Delays help City Built find its niche
Brewery opens in Monroe North area after nearly two years of setbacks.
When Edwin Collazo and Dave Petroelje first announced City Built Brewing Co. in fall 2015, the brewing industry was a different beast.
At the time, craft beer sales were increasing by double-digit percentage points, and breweries were hoping to get into the distribution game while shelf and tap space was seemingly abundant.
When the 2016 beer industry numbers were released at the beginning of this year, the industry was flat lining, falling to a mature industry growth number of 8 percent.
City Built, 820 Monroe Ave. NE, opened at the end of May, and Collazo acknowledges the plans for the brewery had altered over the three years of planning, in part, causing the public, year-long delay from the original opening date — and eight months following a second announced opening.
It also went from a $600,000 to $800,000 project to more than double the initial cost, Collazo said. He said they had to sell more of their business to investors and take on more debt than planned, but they are more than satisfied with the finished product.
“The biggest issue for us was understanding what we really wanted to be,” Collazo said. “We didn’t really understand what that could be until we found the space and doing research about the neighborhood and what’s happening here and knowing there was an opportunity here to do something bigger.”
The delays do have a major benefit in Collazo’s eyes. While City Built always was going to be below the 85 apartments at 616 Lofts at Monroe and next to Boardwalk Condominiums, there now is more construction happening in the Monroe North neighborhood. Orion Construction’s River’s Edge apartments are a stone’s throw to the right as you walk out the front door of City Built, and the 246-room Embassy Suites by Hilton is a short walk to the left.
Collazo used to live, as a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College, in the Belknap Lookout area, and never imagined the Sackner Building, where the brewery is, would be the place he works.
“It’s cool to walk out and look left and see an elevator shaft, look right and see an elevator shaft and across the river, there are so many residents in walking distance and above,” Collazo said. “I see this neighborhood becoming one of those places you want to come to hang out, like Bridge Street is now. That used to be low rent, now it has the highest drink price in town.
“I owned a house near Bridge Street, I used to hang out at a bar to watch people get in fights. Now, it’s different. Not better or worse, just different.”
Petroelje said when the partners were initially planning the brewery, it was just as a tasting room. Now, City Built is more of a full-blown restaurant with Collazo’s family Puerto Rican recipes. Petroelje is the head brewer, leading a small team focused on making beers with nontraditional beer adjuncts, often using herbs and spices instead of hops. City Built offers more traditional beer styles, as well.
“We’re looking forward to blazing a new trail in the beer city,” Petroelje said when the company was first announced. “We'll brew some good pales and IPAs to satisfy hop heads, but we will also be using flavors like lavender, cardamom and sage to give our beers a distinctive edge.”
There is growth potential for small, neighborhood brewpubs, but how City Built grows could dictate its sustainability moving forward, and the owners are fully aware.
“There’s a shift going on now, and the midsize breweries aren’t growing like they were,” Petroelje said. “We’re nowhere close to being a midsize brewery, and this end is still where there’s the most growth potential, but at some point, if you keep growing, you’ll become that size.”
To combat the stalling of becoming a midsize brewery reliant on distribution for growth, Collazo said he already has “significant ideas” to grow the brand. Little ideas will help as well, such as selling cans to go within the taproom.
“Understanding how to push more beer out of our space and getting creative,” he said. “Can sales out of a cooler, that’s the best margin for us and understanding how people chase beer brings people here, as well.”
Many of the breweries that have opened during the brewery boom of the past five years have started to open second production facilities, second taprooms or relocate to a new, larger space for added room for both functions. Collazo’s drive to be creative about pushing more beer out of City Built’s existing space is a function of seeing shelf and tap availability shrink on his fellow breweries.
Collazo foresees a time where a second facility might be needed for City Built, but it will be with a different model in mind.
“The idea of building just another production facility is not attractive to me, because that’s tied to growing more and more sales,” Collazo said. “If we did another facility, it’d be tied to another business like an event space or bed and breakfast. The next step is tying breweries and beers to an event space or experience.”