GRAND RAPIDS — A West Michigan craft brewery wants to open a satellite taproom and production-scale facility at the former MC Sports store on Plainfield Avenue near the I-96 interchange.
Ada-based Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply will go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Oct. 12 with plans to breathe new life into the shuttered 18,000-square-foot former retail store. The brewery is proposing a 15-barrel system, canning line, homebrewing equipment supply shop, as well as a taproom and restaurant.
MC Sports closed all its retail stores earlier this year after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and completing a liquidation sale.
According to Gravel Bottom owner Matt Michiels, the satellite location would afford the growing brewery room to grow as it looks to get its beer into distribution to help with marketing the company’s offerings.
“What I’m looking at right now is really a phase one,” Michiels said. “It’s a space that could support 10,000 barrels of production, but there’s no way I’m going to do that anytime soon. If I get to 1,500 to 2,000 barrels in the next couple of years, I’d consider that a huge success.”
Although Gravel Bottom is still in its due diligence phase for its purchase agreement on the Plainfield location, Michels said he’s about “90-percent sure” the costs associated with transforming the facility for the brewery will fall within the company’s budget.
“With that building, if we’re able to keep within our budgets, it’s something that we can grow into over a long period of time,” he said. “With success, we’ll be able to use our cash flows to grow.”
In August, Gravel Bottom announced plans to move its Ada location to a new building being built as part of the village’s large-scale redevelopment project. The new 2,500-square-foot Ada brewery and 75-seat taproom will be located next to the new Kingma’s Market location that opened earlier this month.
The drive to open a satellite brewery outside of Ada came as Michiels started doing the math for expanding production within the village and realized it didn’t make financial sense — or fit the character of the walkable, retail-driven area — to build a larger manufacturing facility there. According to Michiels, rents in Ada fell in the $23-per-square-foot range, while the new satellite location gets the company closer to the $6-per-square-foot range needed to keep overhead low to make distributing beer economically feasible.
“Really, we’re looking for a place where we can do production that’s affordable and reasonable,” he said. “We’re still in planning (for the Plainfield site), but so far, it seems like the cost to build that out would suit our needs and what we feel is reasonable for a production facility.”
The Grand Rapids market also puts the company “more in the Beer City loop” for marketing and tourism purposes, he said.
The company also plans to pursue a “brew-on-premise” license that would allow customers to book time to experience brewing for themselves and interact with the brewers. In West Michigan, only Saugatuck Brewing Co. offers a similar service.
Gravel Bottom sold 330.1 barrels of beer in 2016, an increase of 124 percent from the prior year, according to data from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. Michiels said the company is on track to produce between 300 and 400 barrels this year, and looks to expand to about 1,200 to 1,800 barrels with the new facilities in Ada and Grand Rapids.
While he acknowledges the challenges of competing on store shelves and for tap handles in bars and restaurants, Michiels said Gravel Bottom wants to take a measured approach to distribution, which will help expose his brand better and start to allow him to offer “a career and not just a job” to his staff members.
“I’m not growing to be next Short’s or Founders, but I do want to be big enough that I’m relevant and reach a bigger audience,” he said. “I think on that Plainfield Corridor, we can do a lot to add another nice place to get food. It’s a good place for a brewery. The demographics are starting to turn over in that neighborhood, and you’re seeing more younger millennials and families that value craft beer and having a gathering place.”