Region’s first brewery co-op on tap
High Five selects Kentwood location, but there is more work to be done.
After several years of legal work and real estate hunting, High Five Co-op Brewery recently secured a space for its first brewery and taproom in the Shoppes at 52nd Street in Kentwood, putting it on track to be the first member-owned brewery in West Michigan.
High Five has been around since 2011, hosting meet-ups for home brewers and beer enthusiasts, as well as collaborating with breweries and community organizations.
The co-op itself isn’t just a gathering place for home brewers. One of High Five’s board members, Doug Petteys, is a senior BIM specialist for Hooker DeJong, Inc., an architectural firm in Grand Rapids, and he brings his experience in architecture and marketing to the co-op.
“We’re seeing a lot of people with a lot of different skills come crawling out of the woodwork and offering to help,” Petteys said. “They’ve got restaurant skills or brewing skills — something that eventually we’re going to be able to use.”
Petteys said co-ops usually operate similarly to an employee-owned business, except the employees will have a greater voice in the direction of the company.
“In our case, we’re not a worker’s co-op. We’re a commercial co-op, so we’re open to the public,” he said. “You don’t have to buy in to enjoy the beer.”
A board of directors, voted on by members, leads High Five. Petteys said the board eventually will hire a head brewer who will control the day-to-day activities.
“We’re not going to have 150 people voting on the color of the tablecloth,” Petteys said.
Petteys joined High Five in 2015 before the co-op had begun its 2016 capital campaign to establish a physical presence. Currently, the co-op is working with the city of Kentwood to achieve the required permits to open.
Before acquiring the property, Petteys said the co-op would arrange meetings at various places for “sixer mixers.” Everybody would bring a six-pack of either a homebrew or favorite beer to share.
High Five also has collaborated with some of the established brewers in Beer City. Petteys said some members of the brewing committee have collaborated with The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids to have their homebrews on tap.
The early days of the co-op were not all fun and games, however. Considering a brewing co-op was a very new concept for the state of Michigan and there were a number of legal questions.
Jorel Van Os, adviser to High Five’s board of directors, said some landlords require a personal guarantee to cover any losses if the business goes under.
“As a member-owned cooperative that is equally owned by its members, it wouldn't be appropriate for any individual to cover those losses like a traditional business would,” Van Os said.
He said in the event of a loss, High Five Co-op Brewery Inc. itself would be responsible for any of its own losses, and the responsibility would not fall to the board of directors or any member-owners.
Van Os is a former homebrewer of beer, mead, wine and cider, and currently serves as an information security analyst for US Signal. He also provides website hosting, technical and other assistance for High Five and previously served on the board as director and vice president. He’s been with the co-op since its inception in 2011.
Although High Five has spent the past seven years wading in unfamiliar waters, another brewing co-op, Marquette Brewing Cooperative, has faced similar challenges. The Upper Peninsula co-op recently put the finishing touches on a physical space at 501 S. Lake St., Marquette, according to Facebook.
Marquette Brewing Cooperative representatives were not available for comment as of press time.
According to previous Business Journal reports, High Five’s location will require interior work to accommodate the new brewery and should be open in 2019.
Now that High Five has cleared the hurdle of acquiring a brick-and-mortar location, Petteys said the co-op is going to be “super hot” for home brewers who may become new members.
“If you’re a home brewer, and you’ve been doing this for years — and you’ve got your favorite recipes — become a member of High Five. Then you can get on the brewers committee and your super awesome homebrew can be right up there on the tap at the local brewery,” he said.
High Five plans to host classes for home brewers at the new location. The organization also wants to brand the new location as a gathering place for other community organizations, like local charities and co-ops, to have their meetings.