Ian Wenger pictures a bustling south side of Oshkosh becoming a destination for people to spend an entire day.
While they’re there, chances are good they’ll stop in at Fifth Ward Brewing Co., the business Wenger launched with friend Zach Clark. Located just steps from the Menominee Nation Arena, the brewery has become a popular destination since opening in November — just in time for the Wisconsin Herd’s inaugural season.
It’s an impressive accomplishment for two guys who started the business out of the basement of Clark’s college house. Wenger and Clark bonded over a love of brewing, an interest Wenger developed as an ecology major at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The pair began writing a business plan, updating it every time they brewed. The more they brewed, the better it got, Wenger says. They conducted research, explored the market and worked with the Small Business Development Center at UWO to help refine their business plan.
When it came to selecting a location, Wenger and Clark knew exactly where they wanted to settle. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to be centrally located in Oshkosh,” Wenger says.
Finding an already-saturated north side of town, the two set their sights on the south side’s Sawdust District, finding a place on South Main Street. To help finance the venture, Wenger and Clark turned to the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. and its Capital Catalyst grant program, money that covered the pair’s collateral shortfall and allowed them to tie everything together with the bank.
Fifth Ward features a production brewery with a taproom. It offers a selection of 22 Wisconsin-brewed beers on tap, with six varieties, including stouts, IPAs, and ales, brewed onsite. The brewery doesn’t serve food, but it does plan to host a variety of food trucks in warmer months and encourages carry-ins. Come May, its beer garden will open. Distribution extends from Little Chute to Fond du Lac, and Wenger anticipates that will continue to grow.
Audra Hoy, director of business and economic development for GOEDC, worked with Wenger and Clark to secure the grant funding, and she credits them, in combination with the Menominee Nation Arena, with bringing the Sawdust District to life.
“The great thing about Fifth Ward is their youth and their drive and the vibrancy they bring,” she says. “They started this out of a basement and have been going full speed ever since.”