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 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.”