Tag Archives: West Michigan Made

West Michigan & The Hardware Store – Take a Walk Down the Aisle

Hardware StoreMaybe you only visit your small local one, or perhaps you prefer the big box one, whichever type of hardware store you choose you’d be able to find an interesting array of West Michigan made products. With West Michigan’s manufacturing footprint, it is only logical that there are many local businesses that are filling the shelves at hardware stores. So lets take a nice virtual trip through a hardware store and see what we can find.

Usually the most brightly lit part of the store is the paint section. Although this company isn’t actually selling consumers anything, they have quite the presence at the paint counter. X-Rite is a company that produces color measurement equipment and software. They manufacture paint matching equipment called spectrophotometers (spectro), allowing hardware stores and paint stores to match the color of anything a consumer brings in, giving you a can of paint in the exact same color of your sample. So next time you are at a paint counter take a look around and see if you can spot the spectro.

Now, the one thing that you always need MITmore of and never have enough of are tools. Hardware stores are the perfect spot to add to your collection or get that one tool you just need to finish your project. Luckily Michigan Industrial Tools based in Grand Rapids produces over 2,000 different types of tools under 3 sub brands  – Tekton, Maxcraft, and Workshop. I will also have to say that I am quite the fan of their logo with how they still worked in an “I” and a “T” in the “M”, very subtle but well done.

Another company with a lot of sub-brands is National Nail Corporation in Wyoming. Although they do offer numerous nails, the company is really staking themselves on the following two sub-brands – CAMO Fasteners and Stinger Cap Systems. The CAMO Fasteners system is a way to screw down lumber decking without having the screws showing, a hidden screw system (the video showcases it quite nicely.) Stinger Caps is a new way of attaching insulation wrap on new construction which seems a lot easier than a nail hammer.

Since we just got done talking about decks and hidden fastening systems, we might as well go to the lumber yard. Universal Forest Products based in Grand Rapids, produces lumber for decking, and almost every other use, in additUniversal-Forest-Products-Inc.ion to a wide range of other wood based products. If you have any more questions you might as well spend some time playing around in their little city program here.

hexarmor-logoPerhaps these two should go hand in hand. We have Grand Rapids based Hexarmor who produces gloves, armbands, and other apparel for personal protection against cuts, punctures, and other injuries. Their technology is a competitor of Kevlar and they have been getting into similar industries, and their focus is on protecting people. Klever Innovations located in Grand Haven developed a new type of box cutter called the Klever Cutter. This box cutter was created in response to 9/11 because the traditional box cutter being used as a weapon. The group that founded Klever Cutter set up to create a product that would open boxes, but would not cut the anyone, or damage the goods inside the box. So with the Klever Cutter you wouldn’t need a pair of Hexarmor gloves now would you?

Shuffling over to the home improvement area, we have some redundancy with the following two products Quick Door Hanger and EZ-Hang, (though if I had been “klever” I would have worked both of these companies into my last post). Both these products allow for quick, easy and plumb door installations. Quick Door Hanger is produced by Express Products located in Grandville. The EZ-Hang door is based in Hesperia. Express Products also produces the Fix-A-Kink product that helps fixed kinked hoses. It seems that they have found quite the niche with home improvement products for consumers.

Alright logograbber75we made it through the store, now its time to checkout. But even the checkout aisle has a few impulse items for us to look at. Especially in the fall and winter season you will be seeing many displays for hand warmers like Grabber (not at all fond of the name) based in Grand Rapids. There is an extensive write up in Rapid Growth about how they are more than just hand warmers and how the company got started.

Lastly, who couldn’t use a pair of new shades, that is where Global Vision of Byron Center comes in. They are a wholesaler of sunglasses, safety glasses, and goggles which are perfect for the hardware store. Interesting side note, apparently both Global Vision and Grabbers have the same marketing person – Matt Pickel. Someone needs to update their website.

We finally got out of the store, except now we have a cart full of stuff that we didn’t come in here to buy. Oh well that is how it usually works anyways.  So what did I miss? Do we need to go to the home and garden section next?

Hung

Confession time, I have way too many saved bookmarks on my internet browser.  Occasionally I go through and try to purge any links that no longer work or that I don’t find interesting anymore.  Now every time I did this I always hesitated on one link on whether I should delete it or keep it.  Well I decided to keep it and look now I have a blog post.

The link in question is http://www.robertcarltonhangers.com/.  Robert Carlton, is not a distinguished English Gentleman, but rather a local manufacturer of “high quality wooden hangers,” located in Zeeland, MI.  Per the website Robert Carlton is owned by Bennett Wood Specialties, which is a 4th generation family owned business that started back in 1906. Granted hangers aren’t really sexy or exciting like micro-breweries or start-ups, but all the same I stumbled upon this link and decided to save it.  Luckily though I happened to stumble upon on a different link this time for http://www.hangersplus.us/. Hangers Plus is a company located in Coopersville, that makes hangers! Now with Hangers Plus, they have a huge variety of hangers – plastic or wooden, US or European Style (who knew?), tops, bottoms,  outwear, or intimate…the possibilities are endless. They also manufacturer their hangers around the world – Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India.  They also have numerous other locations.  Which is quite impressive for a company most have never heard of, tucked away in Coopersville, quietly making hangers.

How do you like that two hanger companies in West Michigan?  Honestly it isn’t a big deal, but I would have never thought that West Michigan would have had one hanger company, let alone two.  But it just goes to show the width breadth of products that are made by local companies, and also showcases how one seemingly simple product can have some many variations and ways to differentiate yourself.

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.

Aster Workshops – Start Garden Entry

Well this seems like a no-brainer, Start Garden has an entry for the competition on August 16th, called Aster Workshops. If you need me to spell things out for you, Aster is a flower, and flowers grow in gardens. How perfect would it be for Start Garden to select Aster Workshops as a winner, and then help Aster Workshops “grow” with the $5,000 prize, and help “nurture” the company forward until it “blossoms”.

Anyways the Aster Workshops idea was submitted by Tom Pietri, a friend of mine who I have worked together with the Google Fiber for Holland campaign back in 2010. I was interested to hear from Tom firsthand about this idea, and I had a chance to recently interview him about the idea. Enjoy.

  • The Ledger: What is the idea? – Tom Pietri: The idea is to have a
    network of independent craftsmen who would build high quality production furniture.
  • TL: Ok, lets get some more details. – TP: I have a group of
    craftsmen, like woodworkers, welders, and finishers.  Each of these
    craftsmen has the skills to create furniture and they have all the
    necessary equipment, tools, in either their home garage, pole barn, or workshop.  I would design the furniture, and sell the finished
    furniture through furniture stores or our website to consumers.  When an order would come in for a set number of pieces, I would find out which of my craftsmen would have the time and capacity to complete their part of the furniture project, within certain number of days.  Once their part is completed, I would inspect the finished pieces, and deliver them to next craftsman to work on.  For example if an order for a table was made – I would provide the wood for the woodworkers, who would complete the wood portion of the table.  Then the wood portion would be brought to the finisher, who would then add a finish to the wood table top, and finally the wooden tabletop would be joined with the metal base for the table which was created by the welder.
  • TL: Sounds like you are the glue in this whole operation, bringing everything together, and filling in the spots. Can you elaborate more on your role? – TP: Sure.  Right now I have a small group of craftsmen, who are ready to go.  But of course as things get going, I will have to add to my roster of craftsmen at Aster Workshops, so that would involve validating any new craftsmen, by checking their work, and ensuring that it meets my quality standards.  In addition I am also the lead designer, creating the furniture designs, and developing new ideas.  But of course as this gets moving along, I might also be interested to taking submissions of designs from other people as well to incorporate their work into the process.  Then I am doing almost everything else.  Like talking with the furniture stores, receiving feedback to develop the product catalog further, and also doing quality control checks on the pieces of furniture, delivering materials, and finished products as needed, and finally also acting as a craftsman as well, if demand goes over capacity, I am ready to act as a safety valve, as I already build custom furniture in my home shop.
  • TL: You mentioned furniture stores, is that your primary customer? – TP: Initially yes, local furniture stores are a great starting point, because they already are known in the market, they have intimate knowledge on the market, the consumers, and furniture trends. I am hoping that by working with the furniture stores we can design and create pieces that may fill a gap in their current offering, and also learn how Aster Workshops can better serve the market and the customers.  But we are open to selling to individuals as well, so when our website gets updated with our designs, feel free to contact us with any interest.
  • TL: Where did this idea come from? – TP: I currently build custom furniture pieces, and wanted to expand my market, and get more regular business, but since there is only me, I have limited capacity. Realizing that there must be other local craftsmen in the area, who do the same thing, and would like to leverage their skills and abilities to create pieces, what if I could link up all the various craftsmen, so we could operate like a factory, but without all the overhead, and fixed costs.  The craftsman would be well compensated for their work, and they would only take new projects as they have capacity for.  I thought it made perfect sense.
  • TL: What is in it for the craftsmen? – TP: Obliviously, they will
    be paid for their work.  They will also be able to do something that
    they enjoy doing.  I enjoy being an independent craftsman, and take a lot of pride in my work, and there is nothing more satisfying than
    being able to create something like furniture with your own hands and tools.  The next best thing is hearing the reaction from the recipient or customer of the piece created.  So if I enjoy this feeling every time I am creating something, I am sure that there must be many other craftsmen who feel the same way.  By creating this network, these craftsmen can employ their craft and use their skills to be part of something bigger, and have access to more regular work, and be a part of a whole community.  Plus they get to put their Maker’s Mark on the pieces they make.
  • TL: Maker’s Mark? I am guessing this is not a bottle of whiskey you are referring too. – TP: Hahaha, no.  What I wanted to do was have something unique to each craftsman who is part of Aster Workshops, to have their own unique mark, that signifies that this piece of furniture was made by a unique individual, and not a faceless company. Each craftsman would have their mark, and this will be placed on the furniture, along with any other craftsmen who had their hands in creating the piece of furniture. These Maker’s Marks will be placed somewhere inconspicuous.
  • TL: So if you get selected by Start Garden what would you use that $5,000 for? – TP:Mainly operating capital, I need to ensure that the pieces that we are designing and creating would be well received in the furniture stores, and that they would be selling regularly.  So we will need to do some testing on various designs to determine what is going to sell.
  • TL: Now that I asked you about the best possible outcome with your entry, I need to follow-up with what happens if you don’t win? – TP: Well since I can always re-enter Start Garden, I will re-work my entry and try again through that avenue.  But I would also look at some standard investment strategies, and if neither of those go through, then I would use my own money and just go at a much slower pace to create and grow my business.  So no matter what happens, keep checking asterworkshops.com.
  • TL: Great, thanks for the information Tom, and definitely keep us posted, and The Ledger would like to keep checking up on your progress periodically. – TP: Not a problem at all, and hopefully I will have some good news to share.

There we go, an in-depth look at Aster Workshops, one of the entrants in Start Garden. It is quite an interesting idea, because almost everyone knows a craftsman – either a co-worker, family member, or a neighbor. You know the guy or girl, with a garage full of tools and equipment, and who is always working on some new project or product. They are everywhere. The best thing is that the people who do build stuff on their own time, in their own workshops, are passionate about what they do, and they enjoy doing it. With West Michigan’s rich heritage in furniture manufacturing and woodworking, this region is ripe with people who can do this type of work, and also people who appreciate the end result. So why not leverage this ready and available resource, to help create unique furniture pieces, that each have their own story to tell.

Anyways best of luck to Aster Workshops, and if this idea really resonates with you be sure to vote for them by Thursday August 16th, at http://startgarden.com/ideas/detail/aster-workshops.

Questions for Tom Pietri and of Aster Workshops – email him at tom@asterworkshops.com or visit the website asterworkshops.com.

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?

Maybe It’s the Factory Outlet Stores That Make West Michiganders Cheap

(Note this story originally appeared in the the August/September 2011 version of Urban Street | Shore West Magazine)

West Michigan has a reputation…thrifty, cheap, frugal, any way you put it West Michiganders like a deal, or so they say.

But there may be a reason for this; our region is home to a large number of manufacturers.  Often times these manufacturers have overruns, returns, or just old inventory that they need to get rid of.  Lucky for us many of these corporations have factory outlets stores that are open to the public.  These factory outlet stores enable the manufacturers to move some of their extra, old, or returned products, which are available at considerable discount to patrons of the store.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the outlet stores, and see what we may find.

As the name implies, Lakeshore Candle Company produces candles.  These candles are hand poured in their Zeeland facility, where they also have an outlet store at 9434 Pentatech Drive.  According to President Jon Haveman, the store was started as a way to move candles that do not meet their stringent quality standards for their retail store customers.  So often times the outlet store may feature “second quality” candles, which may be up to 50%, discount.  “Second quality” means that the candles have small defects like the wick isn’t centered, or the color is the wrong hue, or maybe label issues, none of which affect how the candle’s performance and fragrance.  Those with non-discriminating eyes, these “second quality” candles are just as good as the ones shipped to customers.  Lakeshore Candle Company’s outlet store is open 10 to 4 Monday through Friday.

Another well-known local manufacturer is Haworth, one of the leading producers of office furniture and workspaces, and they too have a factory outlet store.  But their story is a little more unique.  Haworth has a zero waste to landfill policy, meaning that they do not send any garbage to a landfill.  Recycling and re-using are of huge importance to Haworth.  The outlet store at 1451-100 M-40 in Holland, sells a wide variety of items.  In addition to production overruns, returns, and old products, you might even find some items coming from Haworth’s own facilities that they can no longer use.  So not only could you furnish your home office, but you might also pick up fabric to reupholster the couch, locker to store items in the garage, and even find some extra corporate gifts that might look great in your new office.  You’d surprised at what you may find, and the inventory changes very quickly so be sure to check back often for new items.  According to Haworth, it’s recommend to call the store ahead of time to confirm hours as there may be special sale or inventory hours.  Normal hours are Monday through Thursday 10 to 6, and Friday 7 to 4, and the store can be reached at 616-393-4300.

If you are willing to take a little drive to Allegan, you can also purchase medicine, vitamins, and other healthcare items for a significant discount (as long as you don’t mind the generic labels) from the Perrigo factory outlet store.  Perrigo is a leading manufacturer of over the counter medicines and vitamins, and prescription pharmaceutical products.  The outlet store is at 300 Water Street in Allegan, and their hours of operation are 11 to 5 Monday through Friday, and 9 to 1 on Saturday.  The store can be reached at 269-673-7962.

For those of you still looking for deals be sure to check out the following places as well:

  • Holland Bar Stool Company at 12839 Corporate Circle Place in Holland, has an outlet store where you can pick up stools.  Visit www.barstoolshowroom.com for more details.
  • Zeeland based Herman Miller, another leading office furniture manufacturer, uses Office Outlet at 455 West Washington Street in Zeeland, as their outlet store.  For more information visit www.officeoutlet.net.

Maybe West Michigan does not deserve its reputation as being cheap, but with so many local manufacturers selling their products at discounted prices, how can you resist.

By the way a special thanks to Haworth and Lakeshore Candle Company for answering some questions and providing additional information about their outlet stores.

Schaap & the West Michigan Media

I have never been in a West Michigan news room, but I imagine it would go something like this:

Not an image of a reporter working on his deadline story.

Editor: “Johnson, do you have your article ready for the next issue?”
Reporter: “Boss, I thought the deadline for my story was next week.”
Editor: “JOHNSON! I need an article on my desk by tomorrow morning”
Reporter (to self): ” Damn… I need a story fast, I better call Schaap”

It's Schaap. Wonder if the yellow face might be sort of a Bat Signal, when media needs a story.

Every publication has written at least one article on Aaron Schaap.  But many have written two, three or even more, therefore providing proof  to my above hypothesis.

Who is perpetuating this cycle… the journalists or Schaap?  Are journalists tripping over themselves to get a recorder in front of Schaap or is Schaap pursuing the journalists with a barrage of calls, emails, and press releases?

Yellow face in background again must be the Schaap signal

So why is everyone writing a story on Mr. Schaap?  By the looks of it, he has a lot going on with his companies (The Factory, Elevator Up, Downstream), and with the local start-up and tech scene.  Is it a prerequisite for any business publication in the area to do a story on Schaap?  Probably not but the man does get a lot of coverage.

Seems like there would be an easier way to hold a pin? or is it an elevator (up) button?

It’s no surprise that the Mlive/West Michigan Business Review and the Grand Rapids Press have been working on the Schaap angle for years.  Fortunately not all of their stories focus solely on Schaap, they also include some other people, but they have some great photos (my personal favorite is the Tech Industry one):

Sharing the Thunder - One of the rare Schaap photos featuring other people

If you ever read the Holland Sentinel, they rarely have any business stories in their paper.  You have to search their website to even find their business section, and the actual stories in the paper are usually just AP wire stories.  So it is even more surprising that they have two stories on Schapp (Pitch Night, and Momentum) and even had Aaron as respondent on Street-Talk.

Grand Rapids Business Journal finally got in on the action with a Schaap feature just last month – “On-The-Job Training as an Internet Entrepreneur“.  I am surprised it took them that long (by the way GRBJ search function is awful, searching for Schaap will not bring up that story, and it is quite a pain not being able to actually read any of the stories…definitely a bummer).

MiBiz also has a few stories covering Schaap – DownStream, G33k, Entrepreneurs (you will have to log-in to read these stories).  As has Rapid Growth in covering his Pitch Night and Factory news.  The Rapidian touched on Schaap in a couple of stories (here, here) and even GrubSheets did a story.

Aaron levitating

Lastly the newly launched Startup Stories vlog did their first vlog post on Schaap and his Downstream company (honestly who else would have they done their inaugural story on?… Carl Erickson and Atomic Object, yeah right)

Mr. Schaap does have a great story, (which is surprisingly open and candid) and the guy is quite a good marketer of himself and his companies.  But his relationship with the media somewhat reminds me of Rob Bliss‘ relationship with the media (but without Mlive commenters making derisive comments), with the constant coverage.

Damn it, I just wrote an Aaron Schaap story as well.

Happy that The Ledger did a story