This article originally published in Shaw Local on March 8, 2021
Jeff Hettrick, executive director of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, said he and his wife take walks downtown, and when it’s warmer, they stop and talk to people dining outdoors.
He believes about 80% of the people are from out of town, and the rest are locals showing off Ottawa to their relatives from out of town.
Tangled Roots is part of Ottawa’s draw, he said, serving as one of the anchors to its growing tourism industry.
While the Tangled Roots Brewing Company’s initial location search started in the Fulton Market neighborhood of Chicago, its eventual landing spot in Ottawa would become a blessing for both parties.
The Tangled Roots Brewing Company just celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, and Ottawa’s downtown continues its transformation into an up-and-coming tourist destination.
“The blessing is that we came in a little brewery and at the time there was another restaurant, BASH, doing awesome things,” said Tangled Roots Chief Commercial Officer Scott Struchen. “BASH did great things, then C230, CatsEye and A’Lure all came in, and the tide raises all ships. Now people have a choice, and you become a destination location for the downtown. It’s really a blessing to see all these restaurants start to get busy.”
Struchen said with the opening of these businesses, Ottawa has set itself to become the next Galena, a resort town in northwestern Illinois that’s home to many destination shops and restaurants.
Struchen said Ottawa’s people and what they had already done with their city is what opened possibilities for Tangled Roots.
“You have the Illinois Valley, Heritage Harbor and all the incredible things they’re doing, Starved Rock and all the tourism that comes with it and a downtown with thriving shops, great eating and great things to do,” Struchen said. “The reason we wanted to come [to Ottawa] is we saw that future growth, and now it’s happening.”
Ottawa Visitors Center Director Curt Bedei said Ottawa’s downtown has become something similar to a shopping mall in the years since Tangled Roots moved in, and he views the brewery/farm-to-table restaurant as one of the anchor stores.
“They were a new and vibrant addition to the downtown,” Bedei said. “They’re a draw. It’s something that brings outside people into town, and once they’re here, everybody else benefits from their presence. There’s so much to see that surrounds the Lone Buffalo.”
Bedei said Tangled Roots vision to make Ottawa a tourist destination aligns with other merchants’ vision. Tangled Roots has been featured with the Illinois Office of Tourism and it has advertised in national magazines, which Bedei said has made an impression on people from far and wide.
“They want to see other businesses and other individuals succeed because of their success,” Bedei said. “They’re not in it just for themselves.”
Bedei said Ottawa has always attracted people from the western suburbs because of its proximity to Starved Rock State Park, but the brewery has been a driving force in improving the city’s tourism aspects.
“Even though we have seen people from, you know, Chicago or even Europe every once in a while, the presence of the Lone Buffalo and Tangled Roots has taken it to a higher level than where it was before,” Bedei said.
Hettrick said he’s seen new independent stores open in the downtown since Tangled Roots moved in, including clothing boutiques, home goods and interior decorating stores.
“It’s more upscale than it used to be,” Hettrick said. “That’s the biggest thing. The storefronts are kept up very nice. Everyone is working to have a better image of downtown Ottawa. It’s family friendly and a great place to be around.”
Additionally, Hettrick said Tangled Roots has become a hot spot for business dealings in town, with OSF St. Elizabeth treating incoming doctors to The Lone Buffalo when they visit Ottawa for the first time and the Grundy County Economic Development Council holding its retreats there.
Hettrick also said Tangled Roots has been a good community partner. The business is at the forefront of sponsoring events in an effort to help people raise money, including one example of proceeds from a beer’s sales going to help feed the bison at Buffalo Rock State Park.
“I remember attending an event to help raise funding for trail repairs and handicap accessible trails at Starved Rock State Park,” Hettrick said. “They’ve also been business partners for our events. You see them and you know, they just work with everybody.”
Matt Skelly said Tangled Roots, along with the rest of the Ottawa community, has been helpful in spreading the word on the Starved Rock Marathon and Half Marathon every year, and they’re great to show off the rest of the downtown.
“When the water in the harbor rises, all the boats go up,” Skelly said. “So when people go to Tangled Roots for a beer they see something else on the way back home. They’ve realized Ottawa has a great sushi place, all these great pizza places, and they see it’s a happening town.”
Skelly said the city and all the economic development organizations around the city deserve credit for Ottawa’s downtown resurgence.
“You have the administration of the city that has to say they want to do this, and from there you start with the little stuff like economic development and the Visitor’s Center and people that are thinking about tourism,” Skelly said. “Tangled Roots can be a success because there are other businesses. They might not be as successful if they don’t have that dress shop down the street, or an art studio nearby. It’s a collective.”
Skelly also is a self-referred “novice beer snob” who enjoys having a craft brewery right in his backyard.
He said he likes that Tangled Roots has its core beers, but it also has other styles and can explain the unique aspects of each beer.
“Really, if you can get some good quality beer there, it’s a great environment to be around,” Skelly said.
Struchen said Tangled Roots is excited about what it has accomplished in its first five years and is looking forward to the next five in Ottawa.
“It’s really, really awesome that the community supports us as much as they do,” Struchen said. “We release exclusive beers just for Ottawa. We love hiring locals and watching them grow through our companies to become managers, marketers and directors.”
Struchen said Tangled Roots and The Lone Buffalo are having their fifth anniversary, but it’s really an ongoing project that’s been going on for the past seven and a half years.
“We’re expanding and building more, looking to expand our Ottawa location and grow into that,” Struchen said. “You know, the pandemic took it out of us and it was tough with everyone closed. We were able to survive, hold on and keep our employees employed. We opened back up with a bang.”
Struchen said Tangled Roots wants to expand into the old Woolworth’s building to the north but that might take another year or two because of the pandemic.
The business recently opened a new location tied to the Illlinois & Michigan Canal in Lockport called the Lock and Mule and another in Glenview called Hangar Two, and the business is expanding into La Salle.
A La Salle microbrewery cafe, coffee shop and upscale loft living project is underway on 800 block of First Street.
“We’re hoping for another brewpub,” Struchen said. “We have a concept going into La Salle based off the rocket trains that used to run from Chicago to Peoria and stopped in La Salle.”
Struchen said La Salle at that time in history was a thriving place for people to shop for watches, jewelry and clothing, and he hopes this location gives nod to that history.