Co-Founders of Barrel + Beam and high school sweethearts Nick VanCourt and Marina Dupler share how they ‘brew’ a balance of work and life in the Upper Peninsula. From growing up in Menominee County and attending Stephenson High School, experiencing Northern Michigan University together, to running an award-winning business in Marquette, Nick and Marina are quite the dynamic duo. However, it is no secret that running a business and being working parents isn’t easy. When asked how they maintain a successful career here in Marquette, they shared some good advice.
“It’s worth evaluating what the word ‘successful’ means. To us, it means being able to provide for our family and spend time with them. We don’t need much more than that. The fact that we’re able to enjoy the outdoors, great schools and municipal services, and be involved in our community is what makes living, working and owning a business here all the better.”
Like many small business owners, Nick and Marina wear a lot of hats. Nick works alongside their trusted team member, Joe, to handle the brewing and packaging. In addition, he also oversees the majority of the business functions ranging from HR to managing the tasting room and ordering to accounting. Given the scope and multitude of Nick’s duties, it is easy to see that Nick works full time for Barrel + Beam.
Marina, on the other hand, splits her duties between the family business and her remote position as an Account Manager for Tilted House, a marketing consulting firm based in Florida that services clients within the plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical industry. Juggling multiple roles and tasks may be daunting to some, but it is clear that Marina found her niche as a marketing extraordinaire. When she takes off her corporate hat at Tilted House, she easily transitions into her role as marketing and social media guru for Barrel + Beam, as well as planning private and public events for the brewery.
Curious to learn more about their passions as small business owners in the Upper Peninsula? Keep reading below!
A rich history rooted in the North woods
Barrel + Beam stands in the former location of The Northwoods Supper Club, a popular Marquette County establishment dating back to the 1930s. After the restaurant’s closing in 2007, the building went vacant for almost 10 years. Through Nick and Marina’s labor of love to restore this cherished building, Barrel + Beam opened its doors in January 2018. From what began as a fan-favorite restaurant is now a fan-favorite taproom and event venue. Barrel + Beam’s beautiful space can be rented out for private celebrations such as weddings, baby showers, and retirement parties or public gatherings including Innovate Marquette SmartZone’s very own Women in Entrepreneurship event. And we’re not the only ones who love the space so much! In fact, Traverse Magazine voted Barrel + Beam the 2020 RED HOT BEST winner for Best Wedding Venue.
Why’d you choose Marquette as your home and what makes the U.P. such an optimal place to live?
Like many, we always wanted to venture back to Marquette. We were thrilled that we didn’t wait [until retirement].
The U.P. generally has an ethos of “work to live” instead of “live to work.” As we get older, this resonates more and more. Beyond this, the U.P. has always felt very entrepreneurial. We’re a region of do-it-yourselfers, whether that’s making your own jam as my [Marina’s] mom did, or building and fixing things like my dad.
Driving through the U.P., we love how you see hand-carved wooden statues for sale in someone’s yard, advertisements for taxidermy services, camp wood, or deer feed for sale. Yoopers know how to make do for themselves and use what’s available. That spirit permeates the U.P. Many of our friends and neighbors own their own businesses, whether that be their primary source of income or a side hustle.
Dreams are met with encouragement here and usually an offer of “how can I help?”
Britt: Yoopers are always willing to lend out a helping hand, which is a unique aspect of the Upper Peninsula that you don’t always find in other places. They know how to work hard and go after what they want, that’s for sure. We’re lucky to be surrounded by many entrepreneurs who have followed their dreams and opened up small shops in the community.
How would you describe the Marquette culture?
In a word: friendly. I feel Marquette is very welcoming and I hope all those who live, work and visit our city feel the same. We’re very fortunate that our family and our business is supported by our community.
Britt: Friendly perfectly sums it up. Strangers always say hi when out and about, and that is something that is really special to the U.P. Another big part of our community is the many local breweries, how are you able to set Barrel + Beam apart?
We’re very blessed to have such a robust craft beer scene. In addition to having a different business model where we largely self-distribute our product, we are a niche brewery. We solely focus on farmhouse and barrel-aged beer and cider, with a heavy emphasis on using Michigan fruit and other agriculture products. Additionally, all of our beer and cider is bottle or keg-conditioned, which is a different way of finishing beer. It also means that like wine, our products only get better with time.
How are you able to do it all with a young family?
We have a great support system in that our daycare providers, Barbara and Nancy Erm, are our rocks. Amy Ahola and her Childcare Central Station team providing after-school care are amazing. We’re blessed to have outstanding educators and staff at Sandy Knoll Elementary and throughout the MAPS system. And we have a network of family, friends, and neighbors that help too. If you have a family, you know how important these partners can be and it’s impossible to have a successful career without them.
Britt: Family is everything! Having a support system is also a huge plus. They become like your second family. Speaking of family, what are your family’s favorite hobbies and do they change depending on the season?
We both really enjoy cooking and food and drink in general. We love getting outside as a family, riding bikes and there are so many easy hikes and places to explore the outdoors so close to home. We love being able to hit up the beach after work with the family – it’s only minutes away!
I will say that we love warmer weather than the cold. But, we’re also thankful for places like the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, Hotplate, the YMCA, and the Peter White Public Library. Additionally, the theatre, art, and music scene is amazing! Marquette is blessed to have these family-friendly entities available to us throughout the year. When it comes to family-friendly activities, we don’t long for anything!
What else can you tell me about your story?
Barrel + Beam wouldn’t be what it is today without our amazing team. They bring their best selves to work every time, and their ideas and enthusiasm continually propels our business forward. We’re passionate about craft beer, but we’re also passionate about Michigan agriculture, and partnering with fellow family businesses. This has led to multiple rewarding partnerships and we’re looking forward to more of those in the very near future!
Thank you, Marina and Nick, for sharing how you balance work and life here in the Upper Peninsula! The community is very grateful that you two decided to venture back to Marquette and make Barrel + Beam what it is today. Your focus on quality over quantity shines through with both your business and your family dynamic. Click here to learn more about their brewing business, and, if interested in learning more about our past Work-Life Balance in the 906 blog participants, click here.
About Brittany Nardi – Brittany Nardi is a student majoring in Marketing at Northern Michigan University. She has been employed at Invent@NMU as a marketing assistant since March of 2020. In her free time Brittany enjoys cross country skiing, biking, practicing yoga, and spending quality time with her family and friends.