GRAND RAPIDS — A popular west side brewery and restaurant has set its sights on the lakeshore for its third brewpub, MiBiz has learned.
The Mitten Brewing Co. LLC has leased a building at 329 Water Street in Saugatuck and plans to open a taproom and restaurant at the site by June 1, according to owners Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler.
The company’s plans received unanimous approval from the Saugatuck City Council during a special meeting earlier this week. The converted 1,900-square-foot house built in 1860 formerly housed Borrowed Time, a beer and wine bar that’s in the process of moving to nearby Douglas.
For Mitten Brewing, the site offered exposure in a popular tourist market that’s a short drive away from its flagship operation and brewery in Grand Rapids. The location is on the main strip in downtown Saugatuck across the street from Mermaid Bar & Grill and a couple doors down on either side from the Coral Gables restaurant and a Coppercraft Distillery LLC tasting room.
“The thing that drew us the most is the fact that we’re not drawing an audience that’s necessarily from Michigan in Saugatuck because there’s so many Chicagoan people coming in,” Trierweiler said. “That reach out of the market is going to be new to us.”
Unlike Mitten Brewing’s Northport location that it acquired in 2016, the Saugatuck facility also came with a kitchen, allowing the company to offer its signature pizzas “right off the bat,” albeit with a more limited menu than it offers in Grand Rapids, he said.
Mitten Brewing’s success in Northport laid the groundwork for the company to consider taking its brand to another location on the lakeshore.
“We were so much more open to the opportunity because of the last year and a half that we had with Northport,” Andrus said. “It basically was a proof of concept test for us: Does this work beyond our own doors. Northport has gone exceedingly well. We felt agile enough and experienced enough to act on another opportunity if it came about.”
The brewery will also hedge its bet on Saugatuck by partnering with The Mitten State, an unrelated lifestyle apparel company, to sell its merchandise inside the pub via an exclusive arrangement.
“People always assume we’re the same company or related anyways, so this will further muddy those waters,” Andrus said.
The company tapped Willink Construction Inc. as its general contractor for the site, which will require minimal buildout because of its former use as a bar. The main addition will be swapping the existing range for a pizza oven in the kitchen.
“Pizza will be the differentiator to get locals to pop in during the off-season,” Trierweiler said.
Mitten Brewing plans to brew most of its beer in Grand Rapids and transport it to Saugatuck, much like it does with the Northport location.
In preparation for opening its third location, the brewery invested in bolstering the capacity of its brewhouse, especially since it recently launched its first widespread effort in the distribution market with six-packs of its Country Strong India Pale Ale and an upcoming release of Peanuts and Crackerjack Porter.
The partners purchased a 40-barrel fermenter and a 40-barrel brite tank and plan to expand the production brewery’s footprint — located across Leonard Street from its flagship taproom — by about 4,000 square feet in the coming months.
The brewery sold about 1,363 barrels of beer in 2017, up about 20 percent compared to the prior year, according to data from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.
For the brewery partners, the new location comes along at a time when the company was considering its next move after proving in Northport that the brand had staying power outside of the Grand Rapids taproom. While the owners recently “were somewhat looking” for locations in Detroit for a possible pub, the Saugatuck brewpub “is the better move at the right time,” Andrus said.
“In my opinion, we spent the last five years plus building our brand to be as solid as possible. We never rushed to over-capitalize on it, or overbuild it. We waited for opportunities that made sense,” he said. “We wanted to wait to find places that interest us, cities that interest us and great mutual, symbiotic relationships like this Mitten State partnership is. It makes us feel a lot better about the risk involved.”