Millennial Entrepreneurs Contribute to Cedar Rapids Rebirth
Lion Bridge Brews New Culture of Entrepreneurism
By Jayne Armstrong
Great opportunities often arise out of disastrous events. Cedar Rapids’ renaissance following the flood
of 2008 spurred many millennials to return home to contribute to its recovery and resurgence. Quinton
and Ana McClain’s successful venture, Lion Bridge Brewing, represents the cornerstone of the Czech
Village and New Bohemia’s revitalization.
Quinton, a Cedar Rapids native, and Ana, originally from Mexico, met while attending Colorado State
University. His background as a commercial brewer and her expertise in management, human resources,
and event planning provided the perfect formula for entrepreneurial success. Recognizing the window
of opportunity, they returned to Cedar Rapids to make a difference.
“I was inspired to open a brewery in Cedar Rapids, because I saw the restoration and reinvigoration of
the downtown area,” said Quinton McClain, co-owner of Lion Bridge Brewing. “I was inspired to help, in
my own way, to make Cedar Rapids a thriving destination for tourism and a source of pride for the
people that live here.”
The business name is inspired by the Bridge of Lions that connects New Bohemia to Czech Village over
the Cedar River. The lion symbolizes Bohemia and best represents the area’s Czech heritage. Lion Bridge
Brewing also has history on its side thanks to the Czech Republic’s stellar reputation as a world leader of
the beer industry.
In September 2013, they purchased the former Fritz’s Food Market, a building on the National Register
of Historic Places, as the future home of their craft brewery. Start-up costs, including equipment,
renovations and working capital, were financed with a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
guaranteed loan through Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust. Lion Bridge sold its first beer to the public on
February 19th, 2014.
“While we did our research and fully believed in our idea, starting Lion Bridge was still a huge risk.
Having the support of Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust and the SBA really gave us the confidence to make
our dream a reality,” said Ana McClain.
The recent addition of a biergarten and bocce court was financed with an $8,000 Iowa Main Street
Challenge Grant “Open For Business.” The biergarten expands seating with outdoor space and adds to
the ambience of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street Community by modeling the design of the
new fence off of the nearby Bridge of Lions. The result is the revitalization of an underutilized
greenspace that is transformed into a community gathering destination.
Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street is just one of many business resources the McClains have
utilized. During the start-up phase Quinton worked out of the Vault co-working space to collaborate
with other businesses and reduce start-up costs with shared resources. He also worked with America’s
SBDC, a key SBA resource partner, in Marion to access counseling and technical services. He now gives
back to other local entrepreneurs by serving on the SBDC’s advisory council.
More recently the McClains have been working with the Entrepreneurial Development Center in Cedar
Rapids to support Lion Bridge Brewing Company’s expansion into retail beer sales. The EDC team has
helped them develop marketing and pricing strategies, initially focusing on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa
“The beers we brew are catalysts for conversation and community,” said Quinton. He serves as the
brewery manager and oversees the sales, distribution and production schedules. In addition to the on-
site sales, its wide variety of beers is sold wholesale to over 300 bars and restaurants across Iowa.
The Cedar Rapids community is the center of Lion Bridge’s three tenants of giving – the arts,
environmental causes and access to healthy, local food. Its relationships with local farmers play an
important role in its community involvement. In addition to farmers providing key ingredients for the
beer and food menu, the brewery participates in the Cedar Rapids Farmers Market once a month and
hosts bi-annual farmers markets in its parking lot.
After four years of operation, the McClains are finally getting over the typical bootstrapping start-up
phase when entrepreneurs wear so many hats. They quickly learned that the customer drives your
demand and requires you to be flexible and adapt to change.
While still known for its quality craft beers, Lion Bridge’s restaurant sales quadrupled very quickly and
presented new challenges with storage for food and supplies. Beer production focuses on only four
ingredients – grain, hops, water and yeast – making inventory pretty simple. Ana did a lot of self-led
research on restaurant management, but the rapid growth forced them to take a leap of faith and hire a
manager. The important move has paid off with restaurant sales increasing 25 percent in the past year
The special events aspect of the business has increased so significantly that Ana turned to the University
of Iowa’s Event Planning Certificate Program to offer an internship opportunity to a local student. It also
allows her to utilize her event planning and management expertise while mentoring a local student.
Cedar Rapids has come a long way since the flood of 2008, thanks in large part to a new generation of
entrepreneurs like Quinton and Ana McClain who have tapped into the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District
Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business
Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business
Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community.
About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As
the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal
government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and
support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It
delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and
private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.