Long Road Distillers

The city’s west side is about to get a craft distillery.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved Long Road Distillers last month, and co-owners Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien said work is underway to rehab the distillery’s future home at 537 Leonard St. NW.

The 8,000-square-foot space will be renovated to include a retail space, cocktail lounge, kitchen and bar, overflow seating and the on-site distillery.

The floor plans have yet to be finalized, but Van Strien said he wants to make sure patrons have the opportunity to view the distillation equipment and be able to ask questions and learn about the process.

He estimated the initial investment to get the business up and running will be at least $750,000.

Nate Willink of Willink Construction will serve as the project’s general contractor; Neale Bauman of The Design Forum is the architect.

O’Connor and Van Strien expect to open to the public in mid- to late fall.

The pair said their products will not go into distribution right way, but they expect that to happen somewhere down the road.

“We want to be able to sell out the front door and meet the demand locally,” Van Strien said.

Long Road Distillers will start production with vodka and gin, adding white whiskey, whiskey and malted gin later.

All of the spirits will be “grain to glass,” meaning Long Road will start with grain purchased from area farms and distill the spirits on site.

“It’s very important to us, and we will be the only West Michigan distillery that is doing clear spirits from grain,” Van Strien said.

O’Connor said grain-to-glass production is both costly and time consuming.

“In order to get to the point where you can make vodka, per se, from grain, it has to go through a certain number of rectifications to get to a certain alcohol percentage,” he explained. “Most people don’t have the equipment capable of doing that.”

All of the distillery equipment is coming from Germany where it is made by hand, requiring a seven- to nine-month lead-time.

Once it is up and running at full capacity, the distillery should be able to produce 6,000 to 7,000 12-bottle cases annually, Van Strien said.

“With the addition of a new pot, we could significantly increase that,” he added. “In our first year or two, we will definitely be looking to expand our production capacity because we anticipate there will be demand for the product in the market and particularly when we want to go to distribution. We’ve had a couple of conversations with distributors and we expect that we will want that ability to make more and more.”

Pricing has yet to be determined, but the spirits will be in the premium category.

O’Connor and Van Strien agree the craft beer scene in West Michigan has laid the foundation for the introduction of grain-to-glass spirits using local ingredients.

“Founders and Bell’s have laid the foundation for the craft brew movement, and now Harmony and The Mitten and other local breweries have really helped bring people’s awareness to the local craft alcohol industry, so we think the market is primed for a craft distillery in Grand Rapids,” O’Connor said. “People have a real understanding and appreciation for wanting to know where their products come from and, hopefully, we can capitalize on the knowledge base.”

Long Road Distillers plans to work with area farms to source ingredients locally.

“We want to support West Michigan farmers and growers, and by doing this, we are actually going to be able to highlight the characteristics of the products that we are going to use to make our spirits,” O’Connor said.

The pair chose to become neighbors with The Mitten Brewing Co. in hopes of creating a synergistic experience. They don’t think it will be a competition as much as a complementary opportunity, giving patrons two great establishments next door to each other.

“It will be a real vibrant corner over here. It can be a destination,” O’Connor said.

The two men are west side residents and said they didn’t even consider locations other than on the west side, which they are excited to see finally receiving the attention it deserves.

In addition to spirits, Long Road Distillers will offer a small plate menu and a coffee and dessert menu.

The new business will employ between 20 to 25 people.

Grand Rapids Business Journal – Full Story

Charlsie Dewey, April 11, 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

Long Road Distillers

Entrepreneurs Kyle Van Strien and Jon O’Connor have some spirited plans to bring Grand Rapids its first neighborhood distillery and tasting room.

The pair and a silent partner purchased an 8,000-square-foot building at 537 Leonard St. NW on the corner of Leonard and Quarry St. NW, and have begun the process of converting it into Long Road Distillers, LLC, a full-on spirits distillery with customer amenities.

First, two upstairs apartments and a main level clothing store must be vacated, according to federal law. The building must be completely production-ready and a bond in place before the final licenses can be procured.

“We will be doing production onsite in about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet for production and storage,” Van Strien says. “We’ll serve cocktails and have the spirits tasting room in the front, with overflow seating upstairs. We’ll produce everything onsite. We want to take the microbrewery model and apply it to the distillery, and have people come and hang out and learn about how we source and make the products.”

O’Connor, a real estate broker and appraiser with West Michigan Appraisers, and Van Strien, project coordinator for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, will be the head distillers and will work at the business full-time once everything is in place.

“Our goal is to source as much of our inputs from Michigan as possible; our vodka will have as much grain from West Michigan as possible,” O’Connor says. “We’ll start with vodka, gin, a flavored vodka, possibly a rum that will be sourced outside Michigan for the cane sugar, and an un-aged whiskey. We’ll grow into producing aged whiskey and rye, which take years to age. Smaller companies have the ability to push the envelope with experimentation and work with fruit, grains, and botanicals to provide flavor and sources for our products.”

No opening date has been set, but the guys are shooting for a fall 2014 opening, if the licensing and build-out processes fall into place.

Van Strien and O’Connor are good friends with Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus, who own Mitten Brewing just across Quarry St. Mitten Brewing aims to triple its beer production by expanding into a second building on the same corner. Read the story here.

“We can’t sell their product, they can’t sell ours (because of licensing restrictions),” Van Strien says. “But we’re definitely excited about partnering with them and catalyzing economic development in the area. There’s a lot of new energy developing right there on that corner.”

Long Road Distillers goes before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for a special land use permit on March 27.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Rapid Growth Media – Full Article
March 13, 2014

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