The State Fair is a ubiquitous occasion for Minnesotans. It’s a time for residents across the state to come together in the name of community and gluttony. But it’s also a ripe time for business. Both fledgling and established food vendors fight tooth and nail to get a spot. But when it comes to the story behind one of this year’s most buzzed about booths, well, they made it look easy.
“In two years we planned on throwing something out to the fair,” said Funky Grits owner, Jared Brewington. They opened in 2018 and snagged a booth in the Food Building before their one-year anniversary.
Getting accepted as a vendor isn’t easy. Spots are limited and the only thing between entrance and denial is a registration form. Fill it out, send it in, and hope for the best.
Brewington never touched such a form.
Nicole Hines, food and beverage supervisor for The State Fair, met Brewington at an event called Winter Fest in St. Paul’s Union Depot on January 25, 2019. The event, sponsored by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, paired breweries and restaurants together for a collaborative evening.
Brewington made what he does best: cheddar grits with slow-cooked beef shoulder, horseradish, sour cream, and pickled jalapeño.
After one taste Hines immediately extended her card. Following the event, Brewington sent an email follow-up. “She said we had a hit on our hands and that we should do the fair. She then asked what we would do if we came and, of course, I responded with shrimp and grits. It’s my number one seller.”
Hines and Brewington met on the fairgrounds for what he thought was going to be an in-person application meeting. “She showed me the spot and I all I could think about is what I would do and how I would pitch it. But she just looked at me, said ‘you’d do great,’ and that was it.”
He was in.
Just like that, Brewington was about to become a State Fair vendor. Days before the fair started, he spoke with a calm electricity. “Over 150,000 fritters are being made and we’ll probably keep going during the fair to hit our mark.”
The Rise of Funky Grits
One night, on the edge of sleep, Brewington thought of a quirky, two-word phrase that held incredible weight: “Funky Grits.” Within these two words he saw a concept, a restaurant, a menu, and endless possibility. He called his financial partner and longtime best friend, Benjamin Brickweg, and told him that he was going to open a restaurant with that very name. Brickweg runs a brokerage firm out in Boulder, Colorado.
“We talk 5 times a day. He’s my other wife,” Brewington said, laughing.
When the two spoke for the first time about Funky Grits, Brewington made it clear that Brickweg was going to partner with him on the business and act as his free lawyer. Brewington wasn’t asking, he was telling.
This is their first foray into the restaurant business. In the beginning, it was just pop-ups. Their first introduction to the public was on September 12, 2015. From then on, Brewington scouted brick-and-mortar locations.
His search took so long that it became a running inside joke in the community. A week before his first pop-up, City Pages published an article saying that a physical space for Funky Grits was “coming soon.” They were always “coming soon.”
It wasn’t until January 2018 that Brewington found a home for Funky Grits in the Central neighborhood of Minneapolis. The space was formerly a Boost Mobile and a Hell’s Chicken and Fish. He announced an April 1, 2018 opening date. The April Fool’s alignment was apt, as he did not open until August 18.
Brewington and his wife Jen will be at fair for its entirety working 12 hour days. Jen also works for the City of Shakopee as an economic development officer while still retaining serving jobs in Excelsior and Kenwood.
“She’s a mercenary,” he says through his trademark, goofy grin. “We’re never tired.”
The Funky Grits space is closed for the time being as all focus shifts to the fair.
Stay tuned for the next part of this extended profile on Jared Brewington, Funky Grits, and his first year at The State Fair. Find Funky Grits on the east wall of the Food Building.