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Food/Agribusiness

SPONSORED BY DAN VOS CONSTRUCTION

With a relatively strong foothold already in the Philadelphia market, Grand Rapids-based Founders Brewing Co. recently announced that it has become an official sponsor for NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers.

As an industry that bounced back relatively quickly after the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture in Michigan and across the U.S. faces key issues that will shape its fate in 2021, experts say.

GRAND RAPIDS — Gage Cannabis Co. plans to open a medical cannabis dispensary in Grand Rapids later this week, marking its sixth retail store in Michigan.

Legislation designed to put Michigan’s distillers on a more even footing with cider, beer and wine producers died on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk this week.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not doused Justin Buiter’s optimism in his future plans for his brewery. However, when Buiter looks ahead, he said 2021 will likely be spent regaining the footing his company lost during a gauntlet of a year.

Dr. Scott Nykaza always considered his company to be both environmentally and socially responsible through its 60-year history. Now it has a credible stamp of approval to back up those claims.

ALLEGAN — In addition to dealing with the massive disruptions to her business brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tanya Schafer is also juggling two construction projects.

Consumers relied on grocery stores and supermarkets like never before during the pandemic. As the state transitioned through various stages of shutdowns, these businesses had to keep their shelves stocked amid challenges like panic buying and stockpiling. Tony Sarsam took over as CEO at SpartanNash Co. in September as the industry was six months into the new dynamic. The former CEO of Texas-based Borden Dairy Co. shares his views on the challenges that await his company with 155 corporate-owned retail stores and a distribution business that delivers to 2,100 independent locations.

With already thin profit margins, dine-in restaurants have faced the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan, and many won’t emerge on the other side. Some owners — including Jeff Lobdell, president of Restaurant Partners Management Inc. — feel their businesses have been unfairly targeted as state officials sought to stem the surge of cases over the past month. Lobdell owns restaurants across the state, including several in the Grand Rapids area like Bagel Beanery, Sundance Grill & Bar, Beltline Bar, The Omelette Shoppe, Rockwell Republic and Noble Restaurant. Lobdell started the year operating 20 restaurants, nearly half of which have closed at least temporarily.

In addition to farming his own 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in Ionia County, Jeff Sanborn is also active in both the Michigan and National Corn Growers associations. In fact, he has represented Michigan on the NCGA board and was a chairman on the NCGA Ethanol Committee. Sandborn shared insights on how the COVID-19 pandemic, new administration and other issues are poised to affect the agriculture industry in 2021.

If patronage of local Christmas tree lots and farms is any indication, then Michigan residents are really in the holiday spirit this year.

DUTTON — Opening a business in arguably the hardest hit industry of the COVID-19 pandemic era doesn’t seem like a promising concept on paper, but Justin Buiter and his team at Railtown Brewing Co. are leveraging special circumstances to do exactly that.

GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Brewing Co. has temporarily laid off 89 employees as the bar, restaurant, entertainment and hospitality industries cope with recent health guidelines handed down by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

GRAND RAPIDS — Chicago-based Factorial Holdings plans to construct 10 new Burger King restaurants in Grand Rapids over the next five years.

GRAND RAPIDS — Black Calder Brewing Co. is launching its first beer on Nov. 27, or “The Blackest Friday,” as the new brewery’s owners are calling it.

Heading into 2021, Brewery Vivant has worked with its distributor to get three different six-pack placements into Meijer Inc. stores on a statewide basis. 

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association and two hospitality businesses filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in response to new business restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19.

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Valley State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) has partnered with the nonprofit New City Neighbors to expand the Grand Rapids organization’s educational farm.

BYRON CENTER — In his first quarterly earnings call with SpartanNash Co., newly appointed CEO Tony Sarsam began to outline his vision for the food distribution and grocery retail company.

Restaurant owners have had to get creative and at times take extreme cost-cutting measures to keep their doors open this year, indicating the COVID-19 pandemic’s long-term effects for the industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many households to bear down in their homes over the last eight months, leading to an uptick in grocery store sales. In fact, many grocery stores struggled to keep shelves stocked with the panicked buying that took place in the pandemic’s early stages. Grand Rapids-based SpartanNash Co. — the fifth largest food distributor in the U.S. — was on the front lines of those efforts with its 155 corporate-owned retail stores and distribution business that delivers to 2,100 independent locations across the country. It’s also a leading distributor of grocery products to U.S. military commissaries. 

Jeff VanderWerff is one of the rare professionals whose day-to-day operations have remained virtually unchanged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurant owners are seeking clarification from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on last week’s revised emergency order requiring bars and restaurants to gather names and contact information from patrons. 

GRAND RAPIDS — The operators of Max’s South Seas Hideaway — a downtown Grand Rapids tiki bar owned by former BarFly Ventures LLC President Mark Sellers III — have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP — An award-winning spirits brand backed by the DeVos family is relocating to West Michigan from Washington, D.C.

GRAND RAPIDS — BarFly Ventures LLC — the parent company of HopCat, Stella’s Lounge and Grand Rapids Brewing Co. — has sold its assets as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

PENINSULA TOWNSHIP — A group of Northern Michigan wineries and a trade group representing them have filed a federal lawsuit against Peninsula Township alleging that their businesses are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year because of the municipality’s allegedly unconstitutional ordinances.

GRANDVILLE — An Oceana County restaurant that has made a name for itself over the last decade for its rotisserie chicken wings is expanding with a second location in Grandville.

A West Michigan food processing research center and incubator is among beneficiaries of federal grant funding to bolster small businesses in West and Southwest Michigan.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit alleging that a local egg producer created a hostile work environment for a former female employee and then retaliated against her when she filed a complaint about her treatment.

SPRING LAKE — Vander Mill LLC is closing its original Spring Lake facility to focus on its Grand Rapids hard cider production facility and restaurant in what co-founder Paul Vander Heide calls the latest in ongoing changes for the business.

Under the guidance of Executive Director Marty Gerencer, the West Michigan Food Processing Association incorporated as a 501(c)(6) in February with a multi-pronged approach to support the food industry across a five-county region.

GRAND RAPIDS — Despite the uncertainty that has accompanied 2020, Grand Rapids-based franchise operator Meritage Hospitality Group Inc. reported an increase in sales for both the third quarter and the nine months that ended Sept. 27.

 GRAND RAPIDS — Ann Arbor-based C3 Industries LLC is opening a cannabis dispensary in southeast Grand Rapids on Monday.

Dozens of Michigan farms and food processors have been awarded $15 million in COVID-19 relief grants to create safer work conditions for employees and protect the food industry as a whole, state officials announced Wednesday.

CASCADE TOWNSHIP — Hamburger Mary’s is set to open its first Michigan location later this month near Grand Rapids, bringing with it the karaoke, drag shows and drag queen bingo the restaurant franchise is known for.

Products that leave the La Colombe Coffee Roasters production facility in Muskegon will now reach farther across the U.S. after a recent distribution deal.

GRAND RAPIDS — The owners of That Early Bird Cafe and Little Bird restaurants — like countless other businesses — have taken stock of what works well during the pandemic, both to weather the short-term disruption as well as set themselves up for long-term success.

Facing limited capacity and modified business models, restaurants in every segment are looking for all possible ways to whittle down costs.

CROCKERY TOWNSHIP — Agri-Med LLC has added a third recreational cannabis dispensary to its West Michigan portfolio as its Exit 9 Provisionary in Crockery Township is now authorized for both medical and adult-use sales.

KALAMAZOO — With an uncertain future ahead and the opportunity to make a clean exit from his business, owner Kevin Tibbs and his team at Kalamazoo-based Tibbs Brewing Company announced this week that it would be shutting its doors.

LANSING — More than a dozen statewide beer, wine and liquor retailers spoke out against a potential liquor license at the Michigan Liquor Control Commission Wednesday as corporate retailer Total Wine & More seeks to establish its first store in Michigan.

GRAND RAPIDS — After the ouster of its CEO last summer, SpartanNash Co. has found a new leader.

Steven Martinez-Thiel put together a detailed timeline that would transform his love and expertise of breakfast tacos and Tex-Mex fare into a new food business.

Grand Rapids-based snack food maker Cheeze Kurls Inc. has been acquired by a Florida private investment firm.

MUSKEGON — About five years ago, the fledgling Pigeon Hill Brewing Co. LLC in Muskegon shipped its beer out of the state for the first time when it sent a single keg to the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia.

GREENVILLE — Castle Brewing Co. has been acquired by a new team hoping to bring brewing experience and possibly a new concept to the Montcalm County brewpub.

A new partnership will bring whiskey from Three Oaks-based Journeyman Distillery LLC to all 50 states.