Every small town has that one place locals love to hang out; that business where everyone gathers. There’s something about the comfort of being in a home away from home that draws people in and keeps them coming back for more.
In Tekamah, Nebraska, that business is Chatterbox Brews.
“When you walk out onto our back patio, you feel like you’re walking into someone’s backyard – it feels like home,” said Cindy Chatt, one of the owners of the business.
This June, Chatterbox Brews celebrates its first anniversary. Within their inaugural year, Chatt, along with co-owner, Britney Hansen, have enjoyed success while also helping bring a town together.
“We’ve become the gathering place for the community,” said Chatt. “Whether that’s for meetings, or going out to dinner, it’s really become a little bit of the heartbeat of the town in a short time.”
Before opening Chatterbox Brews, Chatt worked in New York, in the consulting field. She wanted a change and hoped to open a business back home. Similarly, Hansen was living in Chicago, and thinking about opening an event venue in Tekamah, their shared hometown.
After meeting, the two decided to collaborate on a business venture combining several components in one building – a bar, restaurant, event space, and a brewery.
Through this ambitious idea, Chatterbox Brews was born.
Chatt found the perfect location for their business, but the building needed help. The business owners were able to make the necessary renovations with a loan from their local bank, and gap financing from the Center for Rural Affairs Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP).
“We worked with Gene [Rahn], and the process went very smoothly,” said Chatt. “Having our business plan figured out beforehand made everything very easy.”
Gene Rahn, senior loan specialist for the Center, also felt the process went smoothly, though he was hesitant at first due to Chatt and Hansen’s lofty aspirations for their business.
“Getting financing to combine all those features into one business initially made me cringe a little,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was contacted about financing for their business.”
Rahn was pleasantly surprised, however, upon receiving a completed business plan, including market research and analysis, a marketing plan, operations plan, and well-thought-out financial projections.
After review, Rahn discovered Chatt and Hansen’s combined backgrounds and experiences in marketing, advertising, the food service industry, and general business knowledge to be a huge bonus.
“This was undoubtedly one of the most complete loan applications ever received,” said Rahn. “Cindy and Britney were super to work with throughout the process.”
With financing in hand, Chatt and Hansen completely gutted the space. Major renovations took place, and a new roof was added and extended for a covered patio.
“The interior of the building looks completely different besides the actual layout,” said Chatt. “We designed it to look like something you might see in the Old Market in Omaha.”
Family history was also incorporated into the business. The lumber used to build the tables, bar, and other items came from a corn crib, which the Chatt family built by hand in the 1940s or ‘50s. The name of the business itself came from Chatt’s grandfather, who flew B-25’s in World War II. His plane was named the Chatterbox. Several of the medals he received for his service hang in the restaurant today.
Chatt and Hansen not only wanted to try something new and honor family history, they also strive to give back to Tekamah.
“We saw an opportunity to invest in our rural hometown and to give back to the community by offering a new type of establishment, a brewpub serving craft beers and homestyle food,” said Chatt. “We also want to be ingrained in the community, so we host fundraising events at Chatterbox Brews.”
The owners have opened their doors for farmers markets, Christmas tree sales, a spaghetti feed for a family who lost everything in a fire, the participants of an alumni basketball tournament, and a scavenger hunt for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among others.
Chatterbox Brews has been successful so far. According to Chatt, they’ve had customers come from towns miles away.
“We get great support from the town of Tekamah, and we see people coming from out of town every day,” she said. “We thought we’d need to add the brewery to begin with to draw people in, but we offer enough variety as it is that things are going great, so we’re going to stick with what works for now.”
Chatt also says it's encouraging to see community members get excited about investing in the future of their small town.
“There are other businesses starting to gain momentum in Tekamah besides us, and when people see the possibility of what our town can be again, it’s inspiring,” she said. “Chatterbox Brews helped start this momentum, and it’s so heartwarming to know the town wants us to succeed.”
At a glance
203 S 13th St., Tekamah, NE 68061
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight (winter) and noon to midnight (summer); Sunday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m.
Online: chatterboxbrews.com/ and Facebook