Founders Brewing Co., one of Michigan's largest and most-celebrated breweries, plans to open a Detroit brewery, restaurant and taproom this winter.
Located on 456 Charlotte St., just north of the Masonic Temple in the Cass Corridor, it will be the first-ever taproom outside the Grand Rapids-based brewery's headquarters. It's expected to employ about 100 people, primarily local residents, starting this summer.
"We've been coming down to Detroit now for two decades, selling our brand, and we've watched Detroit go through its struggles," Founders co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens said Tuesday. "Founders is no stranger to struggle. We've flirted with bankruptcy a couple times. The first dozen years was absolutely brutal, so I think we've lived very similar lifestyles, and we're honored to kind of put our elbows together and be a part of a community that kind of gets what raw guts, and grit, and just go-for-it kind of mentality looks like."
The brewery, restaurant and retail taproom will be in a 14,000 square-foot building that's a brief walk north from Little Caesars Arena, the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons scheduled to open this fall. It's expected to make about 200 barrels of unique, local beer per year, with the rest coming from the Grand Rapids brewery.
The project will cost about $5 million for acquisition and build-out, with finances coming from multiple sources including $2 million in loans from Invest Detroit, said Marcia Ventura, senior vice president of Invest Detroit. The community-development financial institution provides finances through managed non-profit and for-profit funds intended to help under-served communities, primarily in Detroit, according to its website.
"Projects need to create jobs and build density," Ventura said. "This definitely meets the criteria."
The award-winning brewery's best-selling All Day IPA (4.7% alcohol by volume) is a tasty, easy-drinking session beer. But beer connoisseurs know Founders for Kentucky Breakfast Stout (11.8% ABV), a sought-out, limited-release imperial stout loaded with coffee, chocolate and bourbon-barrel aged in underground caves.
As the craft brewing industry in Michigan and nationwide becomes increasingly competitive, Founders — which this year marks its 20th anniversary — has rapidly expanded its production and distribution. It announced last week that its distribution map in May will expand to include Alaska, the 46th state where people can buy Founders beer.
Founders Brewing in 2016 was the 16th-largest brewery in the United States, according to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group. That year, it produced roughly 360,000 barrels, second in Michigan only to Bell's Brewery of Comstock, which produced about 373,000 barrels. And Founders recently has made substantial upgrades to its brewing facilities; in 2015, it brewed 270,000 barrels, and in 2014, 193,000 barrels.
"We've been under construction since 2006," Stevens said in Detroit on Tuesday, where the new location was announced. "So we've gotten pretty good at pushing things along and doing it efficiently. And hopefully we'll find the same here."
The Grand Rapids taproom, which also has a restaurant, receives about 42,000 visitors per month. Like the Grand Rapids location, the Detroit one is a re-purposed old building near the city's core.
"We're not making this a cookie-cutter location," Stevens said, adding that they'll create beers and events specific to the area's tastes.
The building is to feature about two dozen beer taps, retractable garage-style doors and an outdoor biergarten. The vacant structure, built in 1937, was formerly a location for a food cooperative.
Ventura said the property's previous owner is Joel Landy, a local developer who owns a number of residential and commercial properties near the arena site. She said he was introduced to the Founders by Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc., which is involved with the development.
"The introduction of a brand like Founders Brewing Co. to the South Cass neighborhood will have a catalytic impact and attract others to invest," Mosey said in a news release.
Founders enters an increasingly robust craft brew scene in Detroit. Just a (full) beer's throw away from the coming Founders taproom, neighbor 8 Degrees Plato Detroit on 3409 Cass offers a top-notch craft beer bar and store.
"We've been big purveyors of Founders," Costello said, adding that they're happy to have them in the neighborhood. "We're going to end up being Grand Rapids east."
He said business is good since the location opened in fall 2015, and he's even more excited for the residential developments anticipated in the area.
And a few more blocks north, Midtown in the past several years has welcomed a 120-tap Hopcat gastropub and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, which offers food and Jolly Pumpkin sour beers as well as brews from North Peak Brewing Co.
Eastern Market Brewing Co. is expected to open soon on Riopelle in Eastern Market.
Stevens said that having many Founders fans in metro Detroit, as well as the brand's being represented at the national level, he expects good things in the new location.
"We're excited to be part of the new renaissance," he said.