The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 18, 2010

New Ulm's Marti family a bunch of brewbloods

Schell Brewing believed to be state's oldest family business

NEW ULM — Schell Brewing Company President Ted Marti was a champion gymnast at the University of Michigan 40 years ago.

He had access to other career doors, but said there was never any doubt which one he’d enter.

“I always thought I’d be back here,” Marti said.

That statement could double as a mantra for the 150-year-old New Ulm company’s ownership ranks.

August Schell begat more than a brewery in 1860; he sired a family-ownership lineage unsurpassed and perhaps unequaled in the annals of Minnesota businesses.

Schell and his brew-centric kin have been fomenting foamy quaffs for  six generations, and the unbroken ties of family ownership show no signs of severing.

“Schell’s is far and away older than anyone we’ve seen,” Minnesota Business magazine Managing Editor Drew Wood said.

He said he has no hard data on family business longevity claims in the state, but common sense would suggest it would be virtually impossible for any business to trump Schell’s six-generation involvement.

For one thing, Minnesota became a state only two years prior to Schell’s start-up. For another, he knows of no other Minnesota business that can even duplicate the New Ulm company’s multi-generational history.

The closest “competitor” may be Bachman’s floral, a five-generation Twin Cities business that began 25 years after Schell’s start.

Hence the magazine awarding Schell Brewing its 2010 Legacy Award honoring Minnesota family businesses.

Not that Schell’s ownership transitions from one family member to another was always easy and seamless.

In 1911 a break seemed likely when August Schell’s son, Otto, died suddenly and his wife died four months later.

Enter George Marti, husband of August Schell’s daughter Emma.

Ted Marti said George Marti took up the reins of the brewery for pragmatic as well as family-tie reasons, and he likely figured his role would be temporary.

“George was a pharmacist in St. Paul. At the time he took over Schell’s, he was probably telling his children, ‘Don’t plan on being in the brewery business.’”

Less prophetic words may never have been spoken.

The brewery’s solvency also was severely threatened during Prohibition.

“They limped along. Prohibition was no time to be a brewer,” Marti said of the 1920s, when the business was reduced to selling root beer, candy and virtually non-alcoholic “near beer.”

The business hit a third speed bump in the 1970s, an era that marked the end of most small old-time brewers forced to succumb to major brewers.

Wood said Schell’s corporate fat-trimming during that time helped it stay afloat until small craft brewing was able to benefit from a resurgence in popularity.

“They really slimmed down in the ’70s. They were barely surviving and they were a really small shop for a long time,” Wood said.

So it has gone: Schell ownership stayed in the family by transitioning into the Marti regime starting with George, then Alfred, then Warren, then Ted.

And now Jace and Kyle Marti, Ted’s sons, represent the sixth generation as they matriculate through the company’s hierarchy.

Kyle, 26, and just returned from a military stint, works in sales and Jace, 27, is involved in the brewing process and will soon be leaving for Germany for brewmaster training.

Jace Marti, who has worked at the brewery since high school, said he’s never felt any pressure to sustain the family’s link with the company.

“I’ve never had any desire to be anything other than a brewer,” he said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to carry on a legacy like this. It’s humbling.”

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