Go big for Nebraska’s small towns and businesses

May 2, 2022 4:00 am

Jim and Julie Stutzman, the owners of the Lazy Horse, let customers push a pin into a map to show where they are from. (Courtesy of Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery.)

Even people born in Nebraska might struggle to find the village of Ohiowa on a state map. But this community of about 100 residents in Fillmore County has been host to visitors from all over the world, many who found their way thanks to Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery.

The drinking and dining establishment earns high marks from reviewers, who praise its craft beer, wine made from Nebraska-grown grapes, and lovely outdoor patio views of horses in their pasture.

Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery in Ohiowa, Nebraska, is a stop on this year’s Nebraska Passport tourism program. (Courtesy of Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery)

Jim and Julie Stutzman, the owners of Lazy Horse, keep their own maps displayed on the premises, inviting visitors to pin their origin points in Nebraska, the United States, and the world. Their map of Nebraska shows visitors from all over the state, with a cluster of pins in southeast Nebraska, where the brewery is located.

The national map shows that people from every state have stopped by, while a cursory glance at the world map has pins on every continent and subcontinent (save Antarctica).

Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery is a 2022 Nebraska Passport tourism stop, so you can add your pin to the map and get your passport stamped, like I did. While everything on the menu is good, here are my recommendations: The Salted Caramel Blonde Ale and the Blood Orange American Ale are my favorite adult beverages, and for dinner, their BBQ brisket pizza is fantastic!

Local establishments like Lazy Horse are a testament to the impact small businesses — even those with seemingly niche offerings — can have on Nebraska communities and the state’s aspirations for growth.

Not only is Lazy Horse a local favorite, its visitors may frequent other area businesses along the way, like a service station or a motel. They might even bring business to surrounding communities, taking a side trip to check out The World’s Largest Porch Swing down the road in Hebron, or see Deshler’s impressive Spring Creek Model Trains store, which puts on a model train show each weekend.

The people who create these unique activities, attractions and amenities give our state a true sense of place and add vitality to their hometowns. It matters that Ohiowans can enjoy a night out.

Operations like Lazy Horse could also someday have the chance to build a footprint across the state, not to mention the world, by canning and selling their beer on the retail market. That’s why it’s vital for Nebraska’s state policies to be not just “business-friendly,” but entrepreneur and small business-friendly. Barriers to entry can be overwhelming for businesses that don’t have big legal teams to support them. Permits, licenses and regulations from multiple layers of government all impose costs before these enterprises can earn their first dollar.

Under Legislative Bill 1236, passed this session, craft brewers will be able to self-distribute up to 250 barrels of their products without needing to go through a larger distributor. (Courtesy of Lazy Horse Brewing and Winery)

In the case of craft breweries, state laws imposing a post-Prohibition-era system for alcohol distribution have often prevented smaller operations from getting their product into stores on their own.

That’s changing slightly under Legislative Bill 1236, a bill the Platte Institute supported in the Unicameral. Under the new law, craft brewers will be able to self-distribute up to 250 barrels of their products without needing to go through a larger distributor.

But Jim Stutzman told me that while the bill opens the door to growing the industry, the terms lawmakers negotiated for the final bill won’t go far enough to make the process worthwhile for most brewers.

“LB 1236, while a step in the right direction toward self-distribution, still presents some challenges for many brewers,” Stutzman said.

Jim estimated that selling 250 barrels of beer to retailers would gross the brewery about $20,000. The input costs required under the bill, including having to deliver his products to retailers using the brewery’s own staff and vehicles, would leave little room to profit from the sales.

That means fewer Nebraskans and Americans will have the chance to learn about the Ohiowa-based business.

While the bill had other helpful features for small beverage businesses, including allowing micro-distilleries to open up to five physical locations under the same state license, craft brewers’ experience with the legislative process provides just one example of why the work of removing barriers for Nebraska entrepreneurs is never complete.

Good ideas for businesses offering new products and services can spring up anywhere in our state, and all Nebraskans benefit when small businesses succeed. Whether the issue is taxation or regulation, there’s always more policymakers can do to help creative and entrepreneurial Nebraskans put their businesses and communities on the map.


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Laura Ebke
Laura Ebke

Laura Ebke is a lifelong Nebraskan who has lived in Crete for more than 25 years. She has a doctorate in political science from the University of Nebraska, serves as a senior fellow of the Platte Institute and previously served for four years in the Nebraska Legislature and 12 years on the Crete school board. She is a wife, mother of three and grandma of one.