Wisconsin and found the owners to be a great resource. Those he visited were happy to share information on the production, operations and optimal equipment.
The next step was selecting a name, and as he brainstormed with other family members, they talked about the family tradition of returning home from vacations and saying they were returning to Paradise North.
It felt right, and Paradise North Distillery became a reality.
As planning continued, Feld had assistance from the Small Business Development Center at UW-Green Bay in reviewing his business plan to secure financing. Despite having a huge equity position and vast business experience, he discovered that most lenders would not even consider a startup.
Dave Stauffacher, a senior business advisor at SBDC, worked with him and helped throughout the process. Feld took a three-prong approach, and in addition to his equity, he used private investors and a conventional lender. The financial projections made sense, and Feld found what he considered to be an ideal location.
The McDonald Chip of the McDonald Companies suggested a 3,000-square-foot space, and provided a buildout to Feld’s specifications.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Feld said. “Everything I needed was here, and the location overlooking the bay of Green Bay was perfect.”
The resulting space includes the distillery and a tasting room with seating for 70. There is a large outdoor patio to increase seating during the warmer months as patrons are treated to high-quality beverages and snacks.
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Feld’s success seems to be coming quickly. His attention to quality has proven to be award-winning. He entered some of his liquors in the Denver International Spirits Competition and came away with one gold, two silver and a bronze medal. Other awards have followed.
“I was really excited about the rum winning a silver,” he said. “It is significantly different and I was curious to see what the traction would be when it was in front of a professional judge. The fact that the response was overwhelmingly good makes me happy and proud that here in Green Bay, we are making spirits as good as any in the country. ”
It produces whiskey, rum, bourbon and vodka, and each has a unique name tied to the area. Products are sold direct to the consumer in the tasting room and are now being distributed to several grocery store chains, liquor stores, and bars and restaurants. That focus will continue to develop as the business grows.
And with sales that are exceeding projections, Feld is developing a destination business. The Facebook page lists information on tours, tastings and entertainment.
“It’s so incredible being able to create something that didn’t exist in Green Bay,” he said. “There has never been a distillery prior to us; that blows my mind when I say that. We want to be a well-established and well-known entity in Green Bay, one of the significant sites to visit, and a catalyst for the development of other businesses around us. ”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.