Food Service & Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Retail

Owners are ready to open Harmony Hall brewpub

The former Little Mexico restaurant will have ‘celebratory feel’ and expanded menu.

October 2, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Harmony Hall
 The owners retained some of the unique artistic features in the entryway to the building, which will serve as a casual waiting area for customers. Photo by Pat Evans

The last two years have been a blur for Jackson Van Dyke.

As the rest of the Grand Rapids beer community has waited and wondered when Harmony Hall, in the former Little Mexico restaurant building on Bridge Street and Stocking NW, would open, Van Dyke and his siblings, Barry Van Dyke and Heather Van Dyke Titus, have labored to prepare the project for the public.

Harmony Hall — at a total cost of more than $1.5 million — opens Tuesday, Oct. 6, but Van Dyke said he’s not easing up on the gas pedal just yet.

The owners know the project is much larger, about three times larger in all facets, than their original brewery, Harmony Brewing Co. in Eastown.

“Literally, everything here is three times larger,” Van Dyke said, citing dining and brewing capacity at the top of the list. Harmony Hall even has three kitchens, compared to the Eastown location’s kitchen, which is mostly just a pizza oven. The large dining footprint on second floor is to make sure the brewery hits its 25-percent sales of non-alcoholic products, legally required to qualify as a brewpub.

Even the staff has almost tripled, from Harmony Brewing’s 35 to Harmony Hall’s 82.

Van Dyke realizes the process has been long and Grand Rapids beer fans are itching to get into the new brewpub, but some of the detours haven’t been in the owners’ control.

“There’s just so many layers and levels of things you have to do,” he said. “It takes a while to purchase the building, to go through planning, to get permission to turn a building into a brewery, to get the equipment, to get through all the alcohol regulations.

“Finally, all those things are in place, coming up on two years.”

Some of the delay is due to ownership decisions, however. Van Dyke said they could have rushed to be open for ArtPrize, but they didn’t want to put staff under that kind of pressure while working out the opening kinks.

Van Dyke said everything, from the dining room’s “re-imagined beer hall” theme to the sausages on the menu, has been scrutinized.

“We get philosophical and think about every detail — almost to the point of insanity on some of these things,” he said. “On the menu, every topping has been chosen for some reason: the color, the unique flavors. The flavor combos have been labored over.”

Much of the thought that has gone into the project is rooted in the history of the building.

Part of the building was originally a sausage factory, hence the sausage-based menu. The “mystical realism” and Black Forest fairytale themes are also rooted in the building’s history. When Harmony took over the building — following Little Mexico’s closing in 2013 — the siblings left the lower entrance room intact, with a variety of almost psychedelic art built into the walls. They also put in a bar secured from the former Herkimer Hotel, allowing the room to serve as a place both to have a quick drink and to handle overflow patrons, as opposed to the upstairs dining hall.

“It’s definitely a trippy feel to it,” Van Dyke said of the entry room. “We let that influence our design.”

The German-style beer hall might have lent itself to being an all-German restaurant, but Van Dyke hesitated to concede that.

“We appreciate the German influence and want to have lager beer, but I’m Dutch,” he said. “Sausage is a very German thing, but we’re doing a menu from around the world. Just like pizza is the platform at Harmony, sausage is a platform here.”

The brewpub will open with 22 beers, including a lager. The increase in beers is one of the reasons the company decided to embark on the expansion. Harmony Hall has a 15-barrel brew system with triple the fermentation capacity of the original location. Staple beers will be brewed on the larger system, with experimental beers brewed at Harmony Brewing, and beers will be shipped between the two.

“It’s a two-way street,” Van Dyke said.

The large footprint of the new building also will allow Harmony to increase its barrel-aging program.

Early on in Harmony Brewing’s existence, the owners knew the beer production would be limited by the space. But they didn’t rush to open a new facility, and Harmony Hall likely wouldn’t have come along this soon had Little Mexico not closed.

“We used to go to Little Mexico; we saw it close, and I was pretty sad about it,” Van Dyke said. “Then, I really wanted the building. If we hadn’t been able to get this particular building, we wouldn’t have expanded as quickly. The neighborhood, the building — it all made a lot of sense to us.”

The neighborhood that is developing on Bridge Street NW is attractive to Van Dyke. With a variety of businesses in place and more that have recently opened, such as The Black Heron, and that are soon to open, like New Holland Brewing Co., Atwater Brewing Co. and The Sovengard, it’s likely to be a place where like-minded consumers can spend a lot of time.

Van Dyke also hopes Harmony Hall will reflect the same neighborhood vibe Harmony Brewing enjoys on the border of Eastown and East Grand Rapids. Combine the several ethnic populations surrounding the venue with its communal seating options and Van Dyke said Harmony Hall may become be a west-side gathering place.

“There’s a lot of residential around here,” he said. “A lot of people are coming from downtown. Grand Valley is right around the corner. We’re close to a population center.

“The celebratory nature of the beer hall is what we’re going for.”

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