Tonja Clay is the Imminent owner on the down low. She’s the marketing director and the head of merchandising. She’s the person who designed our highly regarded – even beloved – logo. Any time you see anyone wearing one of our hats or sweatshirts or t-shirts, or playing disc golf with one of our discs, Tonja is the person responsible for that. Let’s not mince words, here: Tonja’s done a great job. However, unlike the other three owners, you don’t see Tonja in the taproom very often. She works behind the scenes, quietly doing her job away from the spotlight that the rest of the Imminent staff tends to bask in.
“I like it that way,” she said. "It suits my personality."
It’s a Minnesota thing.
Tonja is the one true Northfield “Townie” of the Imminent ownership trust. She was born and raised here, graduating from Northfield High School and St. Olaf College, after a brief detour through Bethel College. “Bethel wasn’t quite for me,” she said. “I enjoyed dancing and socializing. Those things.”
She also enjoyed art. Not necessarily visiting museums and looking at things other people had done, but in the creative end of things.
“I was always drawing. I like color. I like to picture things spatially.”
So she graduated from St. Olaf with a degree in Studio Art, but wasn’t ready to go get a "real" job. Instead, she decided that she needed a change of scenery. One of her cousins was headed out to Colorado to work at a ski resort, and she made the fateful decision to go too. That’s where she met another server, ski bum and world-class beer fan named Randy Clay.
(There are some great stories that Randy tells about their time together in Colorado, but you’ll have to ask him or Tonja about them. This is not a romance blog, people.)
After a while, she decided that it was probably time to look into this whole adulting thing. After looking around for a while, she was offered a job by a graphic artist in Savage who told her he would be willing to train her while she worked. It was an offer she couldn’t pass up.
“I kind of knew I was going to go into graphic design, because I’d taken a couple of classes and that was just the stuff I loved the most. But I never went back to school to learn graphic design, so this was a chance to learn on the job. I really needed more training, and he was willing to do that.
“So I just told Randy, ‘This is what I need to do. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but I need to do this.’ We weren’t engaged yet, but he thought about and decided to come back with me.”
I think we would all agree that Randy Clay is a very wise man.
It wasn’t too long before Tonja and Randy did tie the knot and put down roots (including four kids) in Northfield, but there's more to this story than just that happy ending. Keep in mind, this was the early 90’s. Craft beer had become a thing in the Western United States, but the concept of the IPA had not quite made it to Minnesota. Tonja, knowing her man would have some real trouble adjusting to the Bud Lite culture of Minnesota, found a solution.
“There was a guy in town selling beer brewing starter kits,” she said. “He sold them off his front porch. And, knowing that there was a big difference between the craft beer things happening in Colorado and the Bud Lite culture that was here, I bought one for Randy. I thought if he couldn’t get Fat Tire beer here, maybe he could make it.”
“It snowballed from there.”
Give her credit. Not only did she create the logo, she essentially created Imminent Brewing's key feature - great beer - by putting the proper tools in Randy’s hands.
So, yes, she prefers to remain behind the scenes, but her contributions to Imminent Brewing are immeasurable.
“We receive so many compliments over and over again,” said Laura Meyers, another of the ownership group and the front-of-house manager, “and one of the most common is about Tonja's work. The logo, the merchandise, the design of everything.
“We’d be a very different company without her.”