Giving New Life To Old Businesses
Matt Schnoor Invests in Marshall
When Matt Schnoor moved to Marshall in 1990, he admits he didn’t know what direction he was heading. He was 20 years old, living in New York, when he was recruited to play basketball at SSU, what is now Southwest Minnesota State University.
Standing at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Schnoor started his career in hospitality more humbly than most, working as a bouncer at the local gentlemen’s club. He continued to work his way up to server, then bartender, and eventually became the manager. “It was a tremendous learning experience in terms of responsibility,” Schnoor explained. “Each position played a role in my future business endeavors.”
Now, 30 years later, Schnoor owns several businesses throughout the region and is proud to call Marshall home. “Marshall has been a special place for me,” Schnoor said. “It has presented me with opportunities, both professionally and personally, that I never imagined I’d find.”
Schnoor has made his career in giving new life to businesses that are struggling. Since 1997, Schnoor, along with his partners, has purchased and renovated five regional restaurants: the Lyndwood Lounge and Ballroom in Lynd, Varsity Pub/Extra Innings and Wooden Nickel in Marshall, Woody’s in Wood Lake, and Pizza Ranch in Willmar. In addition, they built a new Pizza Ranch in Marshall from the ground up, and own several commercial and residential properties.
“I have always considered my niche in the business arena as being able to identify, stabilize, and eventually revive struggling businesses and real estate opportunities,” Schnoor explained.
In 1997, Schnoor and his partner, Kevin Niemann, made their first major purchase, buying the Lyndwood in nearby Lynd. The duo quickly learned that the venue had its limitations but used the investment opportunity to work towards their goal of getting back to Marshall. “Despite its challenge, I appreciate everything I was able to learn,” Schnoor said. “It was by far the most impactful experience I’ve had in the industry.”
After selling the Lyndwood, Schnoor and Niemann purchased Rumours Bar in the heart of downtown Marshall and started renovation work on what is now the Varsity Pub and Extra Innings. Now, 21 years later, the “Pub” has become the cornerstone of their business holdings and a staple of Marshall’s dining scene. The restaurant’s specialty Panino, a unique rolled sandwich made on a delicious homemade flatbread, is known around the region. But Schnoor and his partners didn’t stop there.
In 2006, Schnoor purchased the Wood Lake Municipal Liquor Store and transformed it into a successful small-town watering hole, known as Woody’s. He has since sold that establishment to his business partner, Kelly Timm.
From there the group built their first “new” restaurant, the Marshall Pizza Ranch. “This was our first big move that involved bank financing, location selection, and construction of a facility,” Schnoor said. “That experience was quite different from what we had done previously, but was worth the investment.”
Then in 2013, four days after the birth of Schnoor’s daughter, the partners bought the struggling but iconic Wooden Nickel Saloon. With help from restaurant manager and partner Tim Clausen, the team slowly brought the restaurant back to life and in the black for the first time in years. The business’ success allowed for the group to purchase Marshall’s American Legion, which will be co-branded into the Wooden Nickel operations.
Although not always easy, Schnoor and his team have helped keep the hospitality industry thriving not only in Marshall but around the region. His vision for revitalization and commitment to the community can be seen in the neon on lights of main street Marshall.
Ice on the Prairie
Voted “Best Hockey Rink” by WCCO in 2016, the Red Baron Arena & Expo isn’t what you’d expect to see on the prairie.
The 78,000-square-foot facility features two indoor ice sheets, 10 locker rooms, two meeting rooms, a club room, a 26-by-14-foot video screen, and a capacity to seat 1,400 spectators. The main rink also transforms from an ice arena in the winter to an indoor convention and sports center in the summer.
From October to March, the Red Baron hosts thousands of hockey players from across the Midwest with players as young as 4 years old. For the remainder of the year, the arena is home to a wide range of events, including community fundraisers, weddings and trade shows.
The rink, with the support of the Marshall Amateur Hockey Association, has made the sport of hockey explode in southwest Minnesota. In the past five years, MAHA’s numbers have more than doubled across a majority of the age groups.
It also caught the attention of the Minnesota Wild, playing host to both the Little Wild Learn To Play Camp and the Youth Hockey Spotlight Game. The multiuse arena and expo center not only boosted Marshall’s hockey status, but it is also a strong sales tax generator for the city. Not only did it drive visitors into the community, but increased food, beverage, and lodging tax for several years before the COVID shutdowns.
Since opening in 2014, the arena, along with the continued growth in the community, has played a role in bringing new development to Marshall, including Ashley Furniture, Hobby Lobby, and Aldi.
Although restrictions are still in place at the arena, due to the pandemic, the Red Baron is learning how to adapt to its “new normal.”
In fact, the facility was able to capitalize on travel restrictions that threatened the season of a North American Hockey League team 47 hours away. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs have been calling the Red Baron Arena home for the first portion of their season.
This opportunity not only allowed Marshall to bring events back to the arena, but to test the waters for what a new level of hockey could be at the Red Baron Arena & Expo in the future.
Strength in Partnership
In southwest Minnesota, agriculture creates the cultural and economic foundation for the region. This is evident not only in the fields that surround Marshall, but in the businesses headquartered within the city, including Ralco Nutrition.
So, when Southwest Minnesota State University sought opportunities to promote the university’s agronomy program in 2006, Ralco was happy to lend a hand.
The concept pitched by the SMSU athletics department was a day dedicated to celebrating agriculture and the local food industry during a Mustang football game, known simply as the Ag Bowl.
The vision behind Ag Bowl was to bring students on campus and build SMSU’s reputation as an agriculture-centered university. The event is an opportunity for potential students and the community to engage with ag-focused games, activities, and foods.
“At the time, Ralco did not have an agronomy-related business,” Ralco President Brian Knochenmus said. “But what compelled us to get involved was the university’s energy around the agronomy program and their desire to keep our agriculture students in the area.”
From its inception in 2007, Ralco has served as the title sponsor for the Ag Bowl. However, Ralco had a long-term vision to bring the event to the next level, leading to the incorporation of an offsetting FFA competition as part of the Ag Bowl outreach.
Seven years later, what started as a celebration of agriculture, the Ag Bowl Scholarship Invitational has blossomed into one of SMSU’s largest recruiting days.
The Invitational is a day of competition and learning opportunities for FFA students at SMSU. Students can compete against fellow FFA participants in hopes of earning a scholarship to the university. High-scoring schools are also able to win monetary prizes for their FFA chapters, helping enhance programming. Competitions are judged by local ag industry leaders and community members, providing valuable feedback to students to help them grow in their skills and talents.
The Invitational has grown from roughly five schools competing in six different skill competitions in the inaugural event in 2013, to nearly 600 students on campus with upwards of 20 different competition categories in 2020.
“The event gives students the chance to not only compete, but to experience SMSU, connect with faculty, and discover future employment options,” Knochenmus said.
In addition to Ag Bowl, Ralco continues to develop collaborations with SMSU, creating hands-on experiences for the students. This includes providing students agronomy internships working with the company’s Agnition business, and laboratory internships through SMSU’s biology and chemistry departments.
Ralco recently purchased a 17-acre farm north of Marshall that will be the future home of Ralco’s innovation and research initiatives and will showcase many of its technologies. This Farm sits adjacent to cropland that is owned by the SMSU foundation and is used for small plot research trials. The long-term vision is to include the farm into the university’s curriculum.
“The opportunity for students will be pretty incredible,” Knochenmus said. “They get to use their learning life to work on projects that will truly make a difference.”
This research farm will provide a true win-win situation for both Ralco and SMSU. It can serve as an excellent example of how industry and education can collaborate to provide real-world applications in the development of experienced and well-prepared leaders and professionals for the agriculture industry.
Cultivating Together – Six Feet Apart
“Social distancing” was a popular phrase in 2020.
But in the tight-knit community of Marshall, residents don’t need to stand side by side to show their support for local businesses. So, when the executive orders issued in March forced businesses to close their doors, Marshall rallied.
It started with a simple T-shirt fundraiser hosted by a locally owned promotional company, AP Design. The #HereForGoodMN fundraiser allowed residents to purchase T-shirts from their favorite establishments and for every shirt sold, $10 went back to the business. By the time the campaign wrapped, AP Design had raised $36,000 for 100 businesses across the state.
These collaborative efforts continued to pop up around the community.
When restaurants were closed, the local Hy-Vee invited restaurants to sell premade meals in the store. Lockwood Motors, State Farm Insurance, and other businesses supplied meals to frontline workers. And the local chamber of commerce hosted a gift card rally that raised $50,000 for businesses throughout the community.
But the tradition of collaboration in Marshall started long before the pandemic hit.
It is not uncommon to stroll through the retail shops of Marshall and see local products on the shelves. The Marshall downtown district–Coco Avenue, Tattle Tales, Noble Woman, Treasured Times, and Columbia Imports–all sell products from local vendors ranging from baby blankets to baby back ribs.
You can also stop by the Varsity Pub & Extra Innings or Brau Brothers Brewery for meals from local meat producers or have a beer inspired by the city’s recent branding efforts, Cultivate Pale Ale.
At ACE Hardware, you can purchase fresh baked goods from Kornerstone Bakery in Canby, and during the winter months grab lunch from the local hotdog stand, Frankie’s Hot Dogs, right inside the store.
Action Manufacturing, the creators of the Action Trackchair and other mobility products, has also prided itself on creating local partnerships. This includes having all of their seat covers custom made at Tiger Tough out of Vesta. They have partnered with trū Shrimp, an aquaculture company based in Balaton, to create custom shrimp feeders for their “harbors.”
In Marshall, the culture of cultivating the best in community, growth, and each other is demonstrated daily.