Melanie Phelan of The Experience Co. Branches Into New VenturesDec 01, 2021 12:04PM ● By Lisa Lukecart
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
"I don’t know what I am doing yet,” Melanie Phelan admitted.
“What’s that last word?” Tom Phelan asked.
As COVID struck small businesses, Phelan thought about her father’s advice to hold on to that last word, “yet,” because someday she would figure it out. The young entrepreneur’s heart sank as all of her event planning contracts—from weddings to businesses—canceled. Fear and uncertainty for The Experience Co. became a tangible reality once her best-laid plans dissipated.
Phelan found the answer through some friends she knew from her church. As her event business was downturning, Mike Peter consulted with her on opening an event planning business. She wisely told him it wasn’t a good option.
Instead, she and Peter took one giant leap for beer.
“I had no idea I liked calculated risks, hard things, and adventure, but it turns out it’s my cup of tea,” said Phelan, who graduated with a degree in events management from Iowa State University.
Phelan and Peter joined forces with Ben Katt to open a “brewery incubator.”
In other words, the trio would be the monetary backbone but would hand the keys and creative control to other brewers. Site-1 provides a shared workspace and the tap house allows others to show off their innovative recipes and craftsmanship. A set of 18 rotating brews, from sours to lagers to IPAs, hopped up the hype. Phelan brought creative twists to the table, designing the concept around Site-1 Brewing with input from her fellow partners. The overall appearance would be based on the 1960s space race, with a rocket ship as the logo.
The venture wasn’t without hiccups, especially during a pandemic. Equipment arrived late, delaying the opening. Meanwhile, the owners cooked up other concepts. Sunnyside on Center, a breakfast spot, opened Feb 2. Omaha Dog Bar, a drinking spot for dogs and their best friends, opened its doors to thirsty tail-wagging and two-legged customers a few days later. These now fall under the umbrella holding company Evergreen Enterprises, with plans for future businesses in the works.
As the only woman on the team, Phelan remains independent and outspoken.
“She doesn’t have a dishonest bone in her body, and she is going to tell you what she thinks,” Peter said. “She follows through really well and doesn’t leave loose ends.”
As president of Evergreen Enterprises, Phelan learned to lead. The self-confessed “apple-polisher” and “rule-follower” still needs to let go of insignificant details. She further followed her father’s footsteps by being an empathetic boss. Tom, who was the owner of Phelan’s Interiors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, made people feel important by taking the time to know his employees.
“If someone likes their job and feels supported, it’s worth it,” Phelan believes.
Matty Sheehan, the head chef at Site-1 Brewing, couldn’t agree more. After the death of a close friend, Phelan kicked him out of the kitchen and gave him a gift card to the dog bar so he could be with his family (including his beloved pet). He saw it as “one of the nicest gestures from a boss” and noticed no one seems “clocked out” compared to other places he has worked.
Phelan, 30, attempts to do the same by taking the time to shut off from work. But her SUV’s trunk is stuffed with plans for her next project, a neighborhood bar. Plus, Evergreen Enterprises plans on opening another Site-1 Brewing and Sunnyside in Elkhorn.
Her father died from a heart attack in 2018, but she has kept his reminders. On her right arm, a tattoo in his handwriting reads, “Love ya, love ya!” Her left arm is etched with one word.
This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.