COMSTOCK PARK — Less than two years after launching in Grand Rapids, ELK Brewing LLC now plans to open a second microbrewery and restaurant in Plainfield Charter Township’s Comstock Park district, MiBiz has learned.
The existing brewery and taphouse on Wealthy Street is “bottlenecked,” necessitating the expansion to a location on Dodge Street just west of West River Drive in Comstock Park, near the entrance to Fifth Third Ballpark, said co-owner Eric Karns.
“We’re going from 450 square feet to 3,000 (square feet),” Karns told MiBiz in an interview at the existing ELK Brewing location. “There’s a lot of things we aren’t able to do here that we are able to do (at the new location).”
Karns chose the location because of its proximity to the ballpark and a dearth of existing restaurants and breweries in the immediate area.
ELK plans to add a 15-barrel brewhouse at its Comstock Park facility, where it also hopes to add a bottling line and a taproom that will have a stronger focus on food, Karns said.
By comparison, ELK’s original brewery, which opened in May 2014, operates a three-barrel brewhouse at its taproom at 700 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids.
ELK currently brews approximately 500 barrels per year. Karns did not provide an estimate of the expanded brewery’s projected capacity, although he did say the brewery hopes to ramp up its distribution efforts through Imperial Beverage Co. of Kalamazoo with the expansion.
Karns said he wants to have the Comstock Park facility open by early summer. Grand Rapids-based construction firm DAR Development Inc. will serve as the project’s general contractor.
Karns declined to give a total project cost.
The expansion of ELK plays into an ongoing expansion trend among second-stage breweries in the area. As MiBiz reported earlier this month, Rockford Brewing Company Inc. is in the process of finalizing plans for an on-site kitchen, with the goal of expanding to an off-site brewing facility. Meanwhile, Eastown brewpub Harmony Brewing Co. opened its second location, Harmony Hall, on the burgeoning Bridge Street corridor earlier this summer.
Experts in the craft brewing industry say that the present market creates robust opportunities for growth.
“Craft breweries are looking more like restaurants and bars these days and when you look at the overall number of those in the country, I think there is almost endless run room — as long as craft breweries differentiate,” Bart Watson, chief economist of the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, told MiBiz for a previous report. “Craft beer right now is at 20 percent by dollars and 11 percent by volume. That suggests there’s a lot of growth room.”
To Karns, growth in the craft brewing industry comes with a community aspect that allows him to suggest to his customers that they try all of the other breweries in the area.
“People love good beer and we’re all supportive of each other,” Karns said. “It’s not a cut-throat business. We are all trying to survive together instead of surviving on our own. It’s not like other industries where you’re trying to underbid your competitor.”