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Long Road Distillers

GRAND RAPIDS — The West Grand neighborhood in Grand Rapids soon will offer residents and visitors the ultimate trifecta when it comes to craft alcoholic beverages.

That’s because a local cidery plans to open a tasting room in the growing neighborhood along West Leonard Street, a development positioned to complement its neighboring businesses: a microbrewery and a craft distillery.

While having locally-made beer, booze and cider available at consecutive addresses may be a boon for craft beverage fans, those developments and others underway in the immediate area signal a renaissance for one of Grand Rapids’ hardscrabble neighborhoods.

That’s a vibe that Jason Lummen, owner of Grand Rapids-based The People’s Cider Co. LLC, wants to tap into as he plans to open the company’s first off-site tasting room. If his plans are approved by the city next month, he hopes to have cider flowing by May at 539 Leonard St. NW, next door to craft distillery Long Road Distillers LLC and two doors down from The Mitten Brewing Company LLC.

Lummen admits that his plan to move into 450 square feet of space is fairly modest in the broader scope of Grand Rapids development, but it’s indicative of a period of growth not just for his nearly four-year-old business, but also for the West Grand neighborhood as a whole.

“It’s not too much of a stretch and it’s responsible for us,” Lummen said of the tasting room. “It allows us to keep the blue-collar ethic of the cider company intact and allows us to do something to get into what’s going on (on West Leonard). We’re just very fortunate to piggyback with (Long Road) and the guys at The Mitten and to have supportive neighbors.”

The move would give People’s Cider more exposure than it has at its current tasting room and production facility at 600 Maryland Ave. NE near Oak Industrial Park in northeast Grand Rapids, Lummen said. The site would offer seven ciders on tap — including one guest tap — and would be open to guests bringing in outside food.
ADDING DENSITY

If approved by the city, Lummen would rent the West Leonard Street space from Long Road’s owners, Kyle VanStrien and Jon O’Connor, who were also drawn to the opportunities presented by the neighborhood revitalization. Indeed, VanStrien and O’Connor plan to “double-down” on that revitalization with a proposed new mixed-use development of their own.

They’re in the early planning stages of converting an abandoned and contaminated gas station property at 555 Leonard St. NW into a two-story or three-story project with potential apartments or offices upstairs and a ground-floor commercial tenant that’s “complementary” to neighboring businesses.

Currently, the Kent County Land Bank Authority is using state funds to clean up the contamination at the 96-foot by 132-foot site. Following the remediation process, an entity controlled by the owners of Long Road plan to acquire the property.

VanStrien said he wants to attract some mixed-use development to the area along the West Leonard corridor similar to what’s developed in neighborhoods like East Hills and along Bridge Street in recent years.

“We need more density and to build up the population so that they can support the businesses,” VanStrien said.

O’Connor agreed.

“We believe in developing in a good urban context,” he said. “We see opportunity in this neighborhood and we are putting our money where our mouth is.”

The West Grand Neighborhood Association welcomes the prospect of adding new housing and other businesses to the area.

Interim Executive Director Annette Vandenberg told MiBiz the neighborhood strives to support developers, provided they attempt to accommodate all income levels and make a push to hire people already living in the West Grand area.

“Anyone who’s willing to create jobs and housing for all income levels, we think that’s a great idea,” said Vandenberg, adding that the neighborhood association board is in the process of drafting a letter of support for the proposed People’s Cider tasting room.

She added that the board is aware of the proposed gas station redevelopment, but the parties have not yet had formal talks.

“Nothing functions here without the support of the community,” Lummen said. “That’s the big thing. I love the vibe and it’s the residents that will continue to support these things. People are walking from their houses to come to these establishments, and it’s more and more people everyday.”
TAKING NOTICE

While plans for the gas station site remain in the early stages, VanStrien and O’Connor said they hear increasing demand for newly built quality housing options in the neighborhood.

As proof, they noted that many staff members at Long Road now live in the immediate area.

Other investors appear to be taking note of the demand as well. A drive or walk down the West Leonard corridor shows multiple older buildings — many of them vacant — quietly being worked on and at various stages of construction and redevelopment.

Additionally, the property at the southwest corner of Leonard Street and Broadway Avenue went up for sale in early January for $1.5 million, according to the property listing. The site consists of two single-family homes and four commercial buildings with frontage on Leonard Street. It last sold in 1999 for $60,968, according to property records.

Long Road’s owners say they’re hopeful more developers come into the West Grand neighborhood and activate many of the vacant buildings in the area. And while they’re confident that their proposed mixed-use project will take place, VanStrien and O’Connor said it was too early to offer a specific timeframe for the redevelopment because the growth and sustainability of their distillery operations must take priority.

Since launching in late May last year, Long Road has focused on ramping up its distribution efforts and already expanded with an upstairs event space and music venue. In the coming months, the distillery also plans to release a variety of small-batch aged ryes and whiskeys.

As they continue to develop the plans for the mixed-use project, they’re watching the neighborhood grow and eyeing needs that could be filled in the ground-floor commercial space at the redevelopment.

“The first two things that came to our head were cider and coffee,” O’Connor said of needs in the neighborhood. “We saw this as a really great opportunity to do something unique in the fact that I can’t think of another place in this country where you can get beer, liquor and cider in consecutive addresses and independently owned and operated. … The fact that we have three independent things is just a unique opportunity to sort of put a foothold here as this corner of craft beverage making.”

Full Story by Nick Manes available here.

Long Road Distillers

While Long Road Distillers LLC just opened a little more than two months ago, the maker of craft spirits already plans to expand in Grand Rapids’ west side neighborhood.

The company will go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday, Aug. 13 with a special land use request to add 1,200 square feet to double its production space at 537 Leonard St. NW, as well as expand its kitchen.

For the craft distillery, the added production space will help it make the transition into producing enough product to start distributing its spirits, said co-founder Kyle Van Strien.

“This is making sure we’re satisfying the needs we have now and in the near future for production,” he said. “We just continue to grow. We’re going to two shifts (this) week for our production team just to meet demand. We’ve met demand from the front of the house … but as we go to distribution in a month and a half, we need to have enough room.

“With the amount of storage that we have and our production space, it can get tight. We hope to alleviate some of the strain on our production team.”

Demand from Long Road’s pub thus far has “exceeded our expectations,” Van Strien said. While the company expected to use 70,000 to 80,000 pounds of wheat in its first year as part of the distilling process, it used that much in its first three months of production.

“We’ve seen the demand in the front of the house,” he said. “To this point, we’ve been producing to meet demand, not for the long-term.”

The company has added fermenters to help the production crew keep up, and the second shift should also make a difference, Van Strien said.

The company plans to launch distribution with three spirits in the next month and a half.

“We probably could have had the supply to go into distribution this month or last month, but we don’t want to limp into this. We want to run full-steam into this distribution thing,” Van Strien said.

Long Road is also asking the city to allow it to add a rooftop deck to the neighboring building at 539 Leonard St. NW. The affiliated River Bed Investors LLC owns both buildings, according to county records.

Meanwhile, more kitchen space will allow the distillery to grow its food offerings and offer a “cohesive” menu, Van Strien said.

“Our menu is focused and great, but we want to become a place people go for dinner and an appetizer,” he said. “With an expanded kitchen, we can really blow up our menu with a full line of great food.”

As for the theme of the expanded menu, “we’re still coming up with what that might be,” Van Strien added. “We want it to be cohesive and fit with our cocktail program.”

The added kitchen capacity also will allow Long Road to use its soon-to-be-completed upstairs space for events and other special uses, he said. Adding the upstairs and the rooftop deck will expand the capacity to around 260 people, Van Strien said.

Long Road’s current street-level space seats 80 people.

The Grand Rapids-based distillery’s expansion comes during a period of explosive growth for spirits producers. The number of small distillers grew from 92 in 2010 to more than 700 last year, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council.

The Michigan Craft Distillers Association said nearly 40 distilleries were in operation in the state as of last year, enough for the state to rank third in the nation for the number of producers.

– Joe Boomgaard, MiBiz, August 9, 2015

Full Story Here.

Long Road Distillers

Grand Rapids’ first “grain to glass” craft distillery will open its doors this week.

After a series of equipment and regulatory delays hampered its scheduled fall 2014 opening, Long Road Distillers LLC plans to pour its first round to a public crowd on Thursday, May 28 and hold its grand opening the following week.

The new distillery located at 537 Leonard Street NW in Grand Rapids’ west side neighborhood will initially offer its flagship gin, red winter wheat vodka and white whisky for its opening. However, the company plans to quickly begin barrel-aging its whiskey and rolling out new products, said Kyle Van Strien, a partner in Long Road with Jon O’Connor.

“The next step is to find our groove,” Van Strien said. “Now that we’ve really hustled and pushed our production team to this point, we need to find our rhythm and get to where we have a regular production schedule.”

Long Road is currently operating staggered shifts and hopes to expand to two full production shifts in the coming weeks.

Before it even opened, the distillery doubled its production capacity to approximately 10,000 cases – or 23,775 gallons – of spirits per year by acquiring a second still from Louisville, Ky.-based Vendome Copper and Brass Works Inc. to complement its initial 500-liter still from German-based manufacturer Müller GmbH.

The distillery plans to begin distributing its spirits around West Michigan by the end of the summer, Van Strien said.

The distillery seats 80 customers, but O’Connor and Van Strien plan to open additional seating and bar space on the second floor of the facility by this fall that will boost capacity to 180 people.

Long Road invested approximately $750,000 into its facility, according to a previous report by MiBiz. The company partnered with Willink Construction Inc. as the general contractor for the project, which was designed by The Design Forum Inc. MJW Consulting LLC provided engineering services for the project.

While both O’Connor and Van Strien are confident in their distillery’s progress and opening, the partners note that the biggest challenge came from waiting for all of the equipment, permits and licensing to be finalized. In particular, Long Road saw considerable delays from local city officials because it was the first to be established in Grand Rapids. MiBiz first broke news of Van Strien and O’Connor’s plans in March 2014.

“Getting people up to speed about the workings and inner operations that happen at a place like ours is a learning curve for us, but there’s also a learning curve for the local officials,” O’Connor said. “(T)hat hindered some of our progress.”

Going forward, the company plans to improve its production and service operations as well as continue to invest in Grand Rapids’ west side neighborhood.

“We plan to continue to reinvest in the neighborhood in a way that’s going to help it transition into the neighborhood we know it can be,” O’Connor said. “Kyle and I believe in this neighborhood and we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

MiBiz – Full Story

John Wiegand, May 27, 2015

Long Road Distillers

When the founders of Long Road Distillers LLC decided to bring in an experienced professional to manage the launch of its spirits production later this year, they realized they needed to look beyond the local talent pool for help.

That realization led partners Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor to recruit Brian Pribyl as the startup’s first head distiller. While the two partners did their homework before starting the company, they felt leveraging the knowledge of an experienced industry professional would give Long Road a competitive edge.

“Kyle and I worked with others in the industry to mentor us along with learning the trade, but we knew that at the end of the day, the real way for us to be successful was to have a real expert in-house that has the knowledge and the skill set that can make us the best,” O’Connor told MiBiz.

Ironically, it wasn’t West Michigan’s nascent craft distilling industry that drew Pribyl to the area; credit the region’s other craft beverage scene for that.

“I fell in love with the beer,” Pribyl said.

Instead of being competitors in the alcoholic beverage space, Pribyl sees craft brewing and craft distilling as complementary sectors, with both industries satisfying customers’ demand for locally sourced products.

“There’s a lot of tradition behind distilling, and it’s one more step for brewing, especially for the city of Grand Rapids,” he said. “It’s a natural progression.”

Apprentice to the trade

While the craft brewing industry is filled with home brewers who turned a hobby into a profession, federal laws against moonshining make that career path illegal for craft distilleries, which makes it more difficult to find and develop talent, Van Strien said.

That leaves startups like Long Road with the choice either to hire experienced outside help or to learn the craft under the tutelage of others distillers.

Walter Catton, owner and head distiller at the Holland-based Coppercraft Distillery LLC, opted for the latter route.

After learning the business side of the industry in his career as a CPA and as a former partner and CFO of New Holland Brewing Co. which also makes a line of spirits, he spent weeks gathering insight into the trade from other established craft distillers, including Colorado-based Breckenridge Distillery and Smooth Ambler Spirits Co. of West Virginia.

“I spent two and a half years putting this together, and a year and half of that was the learning, dialing recipes in and proving out everything else,” Catton said. “I spent time with distillers learning to do everything from priming a pump to alcohol proofing.”

Tapping industry veterans

While Van Strien and O’Connor also spent time consulting others in the industry, they wanted experienced help with the intricacies of distilling. The partners plan to work closely with Pribyl throughout the distilling process to develop the spirits, but they’re relying on his expertise to craft a quality product.

“You can make or break a batch by even going five minutes too fast,” Pribyl said. “It’s very precise.”

Pribyl started his career a decade ago and began working at Newport, Ore.-based Rogue Ales & Spirits after attending Oregon State University’s fermentation science program. While in Oregon, Pribyl helped the Rogue distillery navigate an expansion and worked on the company’s Dead Guy Whiskey along with several gins and vodkas, including the launch of a chipotle spirit.

For the last two years, Pribyl has worked in Tennessee, where he helped two distilleries get off the ground and expand. He helped launch Popcorn Sutton Distilling LLC’s Tennessee White Whisky brand, nearly doubling its capacity. After Popcorn Sutton, Pribyl moved to Prichard’s Distillery Inc. to help the company establish a satellite operation in Fontanel, Tenn.

All of Pribyl’s experience with startup operations and expansions made him an ideal candidate for what Long Road is trying to accomplish in West Michigan, O’Connor said.

Both Coppercraft and Long Road are among the latest wave of industry growth that should swell the ranks of craft distillers nationally to around 500 by 2015, according to the American Craft Spirits Association.

The small but growing sector in Michigan of around two dozen companies ranks fourth nationally behind California, Oregon and Washington in the number of distilleries, according to the Michigan Craft Distillers Association, a new nonprofit that launched this month to market the statewide industry and serve as a voice for members in Lansing.

Grain-to-glass

Long Road has yet to distill its first batch as it’s currently renovating its facility and awaiting installation of a 500-liter, 18-plate still that it ordered from the German-based manufacturer Müller GmbH. The still should arrive in Grand Rapids within the next three weeks, Van Strien said.

The distillery will have an annual production capacity of approximately 7,000 cases once it becomes fully operational, O’Connor said.

“As soon as the equipment is in place, my goal is to get everything fired up and a vodka out of the door by day 12,” Pribyl said.

The company plans to immediately follow its vodka with varieties of gins and white whiskeys until the distillery begins the aging process for its bourbons and other spirits, a process that takes between two and five years, Pribyl said.

Long Road invested approximately $750,000 into its facility at 537 Leonard Street NW on Grand Rapids’ west side, as MiBiz previously reported. The company enlisted Grand Rapids-based Willink Construction Inc. as the contractor for the project, which was designed by The Design Forum Inc.

The distillery plans to adhere to a true “grain-to-glass” philosophy, incorporating as many local grains and fruits into its products as possible, Van Strien said. Initially, the distillery will only sell spirits out of its tasting room, but it plans to begin statewide distribution by late 2015.

With the global market for craft spirits on the rise, the Grand Rapids distillery aims to be in every state and have a presence in international markets in five years, Van Strien said.

“It might sound crazy, but I don’t think it’s all that far out of the question,” Van Strien said. “I think we can achieve that. The fact that we are doing this right is what sets us apart.”

MiBiz – Full Article

John Wiegand, November 23, 2014

Long Road Distillers

As new developments spring up throughout Grand Rapids’ west side neighborhood, the district is at the center of a concerted effort by a range of business interests looking to revitalize a long-neglected part of the city.

Companies ranging from new breweries and restaurants to upscale retail stores and residential developers have invested tens of millions in this first wave of the west side’s turnaround. Developers say they hope the investment will act as a catalyst for urban renewal in the key Grand Rapids neighborhood.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the area’s existing business owners and neighborhood groups. While most believe the investments will ultimately tip the scales in favor of the area’s renewal, some feel like key community cohorts should have a better voice in which projects move forward.

Starting at the Grand River and stretching west past Stocking Avenue, the Bridge Street corridor is starting to resemble the neighborhood some long-time residents recall from their formative years in the area.

“Bridge Street doesn’t need to be redefined,” said Walt Gutowski, a Grand Rapids city commissioner, business owner and self-appointed “ambassador” of the west side. “It just needs to be restored.”

A native of the neighborhood, Gutowski owns Swift Printing Co. at 404 Bridge Street NW. The restoration of that building in 2000 helped accelerate redevelopment along the corridor, he said.

As more projects come online, Bridge Street is starting to follow a similar pattern to development in the Wealthy Street and Cherry Street corridors in the mid-2000s, sources said.

The west side developments promise to add new selections to the mix of neighborhood businesses, which had waned in recent decades. For example, Black Heron Kitchen and Bar plans to offer Michigan craft beer and wine and upscale sausages when it opens early next year at 428 Bridge Street in a building owned by Gutowski. Meanwhile, Denym LLC, a high-end jeans retailer, opened earlier this year at nearby 443 Bridge Street.

Having grown up in the area, Gutowski recalls how years ago, residents had options for shopping and dining all along the corridor. Bringing back that neighborhood feel has been a long-time goal, Gutowski said, noting his projects and other developers’ plans all play a part in the renewal.

County records show that Gutowski owns about 20 properties along the corridor.

“(The redevelopment) is a real passion for me, as both a city commissioner and business owner,” Gutowski said.

BANKING ON BEER

While Gutowski is predominantly focused on the main Bridge Street artery, other developers are launching projects all over the city’s west side.

In opening The Mitten Brewing Company LLC in November 2012, Max Trierweiler said he was drawn to the area by the amount of traffic that Leonard Street receives. Co-owner Trierweiler and business partner Chris Andrus thought a microbrewery could act as an anchor attraction to help make the stretch of Leonard Street a more walkable corridor where people would come down to eat, drink and shop for an afternoon.

Now Mitten Brewing is expanding its operations with on-site outdoor seating, upstairs dining and a separate production facility kitty-corner from its pub. Soon to join Mitten on the West Leonard corridor is Long Road Distillers LLC, located across the street at 537 Leonard NW. Meanwhile, construction is currently underway for Two Scotts LLC, a new barbecue restaurant at 536 Leonard NW.

“We saw the area needed a pick up,” Trierweiler said of their decision to open a business on the west side two years ago. “It helped that we would be the only brewery in the area.”

He won’t be able to say that for much longer, however, as two new breweries are planned a few blocks south in the Bridge Street corridor, with one already under construction.

In an announcement in early October, Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction Co. said it would redevelop parcels along Bridge Street NW for a new development anchored by New Holland Brewing Company LLC. The project will include a New Holland taproom, restaurant and brewery, as well as ground-floor retail, office space and 35 apartments, as MiBiz reported last month.

The upscale development will take the place of a blighted building that once housed an adult novelty and lingerie store.

Just to the west of the New Holland development at the corner of Bridge Street and Stocking Avenue, work remains underway for Harmony Hall. The project is breathing new life into the building that formerly housed the Little Mexico restaurant, which closed in March 2013. The new business — a brewpub with a sausage-themed restaurant — is being led by the principals of property management firm Bear Manor Properties LLC, who also own Harmony Brewing Company in the city’s Eastown neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Fulton Street corridor, another key east-west artery through the west side district, has also seen projects come online in recent years. Anchored in large part by Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus and the Seidman College of Business along the Grand River, the corridor has seen the recent addition of a Tim Hortons drive-thru restaurant and a satellite Rylee’s Ace Hardware Inc. store on the far west end of the stretch near John Ball Park.

ADDING NEW HOUSING STOCK

Development in the area isn’t only limited to retail or new service-related businesses, either. New housing projects are popping up to meet growing demand in the neighborhood.

For example, Rockford Construction Co. in July opened an 18-unit apartment complex at 600 Douglas NW.

The goal for 600 Douglas was to make 450-square-foot apartments feel more like 700- or 800-square-foot units, said Bruce Thompson, vice president at Rockford Ventures LLC, one of the contractor’s subsidiaries. To accomplish the project’s vision, Rockford worked with Urbaneer LLC to install its line of movable walls in the apartments, which allow tenants to easily change the layout of the space.

Urbaneer, a design firm, is a part of Rockford’s First Street Initiative, in which the contractor aims to partner with smaller firms around the concepts of “building, design and construction,” Thompson said. The partner companies that make up the First Street Initiative are independent businesses that work with Rockford on certain projects, Thompson added.

“Each of them brings something different to the mix,” Thompson said. “It is really starting to have the feel of a campus down here, and that’s a little of what we want with this First Street concept. We want to bring companies that are innovative … and firms that are complementary to us, but we are also able to leverage some of the infrastructure that we have.”

Altogether, there are seven companies involved in the First Street Initiative including Insignia Homes, enCO2, Signature Wall Solutions, Johnson Product Development, Brenda Thompson Interiors, Trovati Studio and Urbaneer.

Perhaps the most visible developer working on the west side after moving its corporate headquarters to the corner of First Street and Seward Avenue last year, Rockford has also been buying up large amounts of neighborhood property through its development arm for its so-called Gateway Project.

Property records show that Kurt Hassberger, Rockford’s president and chairman of the board, is listed on more than a dozen properties in the area that are owned under a variety of related business entities.

The company’s efforts in the neighborhood are no coincidence. Rockford CEO Mike VanGessel, much like Gutowski, is a west side native. Gutowski told MiBiz that the two are old friends and have been talking for more than a decade about how to go about redeveloping the area.

VanGessel was unavailable for comment for this story, according to a Rockford spokesperson.

CONCERNS REMAIN FOR SOME

While most reactions to the developments on the west side have remained positive, certain residential projects have raised concern from neighborhood associations, particularly over the issue of density.

Approved in July by the City Commission, Grand Rapids-based developer Cherry Street Capital LLC has plans to break ground next spring on a $12.9 million project with 63 apartments, commercial space and underground parking at the corner of Lake Michigan Drive and Seward Avenue.

Despite gaining city approval and receiving support by many in the neighborhood, the project was initially called into question by the South West Area Neighbors (SWAN), a west side neighborhood association.

“When (a development) doesn’t comply with our Area Specific Plan, then we have concern,” said Margo Johnson, president of SWAN. “We have a neighborhood that has been desirable and developers need to (understand) the desires of the current neighbors.”

Specifically, Johnson told MiBiz the organization’s concern with Cherry Street Capital’s plans stemmed from the project including too much density for the area it will eventually be built on, something that goes against the city’s plan for the neighborhood.

Despite those concerns, the project is moving forward, according to the developer.

“There was some resistance, but a lot of people spoke for the project, and I think that’s what got it across the line,” said Chad Barton, a partner at Cherry Street Capital.

Speaking broadly about the ongoing redevelopment of the west side, Johnson from SWAN said her organization also expresses concern when developers aren’t perceived as including the thoughts and opinions of existing residents.

In that regard, SWAN isn’t alone.

Bridge Street House of Prayer, a community ministry located at 1055 Bridge Street NW, works with much of the “marginalized” population in the neighborhood, said Andrew Sisson, the community development director at the organization. There is a perception from some of the existing residents in the neighborhood that developers aren’t interested in listening to the broader community, he said.

“Overall, there’s not too much of a negative perception of (new development),” Sisson said. “(For) people who are in this neighborhood currently, if their thoughts, ideas and culture are taken into consideration, if they see their opinions are being implemented, they’re OK with it and they’re excited about it.”

As more development takes shape in the neighborhood, property costs have already started becoming an issue for some business owners.

Fred Mackraz, the co-owner of the recently opened Blue Dog Tavern at 638 Stocking Avenue NW, the site of the former Kopper Top bar and restaurant, said he sees a lot of momentum in the area for positive, urban development. Indeed, the goal behind his new project was to help create a traditional bar and grill for the neighborhood.

But he’s concerned that as development ramps up, there are property owners in the area trying to hold on to their buildings in an attempt to drive up the values.

“Some people have property that is ripe for redevelopment and are hoping they will get prices that are not reasonable,” Mackraz said. “The old businesses that are here should view (new development) as a positive thing.”

MiBiz – Full Article

Nick Manes, November 9, 2014

Long Road Distillers

Partners behind a fledgling craft distillery in Grand Rapids think the city’s reputation as a haven for craft beer drinkers plays well into their marketing of small batch vodkas, rums, gins and whiskeys.

Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor, the two public partners behind Long Road Distillers LLC, have a vision to tap into local residents’ passion for quality, locally sourced beverages. 
Long Road Distillers has leased space at 537 Leonard Street NW, across Quarry Avenue from Mitten Brewing Co., with plans to invest $750,000 into opening a craft distillery at the site. The investment will go to renovating the 8,000-square-foot space and buying a 500-liter, 18-plate still — one large enough that it will be suitable for making vodka, Van Strien said.

The company’s mission is to be a true “grain to glass” distillery in Grand Rapids using as much locally sourced materials as possible, he said. They plan to make a full-range of spirits and experiment with local fruits and grain commodities used in the distilling process.

Long Road plans to sell bottles of spirits, offer tastings, serve cocktails in their bar and distribute products in the state, O’Connor said.

“Companies like Founders Brewing and (Mitten Brewing) have laid the foundation for quality beer in Grand Rapids, and we want to have that same quality in spirits,” O’Connor said. “We think there’s a sophisticated palate here that has an appreciation for distilled spirits. … We’ll never be to the scale where we’re making 100,000 barrels a year, but we can do small-batch innovation.”

The project is being internally financed with the help of a silent partner, Van Strien said.

Long Road Distillery and the holding company that owns the property, River Bed Investors LLC, go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on March 27 with applications for industrial facilities tax and obsolete facilities exemptions.

They plan to make $300,000 in property improvements to upgrade the facility – which dates back to the late 1800s – for production and commercial use, as well as buy about $400,000 in production equipment and furniture and fixtures for the tasting room, according to city documents.

“We want it to feel like a micro brewery. We want our place to be a destination,” Van Strien said, noting the initial plans call for a tasting room that will serve small plates, but not be a full-service restaurant. “We want to be a place you go to on the way to dinner and the place you stop on the way home from dinner.”

Long Road hopes to open by fall, but that’s dependent on securing the necessary local approvals, as well as the federal and state licenses. The company is buying specialized equipment from a manufacturer in Germany, which will also take six to eight months to make and ship to West Michigan, O’Connor said. The partners have tapped Willink Construction Inc. of Grand Rapids as their contractor and plan to have an architect in place soon.

While neither partner is a Grand Rapids native, they both came to the city for college and lived in the city’s west side neighborhood, which they described as an up-and-coming area.

“We want to be part of the change that’s happening here,” O’Connor said.

The pair say they are intensely focused on getting the approvals in place and renovating the facility so they can get into the process of making spirits, all of which will be produced in-house — not using outside contract producers. O’Connor said the company must focus on quality and ramping up production ahead of time to meet the demand they’re projecting.

They also plan to take time once they’re open to educate customers on craft spirits, Van Strien said.

“We plan to focus our marketing on consumer education and how things are produced,” he said, acknowledging that — as with craft breweries — the competition for consumers is intense from the established, international manufacturers in the spirits market.

MiBiz – Full Article

Joe Boomgaard, March 12, 2014

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