Uncorking Possibility: River Bend Winery & Distillery
how Security Financial Bank helped a small business find success
There are a couple of things that automatically come to mind when folks think of the Chippewa Valley: cheese, our beautiful scenery, and the special kind of community that puts the Midwest above the rest. We’re talkin’ the kind of community that feels like one big family, and that’s something River Bend Winery & Distillery specializes in: bringing together the community – and wine and liquor, of course.
River Bend has been a part of the Chippewa Valley for decades, first planting its roots in Chippewa Falls back in 2009, and in 2022, a new family was handed the reins. Sara and Mike Antonson alongside their daughter, Andrea, and her husband Jake Fleishauer, have spent more than a year learning from the previous owners, nailing down the winemaking and distilling process to the finest detail, and refreshing the River Bend space. So, how did they do it?
The family was regulars at River Bend, frequently gathering to catch up and spend time together, and noticed the business was for sale. Sara recalled one of these hangouts at River Bend, the family talking about event venues and how beautiful the winery was. “We knew the winery was for sale and we all thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a dream?’ ”
“We knew the winery was for sale and we all thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a dream?’ ”
One year later, the family was sitting at the winery once again, the business still for sale. By that time, Sara and Mike had retired, and that for-sale sign meant something different this time around: a new dream to chase.
“We thought, ‘What if we tried? What if we bought a business and we did it, together?’ ” Sara said. “A family business: we can teach future generations about hard work and working together as a family.”
After meetings with the previous owners, looking into projections, finances, and all the bells and whistles that lead up to officially buying and owning a business, the Antonson and Fleishauer family realized this new dream was not a fantasy – it was attainable.
Between the four family members, they brought in a unique array of backgrounds and talents. Plus, they were longtime customers of the winery, truly appreciating the craftsmanship that brought River Bend through the decades.
When it was time to shine light on the nooks and crannies of buying and running a business, one thing was certain: they needed support from a financial institution, and not just monetarily, but true, heart-to-heart support. That’s where Security Financial Bank (SFB) stepped in “SFB is what made this work. They believed in us right from the start,” Sara said. “We told them our story, our business plan, and the biggest thing is that they believe in us. We consider our SFB partner to be part of the family.”
Jacob Bauer, a commercial lender at Security Financial Bank, initially met with the family members and was able to identify immediately that they needed a financial institution that was willing to think outside the box – and SFB was the perfect place to do just that.
SFB is a local financial institution with its corporate offices right here in the Chippewa Valley. Working predominantly with local businesses and ag producers, SFB lenders specialize in tailoring solutions to meet the unique financial needs of area businesses.
“The biggest thing for me when meeting with someone for the first time is I want to hear their story. I want to hear where they come from and where they are trying to go,” Jacob said. “Then I can show where SFB fits in, and how we can help them get to where they want to go.”
Andrea explained how it has always felt like more of a true relationship with SFB rather than a business transaction, something especially important to a family business. “My favorite part about working with SFB is they got to know who we are as people, and that goes right into the family side of things,” she explained. “They knew I had three children and one on the way at the time. They came out to the family house. They met our dogs. They really got to know us.”
WE'RE NOT A LENDER WHERE YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO FIT INTO A BOX; WE'RE CREATIVE THINKERS.
SECURITY FINANCIAL BANK LENDER
Acknowledging businesses like River Bend are a key part in the area’s tourism and local culture, Jacob and SFB make sure to customize their customer service to fit each unique client.
“When we say we’re going to do something, we do it,” Jacob said. “We’re not a lender where you feel you have to fit into a box; we’re creative thinkers.”
With the backing of a local bank, the family spent countless hours learning, researching, and getting the hands-on experience they knew was crucial to maintaining and improving upon the River Bend experience.
“They made this process feel easy,” Sara said. “But don’t misunderstand; Buying and running a business is not easy, but they literally walked with us through every step.”
The previous owners were consultants for the family for months, detailing how each piece of equipment worked, how to properly care for the vineyard, and how to maintain top-notch quality.
Keeping the tried-and-true, beloved wine that River Bend is known, the family got to work renovating the winery. Updates include repainting the interior, adding seating to the lounge area near the fireplace, and creating a special room to enjoy the distilled liquor and specialty cocktails. There was no detail left undone, and now, River Bend is prepped and primed to welcome new elements, like live music, locally-made products, vendor events, and more.
“What's important to us is family, local partnerships, and bringing the community together here."
“We want to truly be part of the community here. We want to partner with local businesses and artists, and welcome people into our family,” Andrea explained.
As for the 15-acre winery and the family-first owners, they’re ready to uncork a new era of River Bend.
“What’s important to us is family, local partnerships, and bringing the community together here,” Sara said.
Contact Security Financial Bank to step up a meeting to chat about your own business dreams. Give the team a call at (715) 833-7685 or visit www.sfbank.com or an SFB office in Eau Claire, Bloomer, Durand, Black River Falls, Ladysmith, or River Falls. Member FDIC.