Photo courtesy of sotastick co.
What’s more Minnesotan than beer and hockey? Not much, according to Landon Johnson.
Minnesota hockey lovers and husband-and-wife business team Landon and Sarah Johnson are the owners of SotaStick Co., a Minnesota sports-themed apparel and lifestyle brand based in Minneapolis. Going on a year in operation, the line of state-pride clothing and paraphernalia all started with a uniquely Minnesotan solution to a stereotypical Minnesota problem.
Back in 2015, Landon and a friend were goofing off in his garage—with a case of beer, of course, that came with a bottle opener made from part of a hockey stick. Figuring they could make their own, they took a broken stick remnant they already had lying around, and, into one end of that piece of wood, hammered a nail. It worked, and from there, the Johnsons opened SotaStick Co. (a mashup of “Minnesota” and “hockey stick”). The concept is simple: six-inch pieces are cut from the long shafts of wooden hockey sticks, with a nail in one end to open the bottle and a loop of skate lace on the other so that your mid-game beer run stays true to the spirit of hockey. At first, Sarah, who works for a Minneapolis design firm, says the business was more of a hobby for Landon, but “with his hard work and vision, it’s been cool to see him grow.”
Landon (who currently works in market research) says he never expected the business to take off, but the bottle opener idea stuck. He made more as bachelor-party favors for his friends, then for an online Etsy shop. Before long, he started selling clothing with the SotaStick logo. The idea for a full apparel brand was born when he met local designer Jason Brauer at a hockey tournament. Combining Landon’s ideas with Brauer’s design skills, their “Northern Enforcer” clothing line now features Minnesota icons, including Paul Bunyan holding a hockey stick and a “Long live the Met” shirt remembering the iconic Metrodome.
Landon and Sarah sell most of their Minnesota hockey-, baseball-, and football-themed clothing—along with, of course, the bottle openers—on their online store. But SotaStick has also become a regular at hockey tournaments and beer festivals. Their designs are available in about 15 stores throughout Minnesota and North Dakota, including Fan HQ in Eden Prairie and the General Store of Minnetonka.
Why has the start-up been so successful? “People love Minnesota apparel right now,” Landon says. And it’s true—gift shops throughout the state offer Minnesota-shaped coasters, candles, anything you can think of. It’s not uncommon to spot someone with a tattoo of the state’s outline.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Johnson/SotaStick Co.
True to that tender sense of state pride, other SotaStick designs, hand-illustrated, commemorate special events in Minnesota sports history, striving to capture those emotional moments instead of recreating generic team jerseys. One shirt, for example, features a triumphant hockey player wearing a uniform from the American 1980 gold-medal Olympic team; another shows a baseball player sliding into base, a reference to the Twins’ World Series win in 1991.
Aiming for that stereotypical demographic of “beer-drinking sports fans,” SotaStick also sells what they call “man-cave artwork,” so customers can hang their designs on the walls of any bar, basement, or garage. In November, Landon and Sarah will partner with Summit Brewery to put the designs on stadium cups that will circulate in Minnesota bars. In January, they’ve been chosen for the Minnesota Wild’s Made in MN series, a program that every month offers up merchandise from a different local business for each hockey ticket sold (SotaStick’s game is January 4). The brand will begin selling the signature bottle openers with Summit Brewery’s logo on them, too—Landon still making all of the openers by hand in his woodshop.
For SotaStick, the phrase “Here, hold my beer,” seems to be paying off.