Dustin Koch

Chairman / Co-Founder

Born in Rockford, Dustin Koch attended Garrison School, Walker School, Eisenhower Middle School and Guilford High School. He met Prairie Street Brewing Co. Co-Founder and CEO Chris Manuel when he was about five years old.

“I was sledding one day on my parents’ driveway and this other kid stopped by and watched me. He walked over after awhile and asked if we could play together,” said Koch. “That was Chris and that was the beginning of a friendship that has never wavered since that day. We haven’t always been in each other’s orbit, but we’ve been close.”

After high school, Koch attended Rock Valley College and eventually the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where he studied architecture. Between stints at Rock Valley and the University of Wisconsin, he purchased and managed apartment buildings and other rentals. In his capacity as a property manager and developer, he developed hand and tool skills that would serve him well in the future at Prairie Street Brewing Co.

Koch met Reed Sjostrom, Prairie Street Brewing Co. Co-Founder and Brewery Director, at Eisenhower Middle School. But, they didn’t become good friends until each had returned to Rockford after college.

“Reed was looking for someone to go rock climbing with, and I guess he thought I’d be crazy enough to do that with him,” said Koch.

“We climbed together for over ten years. Went all over the place. Eventually, Reed started getting more and more aggressive with his lines and techniques and I started getting more and more nervous,” he said, with a grin. “Reed’s still climbing and I’d say I’m retired from the sport.”

It was Koch’s parents, Lloyd and Diane, who had a vision to restore Jonathan Peacock’s once-glorious old brewing building on the Rock River’s shore, which had fallen into terrible disrepair.

“In their imaginations, they just saw our building the way it could be – beautiful and restored – not the way it was – crumbling to the ground. It wasn’t a great business decision, necessarily. But, it was a great decision of the heart. They wanted to do something special for Rockford because they love this city. They wanted to ‘give back.’ I think they chose very well,” he said.

Interestingly, the couple’s decision to purchase and restore the old building was made before Koch, Sjostrom and Manuel decided to build a brewery and become anchor tenants. Once that decision was made, Koch launched into a frenzy of design and craftsmanship to help give the building and the brewery character. He designed two of the loft condos, the penthouse, all the bars in the buildings, most of the furniture and quite a lot of the lighting.

“If you look closely at our furniture, you’ll see it’s mostly hand crafted of reclaimed timber,” said Koch. “I used almost exclusively wood that Jonathan Peacock had in his original brewery for tables, chairs, bar tops and other elements.”

Koch, who loves Rockford but also loves to travel, says traveling gives him perspective.

“You learn to be more tolerant of other people. You learn to love being home, and maybe you become a little more likely to see all the good things your hometown has to offer,” he said. “Reed, Chris and I are really fortunate to be in a position to deliver something like Prairie Street Brewing Co. to the people of Rockford. We wanted to be a part of making our city even better. We absolutely love it here.”

Koch, who is a low handicap golfer and expert sailor, was married in 2017. He and his wife Alexandra are expecting their first child in October.

“It’s funny,” he mused. “When we started this project, I felt really young. I feel like I grew up a lot over these past years. I’m definitely ready now for fatherhood. I can’t wait to share the world with our child. It’s going to be a whole new adventure.”

Chairman / Co-Founder

Chris Manuel

CEO / Co-Founder

A graduate of St Peter’s grade school and Boylan Central High School, Prairie Street Brewing Co. CEO Chris Manuel eventually enrolled in the National Outdoor Leadership school at the University of Utah. His life took a odd turn upon graduation.

“I flew down to Arizona to play golf with an old friend. A guy I’d never met before was in our foursome and after the round, he offered me an opportunity to be certified in electro neurodiagnostics and go to work for him,” said Manuel. “He said it was a growing field and he needed good people. I jumped at the opportunity. I trained in Mesa, Arizona, and, before I knew it, I was traveling non-stop doing electro neurodiagnostic testing of patients all over the country.”

“It was a very rewarding way to make a living, but eventually, I got the urge to settle down,” he said.

During a short hiatus from the field, Manuel launched CMM Associates, a construction company he still operates to this day. For a brief period of time, he lived dual lives: at home leading the fledgling construction business and on the road conducting neurodiagnostic tests.

“It just got to be too much,” he said. “It was really hard on me and Kelly, so in 2012 I made the decision to fully commit to Rockford and CMM Associates. It was during that time Kelly and I decided to get married, too. We really wanted to have a family.”

“I’m disciplined about spending time with them,” he said. “I like to surround myself with people who are smarter than me and in some cases older than me. I know too many successful people who say they really regret not spending enough time with their kids. I don’t want to feel that way down the road. Kelly and I have been together since high school. We want to be the best parents we can to our two, six and four-year-olds.”

Manuel’s presence at home – and proximity to his longtime best friends Reed Sjostrom and Dustin Koch – led to a few late-night conversations about building a brewery together. They arranged a visit with the owners of Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. in Madison, and … “By the time we got back in the car, we decided we were going to make our brewery in the building Dustin’s parents were renovating at 200 Prairie Street in downtown Rockford,” said Manuel. “There was not a doubt in any of our minds.”

“I hope people see Prairie Street Brewing Co. the way I see it. It’s a sort of refuge and focal point for us all in a city I love, in the best part of that city and I am lucky to be in a role where I help people have fun, get together, get married, and just relax. It’s a place where we can all gather and be, like we say, ‘birds of a feather.’”

Manuel enjoys boating, swimming, going for hikes and just being with his family. When he has time, he plays a round of golf with his friends.

CEO / Co-Founder

Reed Sjostrom

Brewery Director / Co-Founder

Rockford native Reed Sjostrom attended Carlson Grade School, Eisenhower Middle School, Guilford High School, Rock Valley College, North Central College and Northern Illinois University, from which he graduated with a degree in Geography with an emphasis on Environmental Sciences.

“The environmental sciences classes probably influenced my life the most,” said Sjostrom. “Here in the United States, I think we are pretty poor stewards of our land, air and waterways. We need to work on that. I try to keep the health of our environment in mind as I live my day-to-day life – and in my business life at Prairie Street Brewing Co., as well. We do everything we can to minimize our collective carbon footprint.”

Sjostrom serves as Head Brewery Director at Prairie Street Brewing Co. and relishes his ability to influence, along with Head Brewer Steve Lenox and his team, the carefully hand-crafted ales and lagers Prairie Street Brewing Co has become known for.

“I’ve been privileged to travel a lot and I love bringing back ideas for flavor combinations and possible recipes for us to explore in the brewery,” he said. “We have our popular staples and that’s a big part of what makes us successful, but we also like introducing new brews and flavor profiles as often as possible.”

Sjostrom lives in a loft above the brewery.

“I live upstairs here at Prairie Street Brewing Co, so in one sense, I never get a chance to ‘go home,’” he said. “But on the flip side, this is my home – and I love it. I love what we do here, and I love the people I work with. I’m proud of what we do and the experiences we offer people from the area as well as visitors from far and wide. It’s great to see people from all over and all walks of life having fun in a business Dustin, Chris and I dreamed of building together.”

Sjostrom’s faithful sidekick is a big, gentle “brown dog,” he rescued years ago (pictured in the Beer section of this website with a can of Berry River Roll).

“I’m not really sure who rescued who, but Tupelo has been by my side since 2005.” She has climbed mountains over 12,000 feet with me, explored countless trails and riversides and loves a good road trip. You’ll often see her around the building before or after business hours always keeping morale high. “I think she loves living where I work, too,” he said with a smile.

Climbing is Sjostrom’s favorite away-from-work passion and you will find him on a climbing wall or rock face whenever he has the opportunity.

“I love being outside. I love seeing what’s around the next corner. I love meeting new people who do the same things and appreciate just being in our natural world.”

Brewery Director / Co-Founder