Food Service & Agriculture, Real Estate, and Retail

Field & Fire prepares North Monroe location

The artisan bread-maker will open a café in 616’s new development.

April 22, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Field & Fire bakery
Natalie Zuelke stocks croissants at Field & Fire’s Downtown Market location. Photo by Pat Evans

When Field & Fire opened in the brand-new Downtown Market in 2013, Shelby and Julie Kibler imagined 90 percent of their revenue would come from retail sales.

In reality, the husband and wife team has experienced a split of about 50-50 between retail sales and wholesale accounts, which now number 25 across the city.

The balance between retail and wholesale at the Downtown Market for their wood-fired artisan breads and croissants has been a surprise for the Kiblers, who moved to Grand Rapids from Ann Arbor to start Field & Fire, but now they are set to embark on a fully retail endeavor at 616 Lofts at Monroe, 820 Monroe Ave. NW.

“The surprise was the sales here weren’t as high as I was anticipating, so then it became an issue of getting sales wherever we could — and that happened quickly,” Shelby Kibler said. “(In the new location) we can engage in a totally different way.”

The new Field & Fire location will focus largely on pastries, as its croissant production moves to Monroe Avenue, along with breakfast and lunch foods. Production at the Downtown Market will continue to focus on breads.

“We expect it to continue to grow; we’re not going to stop building this place as we open the other place,” he said.

An option to start the new café surfaced last year when 616 Development began looking for retail tenants for the facility, which now includes City Built Brewery, Fido and Stitch, and CKO Kickboxing. Essence Restaurant Group also expects to build a restaurant next to the development.

At the time, however, Field & Fire was just a year and a half old, and the Kiblers didn’t believe they were ready to extend themselves to a second location. As discussions evolved, the couple decided it was a great opportunity.

“It’s 616. They’re smart people engaged in fun projects, and we felt we had a good connection, and the Essence Group is doing a restaurant and we also have great feelings of admiration for their business and process,” Shelby Kibler said. “We couldn’t lose if we started considering this as an idea.”

The North Monroe District’s relative lack of morning and lunch options presented an opportunity for the Kiblers, whose business plan calls for breakfast foods, coffee and lunch. The Kiblers said they have met with other restaurant owners in the area and are excited about what they’ve heard, including busy weekend brunches at nearby SpeakEZ Lounge.

As development works its way along Monroe Avenue from downtown north toward Leonard Street, the risky venture of starting a new business there seems a bit more of a sure thing.

The ongoing and future development, abundant parking and proximity to parks and the Grand River are all attractive, Julie Kibler said.

“It seems like it’s a logical up-and-coming neighborhood,” Shelby said. “It’s still a bit of a gamble, but a lot of growth is pointing in that direction. We’re banking on it being a great, thriving neighborhood.”

Field & Fire’s café should be ready by August. A contractor has been hired for the build-out and they are now waiting on permits from the city. The new location also will prompt improvements at the Downtown Market store.

Initially, Field & Fire’s business plan included a large bread mixer and flour mill. Opening expenses nixed those purchases initially, but now those items will be added to the mix downtown. Field & Fire uses whole grains and the sourdough process for all of its products and won’t deviate from that, but the new café will use conventional ovens, unlike the two wood-fired ovens at Downtown Market.

“When you’re a bakery this size, milling your own flour is not silly,” Shelby said. “I want to shrink the distance ingredients travel. A lot of flour is from far away, and the more I can engage the community and farmers, the better our bread will be.”

Whether the interaction is providing restaurants with bread or serving customers a croissant and coffee, the Kiblers are excited to continue providing Grand Rapids with baked goods.

“We’re just excited about developing new relationships with our customers and community, in general, by expanding our offerings and making even more people happy,” Julie said. “We’re looking forward to having a place where people can come into our space and sit and enjoy the things we’ve made instead of grab and go in quick interactions.”

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