WAYNE — Paying employees well above the state minimum requirements and encouraging screen-free downtime may not be major priorities for every business model, but it has worked out well so far for Greg and Kelly Ptacek.
But the owners of the Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company have a different way of looking at success.
The Ptaceks’ efforts to build up their community in Wayne while building their brand is why Johnnie Byrd was chosen to receive the third annual “emerging business award” for enterprises in Northeast Nebraska that have been in existence for five years or less.
The award is part of the Norfolk Area Business Hall of Fame, created in 2017 and sponsored by the Daily News and First National Bank of Norfolk.
In a nomination form submitted to the Daily News, Johnnie Byrd was described as a business that acts “as a welcoming space for those who are new and old to the community.”
Additionally, the brewery is a benefit corporation — defined as a traditional corporation with modified obligations committing it to higher standards of purpose, accountability and transparency.
The purpose of a benefit corporation is to commit to creating public benefit and sustainable value, in addition to generating profit.
Johnnie Byrd works to create a positive public impact through three main tenets — fair and honest wages, environmental responsibility and community reinvestment.
Greg Ptacek said his employees make a base minimum wage of five times that of the state’s minimum for wait staff and bartenders of $2.13 per hour plus tips.
The brewery may be the first in Nebraska to be backed 100% by renewable energy credits.
“The brewery also focuses on the environment through eliminating single-use paper towels by offering singe-use washcloths that are collected, washed and reused indefinitely,” Greg Ptacek said.
He estimates that 65 30-gallon trash bags are saved from landfills annually by the efforts at Johnnie Byrd.
“And then once the brewery is profitable, 10% of the annual profits will be reinvested back into Nebraska. This reinvestment could be start-up assistance to a promising high-impact business or a traditional community development project,” Greg Ptacek said.
JOHNNIE BYRD is already giving back to the Wayne area through community-building efforts.
The brewery’s business operations include community donations and close partnerships with Wayne State College, Wayne Area Economic Development and Wayne Community Schools.
“Those relationships have probably been the biggest key to success,” Greg Ptacek said.
Kelly Ptacek said Johnnie Byrd has partnered with the Wayne Public Library for events, as well as with both the local Republican and Democratic chapters as a gathering place for events.
Events such as live music, crawfish boils and comedians add a unique entertainment facet to Wayne that draws both home-grown and out-of-town crowds.
The fact that Johnnie Byrd is a “neighborhood brewery” is another reason for the clientele developing a personal affection for the business.
Greg Ptacek said Johnnie Byrd doesn’t distribute its beer but instead focuses on a one-on-one conversation with its patrons.
“Our business is like 30% beer, 70% experience. ... Everybody needs three places in their life. Work, home and a third place. We like being that third place,” Greg Ptacek said.
There are no televisions in the taproom and no free Wi-Fi, and outlets are sparsely placed to discourage phones.
This is to allow people who might never have interacted otherwise to strike up a conversation with the Ptaceks or with each other.
Customers can find out why the brewery is called Johnnie Byrd — Ptacek means “little bird” in Czech, and Greg’s grandfather was named John and had a band called the Johnnie Byrd Orchestra — or ask about the guava or coriander in a particular brew.
“That’s the experience we want to try to give, and hopefully that will make them want to come back and have that deeper conversation about our product and why we chose to do what we did,” Greg Ptacek said.
“The most fun thing is just the people and changing perceptions. Wayne’s still a relatively small town, but it’s a progressive community. Just to change people’s perspectives of what Wayne is and what our community is, is probably one of my favorite things,” Greg Ptacek said.