GRAND RAPIDS — After more than a year of construction, Vander Mill LLC will open its new taproom, restaurant and hard cider production facility in Grand Rapids on Monday.
For company founder Paul Vander Heide, the 55,000-square-foot facility, located at 505 Ball Ave. NW, underpins a larger strategy for the Spring Lake-based producer that includes establishing West Michigan as a hub for craft cider in the country.
“I really believe, with no intention of arrogance, that this facility is going to help the category in the Midwest because there’s nothing like this for cider anywhere in the country,” Vander Heide told MiBiz during a soft opening at the Grand Rapids cidery this week. “I think it’s going to help establish Michigan, and especially West Michigan, as being the national leader in craft cider.”
On the production side, the Grand Rapids facility triples Vander Mill’s capacity to more than 40,000 barrels a year through the addition of four new 380-barrel fermenters, Vander Heide said. Previously, Vander Mill produced 15,000 barrels of cider a year from its Spring Lake facility.
The new facility offers plenty of room for the company to grow its operation to more than 400,000 barrels a year, according to Vander Heide, who also serves as president of the Michigan Cider Association.
Vander Mill invested approximately $4.2 million in the Grand Rapids location, which opens to the public on Monday, April 18.
The company transferred all of the production and packaging equipment from its Spring Lake location to the new facility, but will continue to operate its taproom and produce small-batch cider from its original site, Vander Heide said.
Vander Mill’s new 4,300-square-foot restaurant and taproom includes 20 tap handles of cider and some craft beer, and food inspired from Northern France. Patrons will also have the option of sitting on a mezzanine balcony inside the production facility.
On a national scale, sales of craft hard cider in the U.S. grew nearly 11 percent in 2015 to approximately $523.5 million, according to the market research firm Nielsen. The growth rate of hard cider has fallen compared to 2014, when it grew 71 percent.
Still, Vander Heide remains bullish on the craft cider industry, which he believes “still has a lot of opportunity.”
In the short term, Vander Mill hopes to capitalize on that opportunity by expanding hard cider distribution in the Midwest market, he said. The company currently distributes in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and plans to open a new market in Wisconsin next week.
“We’ve really seen the benefits of what it means to pay attention to your home market and dig our feet in deep,” he said. “I feel there’s less risk that way because if I start sending cider to Arizona and I’m not supporting that market, it’s pretty easy to get lost. We really want to build brand strength locally first.”
While development around the immediate area of the new facility is sparse, Vander Heide hopes to capitalize on what he sees as an up-and-coming market along the eastern end of the Michigan Street corridor and the Fulton Heights neighborhood.
“This end of Michigan (Street) is pretty underserved with hospitality and obviously that Michigan Street corridor is no slouch to development — it’s all coming down the hill,” he said. “With such a large dining and drinking space, I think this facility alone will help us drive farther locally.”