Journeys: Running Twin Cities Oktoberfest

The State Fairgrounds is filled with cheers and beers Oct. 5 and 6

Twin Cities Oktoberfest. Courtesy Michael Herrem Photography.
Co-owners Ryan Brown and Chip Meyer stand in the foreground amid the happy crowd that came for Oktoberfest in 2017.

Photo by Michael Herrem Photography

This may be Ryan Brown’s second year co-owning Twin Cities Oktoberfest with his friend Chip Meyer, but he’s certainly not unfamiliar with the event. Brown has been with the festival from the very beginning, so setting up at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds this Oct. 5 and 6 is like getting ready for an old friend to visit. Last year, 3,800 people visited, a new record for the festival, so if the pattern continues, this year will be even bigger.

As is tradition at any Oktoberfest, delicious foods from places like Frau Debenschlager, Sara’s Tipsy Pies, Anoka Meat and Sausage, and Cindy’s Cinnamon Roasted Almonds will be there. If you’re wanting to deviate from beer a bit, Stronbow Cider and Northern Vineyards Winery have you covered, too. In a break from tradition, the kick-off band on Friday is going to be Doctor Kielbasa (but don’t worry—Brown vouches for their talent). Other entertainment includes traditional dancers S.G. Edelweiss from St. Paul, so if you have ever wanted an excuse to wear a dirndl or lederhosen on the dance floor, Saturday, Oct. 6, is your chance.

Before Twin Cities Oktoberfest enters its last few hours of preparation, we called up Brown to talk a little about how the festival has evolved. 

“The previous owner, Hank Hanten, owns a state fair booth [45-year-old Shanghaied Henri’s, a beer and taco booth], and he started up Twin Cities Oktoberfest. This will be the ninth year, so he started it nine years ago, and he sold it to Chip [Meyer] and myself last year. This is our second year owning it now, but I’ve worked for Hank at the state fair for almost 25 years and worked every year at Oktoberfest, so it’s funny how it worked out. 

“I don’t want to brag, but I can do this event in my sleep when I’m there. It’s like clockwork. The biggest change from managing to owning is the paperwork, the responsibility of lining up vendors, lining up the bands, the beer, so there’s a lot that goes into that. Most of it is done via email and phone, so of course it’s not like it’s 40 hours a week doing it, but that’s the biggest transition—going from, like the fair, just walking away at the end of the day to here, where the next day you have payroll, taxes, you have to start looking at invoices and everything else. 

“I think the biggest change in the whole event itself, is it’s becoming more … It’s hard to say authentic because Munich is one thing, a huge event, Ours is pretty big, and still, it is becoming more authentic with more authentic foods and added carnival rides—well not rides. Carnival games. We did carnival rides on time five years ago, but it was too cold. It can be 35 degrees in October here. Anyway, the biggest change is that we have become a little more authentic and true to the Oktoberfest over in Germany.

“I really enjoy seeing the people have fun. To be honest with you, I’m really busy, so I don’t get a lot of time to enjoy it myself. [The timing of Twin Cities Oktoberfest is also why he hasn’t been able to go to Munich’s celebration.] But it’s fun seeing people dance; seeing people, you know, say cheers, basically; seeing people having a good time, and talking amongst each other. It’s really enjoyable to watch that, and that’s what I would say is my favorite part of it. A lot of people have fun. They drink, of course, because what we sell is beer, but it’s really a good time event.”

Interested in hitting up multiple Oktoberfests?

“This year I’ll actually be checking out SurlyFest [Oct. 13], which is less of an Oktoberfest and more of a concert, so their version of Oktoberfest, but all Surly,” Brown says. “I’ve been to New Ulm in the past [Oct. 5-6, 12-13], which was pretty interesting since it has two different ones downtown and at the brewery. The brewery’s event is the one I went to, and it’s on a hillside behind the brewery. I’ve also been to the one in Northeast in Gasthoff [through Oct. 13] a few times. Ours has the big building with a side tent outside as well, and that’s what you think of as Oktoberfest. Beer is different at all of them, too. At the New Ulm they just sell Schell’s, and at the bars around here, it’s all sorts of different ones. Ours is Summit.”

This interview has been edited for style, length, and clarity.