GRAND RAPIDS — HopCat’s 17th location overall — and its second in Grand Rapids — comes as an “experiment” of sorts for the growing chain of craft beer-focused restaurants.
Owned and operated by BarFly Ventures LLC, the East Beltline Avenue HopCat location aims to put a spotlight on smaller local breweries. With the new site, the company also offers an option to guests who don’t frequent the chain’s original downtown bar on Ionia Avenue SW across from the Van Andel Arena.
The new location — located within the Celebration Village area and in close proximity to a mix of local and chain restaurants, as well as attractions like Celebration Cinema! and the Frederik Meijer Gardens — marks somewhat of a departure from the locally-grown chain’s philosophy of having its restaurants in urban areas, often in rehabilitated buildings.
“It’s certainly more suburban, but it still checks a lot of the boxes that we look for in terms of community and complementary activity,” said Chris Knape, vice president of marketing and communications for BarFly Ventures.
“We don’t view this area as a typical shopping mall or suburban area,” Knape said. “If you look around this area, there’s a ton of residential that’s been pretty underserved by unique restaurants. If you see what’s happened here with some of the bigger chains in particular, they’ve been less successful here, whereas some of the local restaurants have had staying power.”
As part of the new location’s grand opening on Saturday, the company devoted all 80 taps to beers from Grand Rapids-area breweries, part of its broader emphasis on helping to shine a spotlight on the local beer scene and serve as a “referral source” for nascent breweries, Knape said.
That renewed emphasis on introducing consumers to Grand Rapids’ burgeoning craft brewing industry comes as good news to brewers like Scott Schultz, co-owner of Creston Brewery in Grand Rapids’ Creston neighborhood.
Creston produces less than 1,000 barrels per year and maintains the ability to self-distribute its beers rather than go through a third-party distribution company. Schultz said Creston’s size and its ability to self-distribute comes with pluses and minuses.
The brewery doesn’t have to pay a significant part of its margins to a distributor, but it also limits the company’s ability to gain access to chains like HopCat, which typically sources its beer from wholesalers.
“The East Beltline location has really changed that,” Schultz said. “It has me excited that (HopCat) is putting a huge focus on local beer.”
For the time being, BarFly plans to continue opening three to four new HopCat locations each year, Knape said. Aside from the second Grand Rapids location, the company has opened HopCat locations this year in St. Louis and Port St. Lucie, Fla. Another location has been announced for downtown Holland and is expected to open in the first or second quarter of 2019, Knape said.
In 2016, MiBiz awarded BarFly the ACG Growth Capital Award in recognition of its efforts to raise $25 million to grow the HopCat brand. At this time, the company is able to continue fueling its growth through its cash flow and access to banks and other investors, Knape said.