Architecture & Design, Construction, and Food Service & Agriculture

TowerPinkster is brewing a threesome

One brewery is expanding, two are debuting, and all are in the same city.

April 5, 2013
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TowerPinkster is brewing up a threesome
A rendering of the Arcadia Brewing Co. expansion on East Michigan Avenue. The $6.2 million project will add 30,000 square feet to the structure. Courtesy TowerPinkster

The old adage that good things come in threes certainly applies for a local engineering and architectural company, as TowerPinkster has the unusual task of designing three breweries at the same time and in the same city: Kalamazoo.

The firm, with offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, is providing services for the $6.2 million Arcadia Brewing Co. expansion at 701 E. Michigan Ave. The project is the largest of the three at 30,000 square feet; the work includes creating a new brewpub, production area and offices.

At the same time, the company is assisting Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing Co. with a $1.5 million conversion of a former auto dealership at 140 S. Westnedge Ave. into a new microbrewery. Also at the same time, the firm is designing the new home of the Boatyard Brewing Co. at 432 E. Paterson St.

“I would say that is a combination of maybe a stroke of luck and maybe a little word of mouth,” said Jason Novotny, director of design at TowerPinkster, on getting the three contracts at the same time.

“I think that because we began working on Arcadia first, it gave the others a level of comfort that we could do their projects, as well. Everyone has a different-sized system, but the process is scalable and takes the same steps. So in that regard, for the most part, it’s the same process,” he added.

Novotny said it’s really not more difficult to work on designs for three breweries at once. He said the staffers on the projects share their work and knowledge with each other, which makes the design processes move along smoothly.

TowerPinkster is doing the mechanical and electrical engineering and architectural work for Arcadia and Gonzo’s, and the interior design work for Boatyard. All three intend to serve food and will have kitchens, so each will be microbreweries rather than brewpubs. Boatyard will open without food service, but plans to add it at a later date.

Because the trio plans to serve food, the design has to be somewhat of a hybrid. A portion of the design will be a restaurant, while the other section will have elements of a manufacturing setting. Both have to be seamlessly tied together and that presents a challenge.

“In that regard, I guess it’s most challenging once the beer is produced. It typically goes to keg and then is served, so there is a little line of crossover,” said Novotny.

To counter that challenge, Novotny said he and his crew spends what he called “a day in the life of his clients” where they imagine themselves working in the production area and on the taproom floor. He said that allows the designers to become familiar with how the beer flows from start to finish.

“You understand where you’ll be able to do efficiencies or suggest how the whole of the building works. So from an efficiency standpoint, we’re trying to move the products less — having people walk a shorter distance or drive a pallet truck with finished product out the door in a way that saves time,” he said.

“In the same way, we have to do the same thing for the restaurant-retail component. You have to map out and discuss with the owners exactly how they’re going to serve beer and food because we need to understand a day in the life of a bartender, a server, or a hostess, if they have one,” he added.

A big test comes when patrons want to tour the facility. How flawlessly a tour proceeds can determine how successful the design is. Novotny said the interior work for Arcadia and Boatyard includes specific spaces that allow customers to gather in a windowed portion of the taproom and then tour the production area, a key element that isn’t part of the standard restaurant design. “We map out where they can go and what they can see,” he said.

The blueprint for Biggdogg is different. Because the brewery’s production will take place behind a giant windowed area that circles the taproom, customers will be able to view the process from their tables and also from the serving section, where a space is being carved out for that.

“They can, essentially, turn and see most of the process,” said Novotny. “That works on that one in particular because it’s not so large of a system where the steps aren’t very far apart. For Arcadia, the steps are larger, so we do have people walk more in a straight line and they can see the process as it happens — at least, the most interesting parts.”

Novotny said the same regulatory guidelines apply in all three designs because all will be selling beer on the premises. And although the design process may be the same for the trio, the result is not cookie-cutter. As with most things, the devil is in the details.

Of the three, Novotny said the most design challenges are in the Arcadia project, but only because it’s a larger brewery than the other two. He said there is more to consider in that design because it requires more support areas in the serving section.

“It is going to be more of a cafeteria-style approach and a little bit of a different one, as well. There will be more common tables and more of a ‘walk yourself through the serving line and choose your meal as you go’ area,” he said. “So that means there needs to be spots for trays, drop-off points and lots of practical considerations, like where do the pint glasses go? Things like that have to be worked into the Arcadia design.”

Also, the Arcadia site is along the Kalamazoo River, and Novotny said owner Tim Surprise wants his pub to feature some natural outdoor elements. “From an interior design perspective, that means you’ll see a lot of reclaimed wood being used and some other sustainable materials,” he said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Biggdogg is locating in a former car dealership.

“With Biggdogg, that is actually a repurposing of an existing building, and that’s got a different challenge to it because you have to deal with all the glass. Usually glass is desirable, but to create intimacy, it’s the exact opposite.”

Having TowerPinkster design three breweries at the same time in one city is not only good for the firm but it also shows the craft beer industry is still growing, after it contributed a few billion dollars to the state’s economy last year. And as far as the trio of brewery owners are concerned, three is company and not a crowd. Novotny said they’re not concerned about setting up their shops near each other.

“I know all three are going to benefit from being in the same location. I also know when we talked to each of the owners about their projects, they all felt like they’re not in competition with one another as much as they felt they will complement one another. They want to lift each of their businesses up by being in the same in the same city and by being part of a brewing community,” he said.

Brian Steele and Dan Gilligan own Boatyard, while Greg “Gonzo” Haner owns Biggdogg. The three are getting into the business after successfully brewing beer at home, something the TowerPinkster crew is familiar with.

“There are a number of people working on this project, including myself and our lead mechanical engineer, Perry Hausman, who are home brewers. I’ve been involved in making my own beer for 15 years, as has Perry. So that helps us talk the language with our clients, which is helpful,” said Novotny.

“Whenever my wife and I vacation somewhere, we both enjoy making stops at the local microbreweries. We’ve done that for at least 10 years on our own, so I’ve seen quite a number of them and have done the tours to know how they work. So now it is fortunate to be able to take that knowledge and put it toward projects.”

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