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Encore Entrepreneur Enjoying Suds and Success in Dodge City

What started as a passion to make the perfect home brewed beer, led a CPA with 34 successful years in accounting to start the first brewery in Dodge City in 2017. Larry Cook and his wife Sheri own and manage Dodge City Brewing Company, LLC that features a variety of craft beers and brick-oven pizza.

It’s a state-of-the-art brewery, financed with an SBA 504 loan, with  capacity to brew 600 barrels (about 18,600 gallons) of craft beer a year. The brewery is located one block off Wyatt Earp Avenue which is the main thoroughfare through Dodge City.

Larry Cook, a CPA and partner in a local  accounting firm, fell in love with making his own craft beer as a home brewer in the early 2000’s. Cook had lived and worked in Wichita where he became friends with Goebel Liquor’s owner Rob Miller when their kids played on the same baseball team. Miller introduced him to craft beer, and Cook started making and perfecting his own batches as a home brewer for the next 14 years.

Cook, who has lived in Dodge City since 1999, was encouraged by his family and friends to pursue his dream of starting a brewery as he was contemplating retirement from his accounting career. As Cook began to put his brewery business plans on paper, he reached out and received positive feedback and ideas from several of his beer friends in Wichita, including Ian Crane, the co-founder and head brewer of Central Standard Brewing.

At the time, there was no brewery in the large swath of land between Wichita and Pueblo (CO) and Hays and Amarillo (TX). “Southwest Kansas was wide open,” said Cook. As Dodge City redeveloped its Boot Hill district and built a new casino, tourism has drawn more visitors and grown the market to support  unique establishments - like a brewery.

Kansas SBDC Assistance Pays Off

In 2016, Cook drafted a business plan for the construction of the brewery with financial projections to secure a bank loan. When the cost estimates for construction and equipment ended up higher than expected, Cook reached out to the Kansas SBDC at Seward County Community College about other financing options and sources of capital. Consultants Mike O’Kane and Cheryl Schmale of the Kansas SBDC introduced Cook to Bob Wetmore of Great Plains Development, Inc. in Dodge City and SBA’s loan guarantee programs.

Great Plains Development, Inc. and Landmark National Bank worked with Cook on the paperwork to obtain a SBA 504 loan through Pioneer Country Development, Inc., a regional SBA Certified Development Company. The 504 loan covered the real estate, building construction and equipment for the brewery. “Within 60 days, we had the SBA loan authorization,” said Cook. “The SBA 504 Loan made all the difference. The additional financing amount to cover the increased costs and longer term are what made the project become a reality. The debenture in the 504 is a benefit to the bank involved and the borrower,” continued Cook. “It is equivalent to having the owner provide a 50% down payment.” Mike O’Kane of the Kansas SBDC also made Cook aware that the brewery was in a Neighborhood Revitalization District and it qualified for property tax rebates which helped the company’s cash flow projections.

Breaking Ground and Tapping Success

Cook purchased the lot in November 2016 and construction was completed about a week before the city’s largest annual event, Dodge City Days, in July of 2017. “We barely finished in time to take advantage of the crowds that Dodge City Days brings into the community,” said Cook.

Two years later, Larry and Sheri Cook continue to fine tune their beer production and operations. As Dodge City Brewing Company’s operation manager, Sheri Cook has applied her 25 years of teaching and education management experience to ensure the workforce scheduling, operational details and daily tasks are completed. Larry controls the brewing process and is still working on – and getting close to - brewing the perfect pint.

When asked to share advice to an entrepreneur interested in starting a business, Cook stressed “you have to be passionate about what you’re trying to do. Without it, you will get ground down by the effort it takes to make it work. Also, do your homework. Know your product inside and out. Research how it’s been done by others and ask business owners in your industry and resources like the Kansas SBDC about the little details and regulations that you may not know about. My CPA experience helped me plan for and manage the financials, but my passion for making good beer is what keeps me going,” concluded Cook.

Larry and Sheri are actively involved in Dodge City’s chamber and Main Street organizations and offer monthly fundraiser events at the brewery to benefit local charitable causes as well as a venue for local artists to display their artwork.

Dodge City Brewery’s brand logo is a cowboy with a beard made of hops. Currently, the establishment sells its beers on-site and has growlers and crowlers to-go. Cook plans on expanding Dodge City Brewing Company’s market by providing taps to a few of his bar-owner friends in Wichita soon.

Company Name: 
Dodge City Brewing Company
Dodge City, Kansas
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