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Thursday, 20 June 2013 08:30

Walldorff Brewpub owner credits SBA loan for helping launch company

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Mike Barnaart, owner of Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro in Hastings Mike Barnaart, owner of Walldorff Brewpub & Bistro in Hastings Courtesy photo

When Mike Barnaart wanted to start the Walldorff Brewpub and Bistro in Hastings in 2005, he had some trouble getting the necessary funding. Many banks were hesitant to lend to hospitality ventures. Eventually, he found some relief through a loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Earlier this month, Barnaart hosted the SBA, economic development professionals and myriad local business owners for a roundtable discussion about ways to utilize the services of the SBA. Barnaart sat down with MiBiz to talk about his own experience with the SBA and the success his business has enjoyed.

What's the history of the Walldorff?
I purchased the building in 2005, and we opened in July of 2006, so we are approaching the end of our seventh year. We have had tremendous growth with the success of the brewing industry in Michigan. It's nice to host the SBA because they were an instru- mental part of our success. Really, without them, we wouldn't be here. Lenders, par- ticularly to the hospitality industry, are kind of hesitant to get their feet wet.

Can you talk about how you got hooked up with the SBA?
I had sat across from a lot of commercial lenders who were hesitant with the plan, just being a hospitality venture. And then we started to touch on a few that recommended talking to the SBA. Finally, one of our local banks was willing to partner with the SBA and get the deal done for us.

What's the growth been like as you close your seventh year in business?
The growth has been tremendous. We went from a shade over a million dollars the first full year to approaching $2 million now. We've seen double-digit growth every year through tough economic times.

What's your brewing capacity?
Right now, we are a seven-barrel brewhouse. We are going to hit 800 barrels, so we are at maximum production. (All brewing is done on premise.) Per capita, we are one of the (biggest) brewpubs in the state of Michigan. We are in the top three of 50 or so brewpubs that are out there for production, so we have had pretty good success.

Do you do outside distribution of your beers?
We don't. Our kind of license only allows us to produce and sell in-house. (Distribution) is one of the considerations we have and where we may partner with the SBA if we move on to a larger stage.
Michigan has obviously become a big craft beer state.

What is the customer base like?
It's extremely diverse. One of the challenges, or one of the pushbacks that we had, was 'Gosh, you guys are in the middle of nowhere. How's this going to work?' Well, look at the map. We're in the middle of everywhere. We're 30 or 40 minutes from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Lansing. And I think we set out to be a desti- nation knowing that people were willing to travel, particularly for good beer. And that's been the cornerstone. Number one: great beer. Number two: great food. Number three: great service to get it into your hands.

In what ways has the Walldorff been able to take advantage of a local supply base?
I would say we have really been on the cutting edge. Hophead Farms — that recently opened in Hickory Corners, which is going to grow to be a 40-acre facility — they have production equipment to cooperatively work with small growers and process their hops. We've partnered with them from the very conception of it. We are mov- ing toward them being the 100-percent supplier of our hops. A lot of the beers right now focus on local hops. From the food perspective, we are fortunate enough to have our executive chef. He and his father farm 15 acres. Over the summer our stuff that we're serving is coming through there. So we take the spent grain from the brewery process, my father raises beef cattle on that. I buy the cattle back, and at some point, we serve our own beef.

Read 2920 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:08

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