Category Archives: Food

Generic… err Private Label Manufacturing in West Michigan

As discussed in a past post, West Michigan with its rich Dutch heritage has a reputation of being cheap. One thing that exemplifies the perception of cheap is the store brands or private labels products you can purchase in stores right along side the name brand products. You know the Meijer peanut butter, Spartan Stores frozen broccoli, or Walgreen’s toothbrushes. Almost every store has a complete offering of products with their store brand emblazoned on the product, and it is generally cheaper than the name brand version sitting right next to it. Well it shouldn’t surprise anyone that West Michigan is home to a number of these private label manufacturers making a wide array of products to sell to consumers with a store brand name on the packaging. Here is a list I have compiled, so lets get rolling!

Cheeze Kurls – But not only do they make Cheeze Kurls, but they also make balls, puffs, pops, fries, nuggets, pieces, among other delicious products. So while you might see their own brand on the shelves but most likely some of the store brands you purchase have been produced by Cheeze Kurls. Per this article 85% of their business is private label – some of the noted customers are Meijer, Spartan, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, CVS, and Rite-Aid.  Cheeze Kurls is located in the Walker area nearby Meijer.  Check out MiBiz’s piece on the company for an extremely thorough look at the company and on the snack food.

Quincy Street Inc.  – Is a private label meat (pork)  processor located in Holland on Quincy Street!  They definitely get extra points for originality in naming their company.

Request Foods – Surprisingly we have already covered Request Foods and how their company name was inspired by the DeVos’ Windquest boat.  I just don’t know about Holland companies and the way they go about naming their companies.  To recap Request Foods specializes in frozen entrees and provides private labeling, just look the picture and imagine your private label here.

Festida Foods –  Staying with the snack food theme, Grand Rapids is also home to Festida Foods, a private label manufacturer of tortilla chips and corn chips – what exactly is a corn chip and how is it different from a tortilla chip?  Earlier this  year they moved from Cedar Springs to a facility in Grand Rapids to meet their recent growth.

Artesian Distillers – Yes private label vodka, whisky, gin, or rum is now available, thanks to Grand Rapids based Artesian Distillers.  Based on their website they say they are working on opening up a tasting room in Rockford.  It’s a husband and wife team that started the operation.  I can’t wait to see my Meijer brand Vodka, or Spartan Rum.

Magnum Coffee Roastery – This one I found purely on dumb luck.  For some reason I was driving through Nunica (I know right), and smelled coffee in the air and saw this large building on the side of the road.  This lead me to do some more research on Magnum Coffee Roastery, and by research I just looked up their website.  Well they too offer private label brands.

Down Inc – Is a 50 year company based in Grand Rapids that produces down filled comforters and pillows for private labels.  In an interesting move Down Inc. actually named some of their customers in this Grand Rapids Press article – like Crate & Barrel, Room & Board, and how they supply JW Marriott and the Amway Grand Hotels (kudos to the hotels for buying local).  In a wise business decision of vertical integration – Down Inc is owned by Maple Leaf Farms – the largest producer of duck meat in the US.  So now we know where all those duck feathers come from, what a perfect idea… it almost makes too much sense.

Ranir – Oral care from West Michigan. Yes, Ranir in Grand Rapids is a leading private label manufacturer of oral care products – ranging from tooth brushes, to floss, whitening products to other assorted mouth related products.

Perrigo – One of the best known companies in the region is Perrigo based in Allegan.  They are the world’s largest manufacturer of OTC pharmaceutical products for the store brand markets.  As a company they have been broadening their product offerings with recent acquisitions of baby formula, and pet care brand Sergeant’s.  If you can be sure to check out their factory store in downtown Allegan so you can see all the store brands for yourself, side by side.  Here is an image from their historical medicinal display from within the store.

Pretty interesting list, and potentially mind blowing.  Especially if you were one of those people who always prefers Meijer cheese curls snacks over Spartan brand, you might be eating the exact same snack, or using the exact same toothbrush or whatever.  So any other private label manufacturers out that you are aware of?  Please share them with me in the comments section.

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It’s SPREADING…Beer Spill in West Michigan!

I’m overwhelmed… not just writing timely posts on this blog. I’m overwhelmed with beer, i.e. there are too many Michigan microbreweries. It’s like someone opened up a microbrewery and poured it all over West Michigan. But why? Does Michigan really have favorable beer laws?

Who else remembers the days when we only had to worry about the big three in West Michigan Microbrews – Bell’s from Kalamazoo, Founders from Grand Rapids, and New Holland from Holland. That was it. Now it feels like when I am drinking one of those I am drinking…GASP… a Macrobrew, e.g. Budweiser, Miller.

So lets focus on all the West Michigan Microbreweries (we will stick to West Michigan so I don’t go crazy, and I will draw an arbitrary line down the middle of Michigan), there have been attempts to do this in the past and they just haven’t quite gotten all of them or just did not have the space for it all.

Here are some of the most recent examples:

So let’s start the full comprehensive list, of currently open breweries in the area:

Grand Rapids

  • Founders Brewing Company – By the way whats up with all the other “Founders” businesses – Founders Bank & Trust, Founders Wine Cellar. Some facts, Founders was founded in 1997, and they expanding big time.
  • Schmohz Brewing – Where scantily clad ladies adorn almost all the bottles. Where they used to have a horrible looking website with the white checkered background and choppy navigation. Glad they got a new one.
  • The B.O.B. – Has its own brewing facilities at the restaurant and entertainment complex, where they serve their various microbrews.
  • Hideout Brewing – This brewery was modeled after the pre-prohibition breweries, and the interior decor has been modeled after prohibition area photos to give the brewery that feel.
  • Brewery Vivant – Despite having a rooster on the logo, Vivant doesn’t mean Rooster in French. This brewery was founded by Jason Spaulding, one of the co-founders of New Holland Brewery, after he sold his interest in 2008.
  • Jaden James Brewery – One of the breweries that grew out of an existing winery. Jaden James is located at Cascade Winery in Grand Rapids.
  • HopCat – One of the purported best beer bars in the world, with a massive beer selection, they have start to expand their offerings by brewing their own beer. I can see why they have a pretty massive beer list.
  • Harmony Brewing Company – One of the newest additions to the GR beer scene, they just opened Feb. 1st by 3 siblings. They also own Bear Manor Properties, that own a number of rental buildings in the the Uptown area of Grand Rapids.
  • The Mitten Brewing Company – The baseball themed brewery, and as a baseball fan I am extremely intrigued by this one, though I am surprised that their logo doesn’t feature any baseball theme in it… maybe make the mitten look more like a mitt. Just a thought. Also they have the unusual distinction of having some brand confusion, with the likes of Big Mitten Brewing Company in Plymouth (though they may not be around anymore, website is down), and Mitten Brew a beer blog,
  • Grand Rapids Brewing Company – (FB Link)
    Who Likes Blinding Contrast?

    This was an original brewery in Grand Rapids, started in1893 that ended during the prohibition. The brand and the beer names were bought and brought back in 1993, where they operated a brewery and restaurant on 28th Street. The business was sold a couple of times, and was finally shuttered in June 2011. In September 2011, Mark Sellers owner of Hopcat, and plenty of other bars in Grand Rapids (all under the BarFly properties name), purchased the assets of the brewery and all the brand names, and plans to reopen the brewery somewhere in downtown Grand Rapids, but he is not ready to say where yet. ok the location is on Ionia & Fulton. Additionally there was a recent announcement that the GRBC will be an organic brewery,which if successful would be the first organic brewery in Michigan. It’s a good way to stand out in a crowded field.

  • Rockford Brewing Company – Brewery opened up on Dec. 20, 2012.  Here is a little background on the brewery.
  • Perrin Brewing CompanyNow Open. I took some more time to read about Perrin and how it got started.  It is a peculiar tale, of Randy Perrin, founder of a screen-printing/apparel company, aptly named Perrin Resort Apparel.  He is a board member now, and he gave back the company to his employees through an employee stock ownership program.  At some point Perrin decided he wanted to open a brewery.  The mlive story mentions how Perrin is a Bud Light drinker, and how he doesn’t like “strong, hoppy beers”, which I find somewhat odd, that a person who isn’t a craft beer fan has this interest in opening up a craft brewery (most of which focus and feature “strong, hoppy beers”). Though Perrin did state that he wanted his brewery to have craft beers that appeal to the craft beer enthusiasts, but also have some beers that appeal to the “domestic light beer” drinkers like himself.  I guess that whole angle could explain why they decided to go so large with their initial operation, 20,000 barrels. Their current system has the capacity to be the fourth largest brewery in West Michigan, behind Bells, Founders, New Holland.  That is pretty impressive to be that large already immediately when you open.  Most of the other breweries have done gradual expansions to get to their current size.  More details about Perrin can be found  here,  here, and here. Early on, they also had some are branding identity issues.  The one on the left was the first logo they put out there with their initial announcement, and the logo on the right is what they have settled on.

  • Osgood Brewing in Grandville – The brewery desert between Grand Rapids and Hudsonville, just got an oasis in Grandville with Osgood. Husband/wife team are starting the brewery and they named it after the first tavern owner in Grandville, Hiram Osgood (Being a history nerd, I do enjoy this connection). They also make a nice case for their Grandville location on their blog. Which is interesting because just last month I drove through this stretch of Grandville, and though it was pretty cool. It was nice to see that Grandville actually had a personality beyond the massive commercial district off of Rivertown/44th Street.Osgood
  • Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in Ada – Per Mlive, Ada will be having a brewery and a home brewer supply store in one. Now open.
  • Cranker’s Restaurant & Brewery – In Cutlerville, they re-furbished Coney Island restaurant into restaurant and brewery, based on their Big Rapids brewery.

Kalamazoo Area

  • Paw Paw Brewing Company – In Paw Paw, and they do in fact have a paw print in their logo. Well more like a hop with some claws attached. This brewery was founded by two brothers-in-law, it also mentions how they were able to ask questions and learn from some of the other microbreweries in the state.
  • Bell’s Brewery – The grandfather of Michigan microbrews opened up in 1985, look at what its spawned, at least according to some people in the industry – according to hopcatgr in the BeerAdvocate.com cache version of their forum, he offered this insight ” One, Larry Bell is a visionary but I think he’s also a tough guy to work for (sorry Larry) so a number of people learned there and then went off to start their own thing. That got the ball rolling”. More on this near the end of the post.
  • Olde Pennisula BrewPub – This restaurant and brewpub is located in downtown Kalamazoo.
  • Arcadia Brewing Company – In Battle Creek, prides itself on crafting British-Style ales, and was founded in 1996. They are moving to a downtown Kalamazoo location in summer of 2013. This will become their primary product facility and will also feature a brewpub. They will retain a presence in Battle Creek as well. I was also surprised The owner’s name… Tim Surprise (just had to work that in there.)
  • Dark Horse Brewing Company – In Marshall, Dark Horse has an interesting backstory, the founder Aaron Morse opened up a brewpub, which failed, but he tried again by opening up a brewery which has become pretty successful, undergoing a $700,000 expansion in 2011. It also states that they are looking at adding on distillery, bakery, creamery, and candy shop, which might be taking diversification a little too far.
  • Bravo Restaurant & Cafe – in Kalamazoo, on the website it states that they are the only restaurant in Kalamazoo that brews its own beer, but what about Bilbo’s and Olde Pennisula? Or maybe a restaurant classification is different than a pizza place, and brew-pub.
  • Boatyard Brewing Company – in Kalamazoo. Beer fever strikes again in West Michigan, the name seems to fit better for a lakeshore town though.
  • Bilbo’s Pizza – Not only does Middle Earth serve pizza, but it also brews its own beer… no word on the pipeweed. The microbrews are only available at their Stadium Drive location in Kalamazoo.
  • Latitude 42 – Portage. SW Michigan Dinning did a write up, and looks like they have a kids play area.
  • Kissell Brewing Company – Galesburg. Website is quite confusing.
  • Tibbs Brewing Company – Kalamazoo. This nano brewery is now open in Kalamazoo as of 12/6/2013.
  • Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing – in Kalamazoo. Not a big fan of the name but who I am I to judge. This blog seems to keep pretty close tabs on the development of the brewery though which is now open.

Lakeshore

  • Odd Side Ales – in Grand Haven. They have a nice story, a former accountant laid off, starts a brewery with wife. It is also known as one of the smallest breweries in the country, so you will often find a rotating unique beers available in limited quantities.
  • Old Boys’ Brewhouse – in Spring Lake, is a brewpub place, which was inspired by a dog named Brutus, though affectionately called Old Boy. They are also looking to expand per this recent article in mlive.
  • New Holland Brewing – In Holland, this is another old timer who got started in 1997. It was co-founded by two individuals, one of whom is running Brewery Vivant, read more about that in this old Ledger post.
  • Our Brewing Company – Now open in downtown Holland! They seem to be doing well because they keep running out of beer. This will be a nanobrewery (still waiting for someone to use the term “itty-bittybrewery” instead of micro or nano), meaning that they will have limited production batches of beer.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Company – in Saugatuck… or actually it’s in Douglas… the name is pure lies, just like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
  • The Round Barn Brewery – in Baroda. One of the few cross-over winery/breweries like Jaden James in Grand Rapids.
  • The Livery – in Benton Harbor, surprisingly the only microbrewery in the Benton Harbor/St. Joe area. Named after the over 100 year old building in which the brewery now resides which was once called the “Palace Livery”. More from mlive.
  • Jamesport Brewing Company – is a brewpub located in Ludington. Mlive’s take.
  • Greenbush Brewing Company– in Sawyer, They have a unique tie to Chicago, mainly through their distributor, but they have gotten lots of press out of Chicago as witnessed on their press page. One of the co-owners is from Chicago, so that could explain that connection, but still pretty impressive for brewery opened for less than a year to already have that distribution in place.
  • Big Lake Brewing – Holland Township. The location will be in the 144th, Riley, and Butternut area right next to Thai Palace & near Peppinos (I have to agree with the location not being ideal as one of the commenters noted). Three engineers are starting the brewery which will also be a winery as well (note another combo to add to my list). Here is the initial small blurb on the bottom of the Holland Sentinel article.  Enjoyed this past reference about  their opening – please pay special attention to the idiots commenting – requiring Discover Holland to reply back 3 times on the location of this brewery.
  • Stormcloud Brewery – Frankfort.  Well this one qualifies as either Lakeshore or up north, because Frankfort fits both.  Thanks to a Redditer for this submission.
  • Tapistry Brewing Co. – in Bridgman. Now open.
  • Clay Avenue Brewing – Muskegon

Other

  • Michigan Beer Cellar – in Sparta, maybe they should have called it Michigan Beer Seller !!!!!! (this post is wearing on me)
  • Waldorf Brewpub – in Hastings
  • Middle Villa Inn & Microbrewery – in Middleville. They are very found of their water, per the website its the best ingredient in their beer, and Middleville has the best water in Michigan. Next post I will rate the water on tap throughout the state.
  • Patchwork Brewery – in Decatur. Not only does Patchwork describe the curtains, the renovation process of the building, or the bar (which is really cool), but also the website (I kid, it’s fine). If you want to learn more about the renovation process and curtains read this. This brewery is a woman owned and brewed, which just prompted me to create another column in my spreadsheet – woman owned.
  • Dewey Cannon Winery & Brewery – in Three Oaks, here are some of their beers.
  • White Flame Brewing Company – in Hudsonville, this has to be a Kenny Powers fan right? Nah its just based on the owner/brewer’s last name of White, and his wife’s nickname… boring… why wouldn’t someone name a brewery after their favorite TV show. I mean Bilbo’s Pizza did it with a book. Note if I ever open a brewery it will be named after some reference in “A Song of Ice and Fire” maybe something with Crows.
  • Pike 51 Brewery – Another one in Hudsonville, this one flew under the radar and I just found out about it in Late May 2012 with this mlive article. The brewery is within the existing Hudsonville Winery which opened in 2008, and both businesses are co-owned by two friends.
  • Harpers Brewpub – East Lansing
  • Eaglemonk Pub & Brewery – Lansing.  Thanks to Reddit again for this on.
  • Cranker’s Brewery- in Big Rapids
  • Blue Cow – Big Rapids as well. Their logo says they are a brewpub but there isn’t much else on the website to support that. Though according to this Big Rapids Brewing Company is at the Blue Cow Restaurant.
  • Old Mill Brewpub – in Plainwell.  Interesting and ironic history note, is that the location of this brewpub, the Sunshine Flour mill was once owned by a leading prohibitionist who helped pass that law in Michigan John Eesley. Here is an mlive story.

Up North

Breweries in the Pipeline
So since we have come up with 38 breweries that are currently open and serving beers, we now we are going to look at the rest of the breweries “brewing” in the area. There will be 12 more.

Grand Rapids Area

Allegan County

  • Barking Cat Brewery – Eh not to thrilled with the name, but I do like cats. It’s also one of the only breweries that does not have a location/city confirmed, they are looking to open in 2013. More info here.

Lakeshore

Kalamazoo

Up North

Other

So why is there such an abundance of microbreweries in Michigan ( we are only focusing on the West side of the state)? Typing this question into google did not yield many results, but I did come across someone asking this same question in an old forum post on BeerAdvocate.com. You are best skipping to the bottom of of the page and work your way up (stupid commentators contributing nothing early on, much like you guys 🙂 ). Some theories that were thrown out were the following:

  • Water quality ( especially in Middleville)
  • Cheap Real Estate
  • Buy Local Movement/Pride in the State
  • Farming conditions and climate for growing barley and wheat

But look at the last comment, its from hopcatgr, which I presume is Mark Sellers owner of Hopcat in Grand Rapids ( I could be wrong though). But he states the following:

“There are several factors. One, Larry Bell is a visionary but I think he’s also a tough guy to work for (sorry Larry) so a number of people learned there and then went off to start their own thing. That got the ball rolling.
Two, we’re allowed by law to distribute beer and still have a retail taproom (in Georgia and some other states, if you distribute you can’t have a taproom). Without a retail taproom it’s much harder to make a profit as a new brewery. So the law is on our side here.
Three, there’s no ABV (editor: Alcohol By Volume) cap like there is in Utah and some other states. We are free to make whatever beer we want.
Four, there’s a lot of space, real estate is cheap. For a brewery, you need a lot of low-cost space. That’s why there are very few breweries in NYC despite high population density and affluent customer base, while there are quite a few in Grand Rapids, MI.
And five…most important…the number of breweries/brewpubs PER CAPITA in Michigan is actually lower than several other states.”

So since those comments are coming from an actual brewer I would think that those are some good, honest reasons for the rise in microbreweries in Michigan. The most surprising one was the mentoring by Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery, and how many people have left to start there own. Anyone have information on what breweries were started by Bell’s Brewery disciples? Also the retail taproom concept makes sense because almost all the breweries listed in this article either are running a brewpub, or selling their beers in other ways. So almost all of the microbreweries are taking advantage of having a retail taproom, and they are able to position themselves better in the market and become a destination for consumers. Which leads me to my next point about location. I was shocked at the number of breweries in Traverse City, which had 10 breweries currently and a few more planned. That is the same amount as Grand Rapids, a city with 774,160 residents in the metropolitan area, compared to 143,372 in the area around Traverse City. I definitely see some opportunities with a brewery in St. Joseph (which has nothing), or even New Buffalo, which are both big tourist cities at least in the summer. These are both some nice lakeshore cities. Another thought would be opening up a brewery in the casino towns, you know give people another reason to visit instead of just gambling, like drinking.

If I was skilled at graphic design, I would create an infographic on all the breweries, but I can’t so instead I created a spreadsheet. For example there are 9 breweries that an animal reference either in name, or that display an animal in their logo. There are 6 breweries that are named after the location they are based in (though the Saugatuck Brewing Company is debatable since it it actually located in the Douglas). Then there are 16 breweries that have a name that references either Michigan or a landmark in Michigan. Then there are 3 breweries that make reference to pop culture. Finally, and most importantly out of the 58 currently operating breweries, I have had tried 30 of them. Want to know what other zany categories these breweries fall into? Then download my spreadsheet “TheLedgerBeerList“, it’s pretty great.

I think it’s time for The Ledger West Michigan Microbrewery Crawl 2012 2013! How many of these can we hit in a day, and who has a big bus we can use? Anyone? Remember I have only tried 30, and many more to go especially when the new ones open up.

R.I.P. Micro Breweries

So did I miss anything, and more columns for my spreadsheet. Any more interesting facts about the breweries mentioned above?

Religious Themed Establishments

One of my first stories on this blog was about Graces, a bible themed bar in Grand Rapids.  Recently, the Kalamazoo Gazette had an article on Disciples Cafe,  a Christian themed coffee shop located in Kalamazoo.

While I do like the Disciples Cafe name, I am not a big fan of the logo, the cross seems a little too pirate-like (I think its the angled points on the cross).  The coffee shop also embraces the theme with the decor.  A mural of Jesus on one wall and a cross shaped counter in the middle of the store are just some of the things mentioned.  No word if the owners drew their inspiration (or just purchased fixtures) from Graces.

Actually now the cross in the logo looks like toothpicks.

The Rise and Fall of Spearia

Part 1

Never have I seen a company just come out of nowhere and have such a far reaching presence in such a short period of time like SpeariaSpearia was founded by Danny Beckett Jr. in 2007 in Belmont as a web & marketing development company.  The company at its height employed about 15 professionals in a variety of positions, and produced over a hundred website projects for their clients.  In September 2009 Spearia moved into a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot facility at 2934 West River Drive NE in Comstock Park, which they renovated for $500,000.

Just by announcing this move along Spearia started to get a load of press from local media. And this trend only continued when they announced Comstock 09, an event Spearia created to help celebrate their new office.  So what was Comstock 09?  Here is a list:

  • Two professional motocross shows
  • Music – free performances by Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys, The Concussions, Nobody’s Business and Funktion
  • Hot dog eating contest
  • A wide variety of free children’s activities in Dwight Lydell Park.  Kids can bring their own bikes and ride behind the professional motocross bikers from Fifth Third Ballpark down White Pine Trail to the park
  • Water balloon fight
  • Face-painting
  • Moon walk
  • Special appearances by Miss Michigan and the Whitecaps’ mascot, Crash
  • Food vendors and a beer tent

So all this sounds extremely cool, but once again Spearia was spending money.  According to this article Beckett was putting $50,000 of his own money into the event, and was also hunting for sponsors to help defray the costs of such a massive event.  In fact after the event I began hearing rumors of vendors who helped with the event were not paid for the services they provided to Spearia.  Of course rumors are rumors but looking at the tale events unfold in the past year it looks like there might be some truth to the rumors (more of that to come).

But since Comstock 09, Spearia just pushed on ahead with even more events, sponsorships and just general spending money.  For example – the Spearia team has (or had) a fleet of vehicles at their disposal like:

All these vehicles could not be cheap and maintaining the vehicles as well could be costly.

But there is even more. Did you know that Spearia also was a part of the following:

I understand that community involvement is really important for a company, and building a brand through this could be a huge benefit.  But I would love to find out how effective these campaigns/sponsorships really were.  What was the Return On Investment (ROI) with all these activities and did they bring in any new business?  How much money was spent on these events, that could have been used to reinvest in the company (new resources, new employees)?  How far did some of these activities stretch away from their core business.  Why on earth would a marketing and web development company decide to purchase an RV retrofit it, and do a custom painting on the outside, and then go drive people around ArtPrize?  How does this make sense (they even served pizza and drinks and had a magician on board)?  Granted they did charge $15 per ticket and the proceeds were donated to WMCAT, but still wouldn’t your time, money and resources do much better if they were invested elsewhere?

So where is Spearia now?  Well look at their twitter account – not active since December 10th, 2010.  Look at their facebook account – not active since December 10th as well.  What exactly happened?

Watch the video below from Justin Vander Velde…it answers a lot of questions.
Switching Gears
from Justin Vander Velde on Vimeo. (Make sure you watch that video!)

Justin Vander Velde, a GVSU student along with his classmates Matt Dayton, Jake Dawson, and Andrea Wallace were doing a documentary on Spearia, and founder Danny Beckett,  for a class project.   The students were able to capture a captivating tale of the company,  through some interesting thoughts from Danny Beckett.  For me the video really got interesting at 5:27 mark, when they were speaking with Spearia employees about some of the challenges in working with an “Ideas” person, most likely alluding to Beckett.  Both employees phrased it well but seemed to imply that the company had little focus and was always jumping from one thing to another without much thought or analysis on how this would affect the business.   Jason Dodge, Project Manager, also caught the Justin off guard when he stated that he was no longer the Marketing Director, and that lead to a awkward exchange, which only makes you question what happened.  Then at the 6:45 mark, Beckett starts explaining that perhaps they did too much and that some of their events were “too huge”, and needed to be “more focused”, they “weren’t prepared” and had “lack of planning”.  They were “focused on the fun”, and in the end “relationships got broken” and “a lot of people we own money too.”  All these comments were related to the first event of Comstock 09.  If this was the case, then why did the company continue throwing all these other events?  The video also details that the directors lost touch with Beckett and only heard back from him 3 weeks later, and also noted in the film that Jason Dodge ended up leaving the company. Afterwards Justin and his classmates drove by the Spearia headquarters on West River Drive and filmed the empty building with a For Lease sign from DAR Development in the front window.  Also exposed during the video was that Spearia was looking for investors but ultimately the deal they had in place fell through.  Lastly, the filmmakers were able to contact Beckett and he basically stated that the company as it was known was no longer there, and he talks about his original vision and how it was just not the right vision.  I am still in shock about how honest and forthcoming Beckett was in regards to his business, and how aware he seemed of the company’s mistakes and shortcomings.  But just as baffling is why similar mistakes (in the form of extravagant events) kept on happening.

Per Beckett, Spearia’s vision was to be a “leading experience based creative firm” and he later stated that was a “false vision.”  Now I am not sure if it was a false vision, because being a “leading experience based creative firm” sounds like a great goal, but it just seems that the approach to get to that vision was flawed.  Focus on your product and your service, instead of worrying about making a big splash or being the company that everyone thinks is “cool” or that has a fleet of vehicles for tooling around town with.  Just focus on what you do, and do it well.  But the whole thing about owing people money and breaking relationships that part is not cool at all.  You have to pay who ever you do business with, vendors, banks, partners, whoever and by not doing so is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break relationships.  I can’t help but wonder if this story would have been different if Spearia used all their time, money, and resources on their company instead of “events” and community outreach.  Maybe all these extra activities soon became a weight to great to bear for Spearia.

Oh and I guess this did not help the whole Spearia money situation either – Someone hacking into their phone system and racking up over $20,000 in charges.

It’s just kind of a shame that West Michigan lost another company.  I am sure that Spearia employed lots of hardworking people who did their jobs well, but ultimately it looks like a multitude of decisions may have lead the company to unravel.

So did anyone work with or worked at Spearia?  How about go to the Free Lunch Fridays or any of their other events?  What are your thoughts?  What happened?

This is Part 1.
Part 2 – With insights from the filmmaker Justin Vander Velde is now posted.
I will have one more follow-up post with some insights from a former employee of Spearia.

For more reading and discussion on Spearia check out Urban Planet message board and the mlive – GR Press article on Danny Beckett.

Business Schism in West Michigan

I was once told by a business adviser that when entering in business with a partner, you better know everything about your partner, because you will be “sleeping with your partner”.  Rereading this statement, I think he stated it much more clearly and concisely, but the point is things are about to get really intimate with you and your partner, so you better know them inside and out, have a similar vision, and be able to work together well.

Inevitably lots of times these business partnerships do not always work out for one reason or another.  But wouldn’t you love to know why?  What happened? What are the grievances?  Well I have compiled a short list of businesses in West Michigan which were started by two partners (in most cases or families) and now they have split up and each partner is doing their own thing, most often in the exact same line of business as the one they worked with their partner in.  Awkward!

Case 1:  New Holland Brewing Company & Brewery Vivant

New Holland Brewing Company was started by two friends (grew up together in Midland, and both attended Hope College) Brett VanderKamp and Jason Spaulding in 1996.  Spaulding sold his shares in NewHolland in 2008. The only reason I could find on why he sold his shares was to “focus on economic development work with Lakeshore Advantage.”, where he worked as Vice President of Business Services. After his stint at Lakeshore Advantage, Spaulding attended a brewing school in Munich, Germany and after that we worked as a bar manager at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Now just  two years later, Brewery Vivant, a Spaulding creation at 925 Cherry Street SE Grand Rapids, MI has a scheduled opening of December 2010.  Could it be a non-compete agreement has expired?  Luckily to avoid some of the awkwardness, the breweries are located in different cities.  And what is up with Rooster logo – I like roosters (here & here) as much as the next guy but roosters are like this year’s “it” corporate animal.  I would what will be next – perhaps the stately Goat.

Case 2: Crazy Horse Steakhouse & Saloon and Salt & Pepper Savory Grill & Pub

In 1997, Mark Herman and Mike Karas became co-owners of Crazy Horse Steakhouse & Saloon in Holland, MI.  After 12 years of ownership Karas sold his share in the restaurant to Herman, in 2009.  Then in summer of 2010 Karas opened up Salt & Pepper Savory Grill & Pub at 11539 E. Lakewood Blvd in Holland.  Of course Karas declined to provide any details on why he sold his ownership in Crazy Horse, and he had the following quote from the mlive article on his new restaurant “I think he wishes me well.  I wish him well” regarding Herman.  It is not hard to read between the lines and assume that there might be some bad blood there, either that or someone is taking the high road.  Not surprisingly Karas got right back into restaurant business by opening up his new place just about a mile away on the same street as Crazy Horse.

Case 3: Holland Transplanter & Mechanical Transplanter

Yes this is the second time I have mentioned these companies in my blog, and yes I am just as surprised as you are.  Both these companies produce transplanting equipment for the agriculture industry are both are located in Holland.  Holland Transplanter was founded in 1927 and Mechanical was founded in 1953.  From what I gathered, the current owner, and descendant of one of the founders of Holland Transplanter, has a brother-in-law who runs Mechanical Transplanter.  Those family get togethers must be quite interesting.  This is almost as bad as it can get.  Not only is the company a direct competitor, but they are in the same city, and they are in your family as well.

Case 4:  Wild Dog Rescue and Wishbone Pet Rescue

Alright  I am having a hard time nailing this one down, but here is what I know (I did get an update from Chuck who is involved with Wild Dog- see comments below).  Laine Mossey founders set up the Dog Rescue operation in Saugatuck and also ran a dog shop in the area.  The original name was Wild Dog Rescue, which was later changed to Wishbone Pet Rescue.  The Wishbone Pet Rescue was involved in the very unfortunate Chance story.  The dog was savagely beaten, poisoned, and hung to die, fortunately the dog survived and was left in the care of Wishbone.  At some point during this process Laine (the president) brought on a board of directors to help out with the pet rescue portion of the business.  But apparently there was a difference in philosophy between the president, who wanted to solely rescue pets and the board, who wanted to help the Allegan County Animal shelter.   Now there are two Dog Rescue organizations in Saugatuck area, Wild Dog Rescue (which also runs the Wild Dogs store, and a kennel called Mossey Hollow) and Wishbone Pet Rescue.
One more side note I found this website – http://wilddogsaugatuck.com/ which looks like it was started by the owner Wild Dog, the rescue and pet store, and their issue with the Douglas restaurant called Wild Dog Grille.  Though I think they can choose to name their restaurant the same name, since they are not in the same industry, but it still smacks of poor taste to take on the same name especially in a small community like Saugatuck/Douglas.

Case 5:  Gary Crane UPick Farm & Cranes Orchards

Drive down M-89 in Fennville and inevitably you will come across a stretch of road with orchards on both sides of the road, and with signs on both sides talking about Crane’s U Pick Orchards.  Well although they share the same name (kind of) they are not the same.  In fact ask anyone working at either place and they will definitely tell you they are not associated with the other.  I wonder what happened.  First here are the players – The Gary Crane U-Pick Farm or “Crane’s U-Pick”at 6017 124th Ave is on the North side of the street, and can be recognized with their large white barn.  Cranes Orchards is located on the South side of the street at 6054 124th Ave, is highlighted by the large red Crane’s restaurant.  Interestingly enough both Gary Crane UPick and Crane Orchards offer a detailed history of the family and the two farms.  Here is Gary Crane UPick version and here is Crane Orchards version.  I am not going to dig into this one too much because it hurts my head but it looks like the grandsons of the original founders, ended up going out on their own and operating their own farms in 1985.

Special Case: Adidas & Puma

Some of these stories are eerily similar to the Puma and Adidas story.  The Dassler brothers (Adi and Rudolf) who founded the original company, eventually split up and created separate companies in Puma and Adidas.  Now both companies are located in the same small German village of Herzogenaurach.  Raise your hand if you knew that Puma and Adidas were founded by two brothers, and if you did, let me know and next time I see you, I owe you a high five.

Apparently these individuals were not too please at having to go to bed with their partners.  Does anyone have any more examples of schisms with business partners?  At risk of sounding very tabloid-esque or gossipy… does anyone have any details on what caused these above splits?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Sleepyhead in Michigan: An Entrepreneur’s Tale

Entrepreneurs amaze me.  The ability to conceive an idea into a product, service, and then turn that offering into a company is impressive.  (You can probably tell I like to focus on them from these past posts – iLean, ClipCleany, Cornhole).

So when I was approached with the opportunity to interview one of the founders of Sleepyhead, (Facebook, Twitter) a Chicago based nighttime relaxation drink manufacturer, I found it hard to say no.  But allow me to get into a little bit of background, before I got an email (how to contact me) from Sleepyhead’s public relations staff.  Back in early August my brother, a Chicago resident, came to visit for a weekend, and brought a surprise.  A can of Sleepyhead.  Side Note: My brother enjoys beverages, and in fact he bought me a case of Water Joe (caffeinated water) for my birthday – I still have some left if anyone is interested.  Anyone interested in a giveaway – leave me something witty and insightful in the comments and I will send you a bottle of Water Joe if shipping is not too expensive.  So I was quite intrigued by this can of Sleepyhead, and then my brother throws this in.  He knows one of the co-founders of Sleepyhead, and mentioned how they just up and left their desk jobs.  My jaw hit the floor.  So I took that can of Sleepyhead and put it in my cupboard.  See I rarely have a problem falling asleep, in fact my wife tells me I am a pro at it.

Alright back to the story.  Sleepyhead PR guy emailed me and mentioned that Sleepyhead is expanding into Michigan and wanted to find out if I would be interested in speaking with one of the co-founders.  I mentioned my familiarity with the product, and eventually I had a conversation with one of the co-founders Chuck Hammon.  Here are a couple of interesting things that came up during the conversation:

  • Chuck and his partner Eli developed this idea after meeting after work at each others residences for a period time
  • Eventually they hammered out the idea for Sleepyhead and decided they wanted to start a company.  So they both quit their jobs in corporate America and became beverage entrepreneurs
  • They got some guidance from their local SCORE chapter (I can’t say enough good things about SCORE – Grand Rapids especially has a great chapter – personal experience with them) on some things they didn’t think of or needed to develop better.
  • Per Chuck now in this down economy is the best time to start a company, because banks, vendors, suppliers, retailers who would have never down business with you in the past are all more cooperative, willing to negotiate, and eager to work with any new business (This one surprised me, because I could see both sides of it, but thought most people would be conservative)
  • They learned more in the months of working in bringing Sleepyhead to market than they ever learned in school or at their corporate jobs

Now a little more about the drink, Sleepyhead was developed by Chuck and Eli as a product that they would use and wanted to use.  Their target market is young professionals 22 to 35, men and women, who have a lot going on their lives, and have difficulty falling asleep.  They developed the product to help people unwind and relax, and help get them to bed and get them to sleep.  The product was originally launched in Chicago, and is now available at 7-11 stores, and numerous other convenience type stores or local grocers.  They decided to enter into the Michigan market because they have some local friends in the area who put them in touch with a beverage distributor called Galaxy Wine Distributors in Livonia.  Apparently they were a good match and the timing seemed right so now Galaxy is helping promote Sleepyhead launch in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.  I was hoping that there would be some cool promotions, launch events, or creative publicity for Sleepyhead but it seems like it will be pretty low-key.  Chuck and Eli have set up a schedule with Galaxy to go out and visit accounts carrying their products to learn more about how to support the retailers and what some of their challenges might be.

Well seeing that Sleepyhead is taking a low key approach to launching in Michigan, I thought I would help them out with some ideas…. Enjoy

–       Reach out to the Mommy Bloggers in the area, there are a bunch and many of them do product reviews, and no doubt many live busy lives between, children, family, and blogging, and might be interested in something that may help them relax and get to bed.

–       Our local start up community for entrepreneurs seems like it always has something going, perhaps work with them or speak at an event or provide a nice product placement of Sleepyhead for participants. Perhaps Sleepyhead can talk at one of these upcoming events, and support these fellow entrepreneurs.  I am sure they all have their thoughts racing at the end of the day thinking about what to do next and how to do it.  Seems like a logical fit, and a welcoming group.  Here is the list:

As an aside if you are looking for some entrepreneurial resources do check out the local SCORE Grand Rapids chapter, and GVSU has a great list of resources here.

I would like to say congrats to all the entrepreneurs out there, for taking an idea and making it happen.

Have you tried Sleepyhead, thoughts?  What do you think of the whole slow down and relax beverage segment?

Oh and apparently this week is Global Entrepreneur Week in Grand Rapids.  Good timing right?  Here is a link to more information & schedule.

Case in Point – People love Big Brands

In my recent post about well known stores & brands taking up shop in Grand Rapids like Anthropologie, The North Face, Apple Store, I made the following comment regarding a question about the trend of supporting local businesses:

“Thanks Wendy. I broadly define the local population of GR into the following two areas a) social activists, proponents of GR, and local first types b) everyone else. Everyone else consume based on familiarity, and convenience. So whereas you hear about all the good thing the type A population is doing, most consumers probably fall into type B, where it would be nice to drive an extra 20 mins to go to local store, then another 15 mins to go to local store B, but if I go to Big Chain I can just do all my shopping at once.

Plus big brands are identifiable. You can be reasonably assured that no matter who you talk to they have heard of GAP, H&M, and Nike. When you talk about the major shopping areas like the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, almost all the stores are either designer luxury brand stores, or well known national stores with multiple locations. That is what people talk about and that is what really gets the general populace excited.

Of course Grand Rapids will probably never get the wide range of stores that are featured in the key retail shopping districts in Chicago and New York, but I think that they can get a good mix of a couple of national brand stores to rally the masses, and then sprinkle in with a lot of smaller local retailers to fill in the gaps and help feed off the energy and masses that the national brand stores bring in.

But then again I have had no experience in urban design or economic development. I just call it like I see it.”

Well I think the recent news of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro coming to Grand Rapids (East Beltline & Knapp) illustrates my above comment perfectly.  WZZM tweeted about this on November 18th.  To show the excitement news about P.F. Chang’s in Grand Rapids, this news was tweeted and retweeted by about 23 different people (5 here , 6 here, 3 here, 4 here, another 5 here,).  Mostly with comments like Yum, and Yummy.

I could only find one negative tweet by CreativeIncite who stated the following: “Not excited about PF Chang’s coming to #gr – why would I be excited about another non-unique nat’l chain? Blah. #anywhereUSA”

I am surprised that there was not more of the negative backlash against this especially on twitter, which seems to have quite a high percentage of local-philes (my new name for Proponents of their city, region etc.).

Thoughts?