With the holiday season at our doorstep, most of us have giving and thanks on our minds. It’s that time of year when we’re given the space to slow down, reflect, and make an extra effort to give back. But luckily for our Lake Minnetonka community, we’re home to numerous incredible small local businesses that make it their mission to give back all year round. From hosting fundraisers for great causes and sponsoring local community events that bring neighbors together to charitable donations and providing our vulnerable with a safe home, their dedication knows no bounds. And that’s only the beginning. During this month of gratitude and generosity, we wanted to spotlight a few of these remarkable local businesses that are giving back and making an impact in no small way with their unwavering commitment to making our community better, one act of kindness at a time.
Hammer & NER
This year marks the 100th year since Alvina Hammer opened Hammer School in 1923, creating a home and loving environment for people with developmental disabilities. Now, a century later, Hammer & NER (formerly Hammer Residences and Northeast Residence) continues Alvina’s incredible work, supporting people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and providing housing and customized support services to help them live their lives to the fullest.
From that very first home, Hammer & NER now offers 68 apartment programs and residences. “We are so thankful we’re able to do what we do,” shares Barbara Brandt, director of communication at Hammer & NER. “Without Hammer & NER, I can’t imagine what the world would be like and what people would do without support like this.”
Hammer & NER offers parents and families assurance and trust that their loved one is being taken care of, especially for parents or guardians who are getting older and want to know their child will be in good hands when they’re gone.
“We really are family, extended,” says Jennifer Hipple, communications specialist at Hammer & NER. “We have people who have been living together for 20 or 30 years in our program and refer to each other as brothers and sisters. We also have staff who have worked with us for 20, 30, 40 years and become that second family. We hear so many stories from our volunteers and staff and the people we support, being involved in each other’s lives, spending the holidays together, and celebrating life events.”
There are so many ways to get involved and support Hammer & NER. “We have “Cooks in the Kitchen” where volunteers make meals for our houses, and another that is most dear to everyone’s heart is “Make a Friend, Be a Friend” where you’re just a part of a person’s life in whatever way you both choose,” says Barbara. “Or, you can come work for us!”
Hammer & NER is looking forward to the next 100 years. “Everything we do, we approach with a sense of gratitude, and we’re reminded every day of what it takes to make this mission work,” shares Jennifer. “We’re thankful for the people who do the work in the homes, the communities who welcome us, and the families who trust us with their loved ones.” Learn more: https://hammer.org/
For Tonka Vodka founders Chad and Anne Moe and Todd Epley, the choice to focus their charitable efforts on donating to cancer research charities was personal. “We had wanted to donate to a certain cause and had been trying to decide what that should be,” says Chad. “Then my wife (Anne, who is also Todd’s sister) was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2022. After getting the diagnosis, we had several organizations reach out to help us, and that was the moment we knew we should try to help end cancer and help those going through it.”
Tonka Vodka supports this mission by donating 10% of all profits to cancer charities that help cancer research and patients. The business has donated to Relay for Life, the Randy Shaver Cancer Foundation, and Rhino’s Cancer Foundation, just to name a few. “Besides cash, we donate a lot of products, swag, or anything else that these organizations need for their fundraising events to help them raise money or save on costs so they can donate as much as possible to cancer research, cancer patients, and their families.”
Tonka Vodka’s passion and care also extends to their smooth and exceptional product. Gluten free, 9x distilled, and carbon filtered, Tonka Vodka received an Excellent rating at Ultimate Spirits Challenge and won Gold at SIPS Awards.
“The community can get involved by supporting Tonka Vodka at their local liquor stores and
restaurants or by making a donation to a local cancer charity or family going through cancer,”
Visit tonkavodka.com for more information on Tonka Vodka’s charitable efforts.
Fazendin Realtors has been a staple in the community for over 55 years, helping newcomers to the area find their dream home and those looking to sell. It makes sense then that the realtors at Fazendin understand the importance of having a stable, safe place to call home. Hence, the Fazendin Realtors Foundation was born in 2019. This non-profit foundation is looking to support members of the Twin Cities community who need safe housing. “Fazendin has a long history of giving back to the community,” says Andy Fazendin, President of Fazendin Realtors. “This foundation allows us to give back in a more organized way and to raise awareness and funds more easily.” One of the ways that the foundation is collecting funds is through their realtors. “It is great because our realtors have the option to donate a portion of their sales costs to the foundation on behalf of their clients, and many of them have,” says Andy. “The clients were finding donations made on their behalf to be exciting, and then they, in turn, began making their own donations.”
The foundation is raising awareness in the community and getting to its financial goal so they can begin dispersing funds to local community organizations with missions focused on providing those in need with safe and stable housing. The foundation held its first public fundraiser in October. “We are excited to build up awareness of the foundation and to get the community involved,” says Andy.
Visit fazhomes.com to learn more about the mission of the foundation and information on the grant application process for non-profit organizations. Additionally, Fazendin Realtors engages in other initiatives throughout the community, such as Housing for Heroes, a program that recognizes first responders as they purchase or sell a home by offering financial incentives.
*Top photo: Foundation Board (Left to Right): Sue Hewitson, Sarah Pfeffer, Caryn Jakucki, R. Andy Fazendin, Lynn Fazendin, Grace Fleming, Debra Rudy, Jill Amundson. Board members not pictured: Dan Fazendin, Elizabeth Fazendin
*Bottom photo: Foundation Agents (Left to Right): Back Row: Sarah Pfeffer, Sue Hewitson, R. Andy Fazendin, Dick Willis, Todd Urbanski, James Paddon, Colin Simpson, Tim McIntosh, Jill Amundson Second Row: Debra Rudy, Emily Leach, Jana Lowenstein, Lynn Fazendin, Marla Jean Alstead, Caryn Jakucki, Laurie Bremer, Marilyn Richter, Brenda Dickhut Front Row (couch): Sarah Showalter, Grace Fleming, Mary Munsterteiger Contributing board members/agents not pictured: Dan Fazendin, Elizabeth Fazendin, Jerry Alstead, Jan Anderson, Carey Willis Crowell, Jerome D’Alessandro, Tara Engebretson, Val Fazendin, Heather Grant, Lynn Groll, Laura Randall, Susan Rowland, Sandra Russen, Julie Sheehy, Pam Sheehan, Carrie Swanson
The Vine Room
It was when Ali Hanson moved to a small beach town in California after graduating college that she had the experience of falling in love with wine. “I was never really a wine drinker before,” laughs Ali. “But I was surrounded by wine. There were so many wine tasting rooms, and on weekends, my husband and I would visit local wineries and have firsthand experience of the love and everything that goes into creating this beverage.”
When Ali returned home to Minnesota in 2018, she brought a slice of Santa Barbara back to the Midwest and opened The Vine Room in Hopkins.
“The world of wine can be intimidating,” says Ali. “I wanted to make wine fun and approachable, debunking the dark, moody wine bar and instead create a bright and welcoming space for the community to gather. We have regular live music, workshops, classes at The Vine Room, and a cool wine club through our bottle shop next door, The Vine Shop."
Community is central to The Vine Room. In developing her business plan, Ali created the Cause of the Month Program. “From day one, I wanted to give back to the community and contribute as much as possible as a small business. Each month, our program highlights one awesome nonprofit in our local community where we share marketing and donate a portion of our proceeds to the organization,” explains Ali. Ali and her team will also host great events, working with partners like ResourceWest to put on a winter coat drive or helping Pet Haven and Secondhand Hounds with a cuddle a kitty or puppy event.
“We also wanted sustainable practices from both a wine and operations perspective. We source sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines from wineries using mindful practices and as much local and organic food and produce as possible. On the operations side, one of my first missions was to work with property management to implement a recycling program. For a while, we were recycling all the wine bottles and cases in our home recycling. I think our recycling collector had some questions,” laughs Ali. The Vine Room is also a community collection spot for wine corks. “Drop off your corks with us, and our partner Ridwell will facilitate their processing into other products.”
“Our motto is happy people, great vibes, and great wine,” says Ali. “We want to share that experience with as many people as possible.” Ali and her team have reached a milestone supporting their 50th cause! Learn more: www.vinewineco.com
Excelsior Brewing Co.
“When Excelsior Brewing Co. was founded in 2012, the owners Patrick Foss, John Klick, and Jon Lewin made it a mission to provide a quality product, be the go-to social hub in town, and especially, to give back to the community,” shares Tony Filippi, taproom business manager. “For the past 11 years, we’re thrilled to say we’ve been successful and grateful to partner with great local organizations and fundraising efforts.”
The brewery gives back in every way they can. Excelsior Brewing is one of the main sponsors of the Klondike Dog Derby, an Excelsior staple. “We wanted to be there from the beginning to support such a great community event, and we have built great partnerships with the Excelsior, Lake Minnetonka, and Wayzata Chambers as well as with the Excelsior Lions Club and Rotary club, supporting them in all their efforts to give back to the community,” says Tony.
Most recently, Excelsior Brewing put on a fundraising event for the wildfire in Maui and also partnered with 13 Folds, creating a limited beer series available in their taproom to support Folds for Honor, a non-profit that gives scholarships to families of fallen or disabled military members. “We created a Veterans Blend Double IPA and 13 Folds Light Lager to help raise awareness,” says Tony.
You’ll also see their impact in the Minnetonka School District. Excelsior Brewing does a lot of work with the boosters and fundraising efforts, including supporting the school’s athletic programs. Kids could also dress their best with the brewery’s Donate a Prom Dress drive for the Plymouth Youth Center. “We gave a free pint card to anyone willing to donate a dress to help those who couldn’t get theirs. We ended up getting over 70 dresses. We really have an open door and will help support anyone we can.”
Kid-friendly, pet-friendly, live music, endless events, and, of course, delicious beer make Excelsior Brewing truly the central and social hub of the community.
“We’re really blessed to have a community that supports us and has supported us since day one,” says Tony. “We’re proud of our community, our city, and schools and of being in a position where we can help, supporting all the different aspects of what makes this community great. Our mission is always to give back.” https://www.excelsiorbrew.com/
“Everything we do, we approach with a sense of gratitude, and we’re reminded every day of what it takes to make this mission work.”
“After getting the diagnosis, we had several organizations reach out to help us, and that was the moment I knew we should try to help end cancer and help those going through it.”
“From day one, I wanted to give back to the community and contribute as much as possible as a small business."