Prairie Street Brewing Co.: Creating Something Special on the Rock River

What once was a dilapidated building in an industrial district has found new life as a destination for people to live, work and play. Now, as many return to business-as-usual, the Brewhouse is prepared for many a social event.

The Barrel Room is a favorite among brides and event planners. It’s easily the most photographed space and has the largest capacity at Prairie Street Brewing Co.

For many years, Prairie Street Brewing Co. has served as a social landmark in Rockford. It’s where people go to grab a bite, enjoy drinks after work, or listen to live music. It’s also where people celebrate weddings, conduct business meetings or simply take in views of the Rock River.

Located at 200 Prairie St., the impressive riverside location has become the place to bring out-of-town friends and relatives if you want to show off Rockford’s best assets.

“I think the biggest thing is that we bring something fresh and new to Rockford,” says Reed Sjostrom, co-owner. “There’s a plethora of options here at Prairie Street. It’s a place to sit down and have a pint and talk about the day’s topics, or maybe you’re here for a tour because you’re planning a wedding. It’s not just a brewery – there’s also Dockside Live, Dinner on the Dock, and all of the event rooms. I’m sitting in a boardroom right now that’s a great place for up to about 18 people to have a unique meeting. It’s all outfitted with the latest AV technology, and you get to enjoy the river views, too.”

Sjostrom co-owns Prairie Street Brewing Co. with longtime friend Dustin Koch. With the help of Koch’s family, the pair have completely transformed what was once a dilapidated area.

“The Koch family lived across the river and always thought the building was a great landmark that was underutilized,” Sjostrom explains. “They saw the potential, and so they bought the building in ’99 and developed a marina. Jumping forward to about 2010, they had a vision to change this into what it is now.”

The plan was to create a mixed-use facility where the dock would still be utilized as a marina, but the building would be renovated into lofts, office space and an event center. Sjostrom was working with his family’s construction company, Sjostrom & Sons, when Koch approached him to become a partner.

During construction, Koch presented the idea for the brewery and brewpub, and this idea was met with excitement by all involved.

“At the time, it was just a natural thing to say ‘yes,’ and next thing we know, we’re talking to other breweries on how to get started, and looking at hiring kitchen staff, and figuring everything out,” Sjostrom recalls. “Getting the brewery operational was huge. Brewing that first batch of beer and pouring that first glass from the taps was just tremendous.”

While construction was still underway, the owners partnered with Woodfire Pizza to serve pizza and beer on Fridays and Saturdays.

“It was a lot of fun to be there and see everything happening, and it was also a great way to teach people about the building and what we have to offer,” Sjostrom says.

The brewpub officially opened in 2013, and in 2015, the owners reached another milestone when they opened dockside dining. The restaurant had been operational for a year, but the option to dine outdoors on the dock added a new, exciting element.

“That really tied the building back into the river,” Sjostrom says. “It was one thing to have the brewpub upstairs, but the building’s relationship with the water is so important. The river in general is just such an important feature of downtown Rockford. So, when we opened the Dockside Taproom, there was finally a nice, casual place to enjoy the view of downtown and have a pint and a meal. That really put us on the map.”

An event that’s always been popular at Prairie Street is Dinner on the Dock, a weekly music series on Thursday nights where local and regional artists entertain diners and on-looking boaters in the marina. The popularity of Dinner on the Dock spurred the addition of another music series, Dockside Live, on Monday evenings. Many people have had their first introduction to Prairie Street Brewing Co. by attending one of these events.

To make Prairie Street even more versatile, the owners considered every area of the building during their initial renovations. There’s no “wasted space,” as every room can be used to accommodate events or meetings of various sizes.

The grandest area is the Barrel Room. At nearly 6,000 square feet, it’s the most-photographed room in the building and is often used for wedding receptions or other large events. The room can seat 500 people in rows or 300 people at tables and includes a stage and balcony area. Right off the Barrel Room is the Malt Room, which serves as a great location for supplemental activities. Measuring 1,500 square feet, the room can accommodate 160 people in rows or 70 people at tables.

Despite the pandemic, Prairie Street Brewing Co. has continued to hold events by adjusting to health department and government guidelines to ensure that important celebrations can still safely take place.

“You know, the restaurant industry has always been flexible,” Sjostrom says. “When we walk in on any day of the week, we don’t know who’s going to come in. Maybe no one, for that matter. But you staff accordingly, and you do what’s within your power to make sure people have the best experience you could give them. We do whatever we can to make sure people have a great time.”

Also adjacent to the Barrel Room, down a short flight of stairs, is the Ice Cellar – a room that is often used as an extension of the events taking place in the Barrel Room. Measuring 1,500 square feet, the Ice Cellar has a full-service copper top bar and private restrooms, and can accommodate up to 100 people in rows or 60 people at tables. The Ice Cellar also has doors that lead right out to the dock, making it easy for guests to step outside.

The dock itself is popular for wedding ceremonies, with a commanding view of the Rock River and capacity to seat up to 300 guests.

“It’s a pretty unique space,” Sjostrom says. “Just the ability to mingle around and have that private dock area – it’s something unique not just for Rockford, but for anywhere.”

A smaller space for events is the 1,380-square-foot Peacock Room, with a river view, HDTV, and capacity to seat 187 people in rows or 88 people at tables.

“That room is perfect for baby showers, birthday parties and smaller events,” Sjostrom says.

Also boasting a river view, the Bottling House measures about 2,600 square feet, with the capacity to seat 286 people in rows or 120 people at tables.

“That room is great for small weddings, large birthday parties, family reunions, and so on,” Sjostrom adds.

Lastly, the Petritz Board Room measures 450 square feet and can seat up to 18 people at a conference table, with a great view of the river.

To be able to host events in all of these spaces, Sjostrom and his business partner have a plethora of employees. If Sjostrom could give one piece of business advice, it would be to keep your employees happy.

“I think happy, healthy, rewarded employees will make any business succeed,” he says. “Whether you have one or a thousand employees, you have to understand that without them, you can’t do anything. We offer the best benefits in this area for this industry, so that when people come in, it’s not like, ‘Ugh, I have to go to work today.’ No. We take care of them as much as we can, and hopefully, they pass that good spirit on to whoever walks in the doors.”