Pointless Brewery and Theatre didn’t open last summer when Tori and Jason Tomalia originally announced it would. She has stage-four lung cancer, and they have three young children (Zander, seven, and twins Autumn and Mikaela, four). Opening a new brewpub or a comedy improv club would tax any young couple in those circumstances, and they were combining both ventures into something for which there is no template. “Our model doesn’t exist. We’re the first brewery and improv theater in the country!” much less the state, says Jason, sitting down one night after the Friday night improv show (see Events, February 5).
The name Pointless, in fact, might suggest to some that they didn’t really expect to succeed at all–but, except for being slightly late, the project has been remarkably goal oriented. In late December, after they raised a few grand in excess of their $50,000 Kickstarter request, Pointless arrived pretty much as their original business plan outlined it, which Jason largely attributes to Tori: “She’s focused, organized, always searching for best practices.”
Jason, who began hobby brewing in 2008, brews the beer. Though a stout and porter lover himself, he’s starting with lighter ales that will be friendlier to people used to mass-produced American-style beers.
The brewpub license allows them to sell packaged snacks and soft drinks. Comedy improv shows run Friday and Saturday nights, and Jason is part of the house troupe. On Saturday mornings, Tori uses the space for her Little Peeps children’s comedy group. Sundays they host an open talent night. They’ll be gradually branching out with more events, longer hours, and more kinds of beer.
The story of the young mother of three learning she had stage-four lung cancer, a diagnosis that was slow in coming, not only because of her age, but because she has never smoked, is shocking and heartrending. But the Tomalias handle it–in the media anyway–matter-of-factly and forthrightly. Asked if he and Tori are getting tired of talking about cancer, Jason says no, not at all. “She’s an advocate for getting the word out–there seems to have been an increase in lung cancer in young, non�xADsmoking women.” (Tori was home with the kids and didn’t participate in the interview.)
Jason is thirty-nine, but so wiry and energetic that he could pass for a college gymnast. Coming from his mouth, “pointless” doesn’t sound all that bleak. He laughs and explains that if you start thinking any one thing is pointless, the whole world becomes pointless, so that became a watchword in their household. “Also,” he says, “so often studying theater, we’d get hit with ‘What are you going to do with that? That seems pointless.'”
Originally from Owosso, he studied theater at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and met Tori in the Twin Cities while doing improv at the Brave New Workshop. She grew up in nearby Rochester, where her father is a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, and was studying theater. They moved here about seven years ago and “got jobs at a company doing media research,” but weren’t feeling very engaged with it. They’d been thinking of this brewpub-improv idea as something in the future, but her diagnosis, instead of killing the dream, just put their bucket list on fast forward.
Tori is getting targeted medicine, which seems to be working. The family is doing fine, Jason says. Tori generally stays home at night and puts the kids to bed, and “I’m the one who gets up in the morning and gets them off to school because she needs to rest. But the kids see her working and doing stuff. We’re very open with them. They know when scans are happening. We’ve told them that mommy is sick with something that could kill her.”
Pointless Brewery & Theatre, 3014 Packard, no phone. Fri. 7-11 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m.-1 a.m., Sun. 6-10 p.m. Tasting room hours coming in Feb. pointlessimprov.com; pointlessbrew.com