Street Talk: The pause that refreshes

Room to grow.

City Built Brewing Company no doubt was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the brewery managed to find ways to innovate and still drive sales, to the point where it may not want to go back to normal.

While the taproom still operates at 25% capacity, the brewery set up a socially distanced bar line, where customers can order their food or drinks and take them outside The bar line added sales volume for the brewery, owner Edwin Collazo said, but when the taproom is back up to full capacity, that means the bar line will have to be retired.

“That doesn’t mean we no longer have a line. It’s just no longer a comfortable line. It’s no longer spatially distanced. There’s not a lot of room,” Collazo said.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s establishment of refreshment areas has been a serious boon for business, Collazo said. Customers to City Built no longer need to wait for a table. They’re only waiting to order and receive their drink, and from there they can enjoy it anywhere within the refreshment zone.

Monroe North is one of three refreshment areas DGRI established in July 2020 to promote outdoor business and recreation in the midst of the pandemic. Within the refreshment areas, patrons of participating restaurants, pubs and entertainment venues may carry an open alcoholic beverage of up to 16 ounces in a container designated by a “Monroe North Refreshment” sticker.

The Monroe North refreshment area stretches the entire block of 820 Monroe, where City Built is located, and goes as far north as the Homes at River’s Edge, all the way down Monroe and Ottawa avenues to Trowbridge Street. The refreshment zone also includes 6th Street and Canal parks along the Grand River.

“I think from the consumer point of view … it’s not like you show up and, ‘in 45 minutes we can help you,’” Collazo said. “It’s ‘we can help you now. You just got to find a space outside.’”

Even at a quarter of its original capacity, City Built has 148 seats within a tennis ball’s throw of the front door. The brewery recently renovated its outdoor social zone with picnic tables and potted plants, and the “welcome center” tent the brewery set up during the winter still stands across the street.

Additionally, City Built patrons tend to take their beers a short walk down the street to Field & Fire Café, which also has outdoor tables and shelters.

“We bring (Field & Fire) beer, because people who drink beer tend to leave messes and think their mom lives here,” Collazo said.

Clean sweep

Wise Men Distillery lent a helping hand to the zoo recently.

The Kentwood-based distillery donated 192 gallons of hand sanitizer to John Ball Zoo, which will be enough hand sanitizer for the zoo’s entire 2021 season.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to donate hand sanitizer that will help the zoo continue to safely provide an opportunity for families throughout West Michigan and beyond to enjoy a visit and the wonderful programming that John Ball Zoo has provided for generations,” said Tom Borisch, co-founder of Wise Men Distillery. “Community support is part of the cornerstone of our mission to be good stewards of our business and the community in which we do business.”

With the pandemic impacting its traditional business, Wise Men Distillery shifted much of its focus to producing hand sanitizer to not only help keep its business going but also help meet the increased demand for the product.

Throughout 2020, John Ball Zoo also had to be agile and increase its health and safety protocols for guests, which has continued into the zoo’s 2021 season. The zoo quickly added handwashing and hand sanitizing stations throughout its facilities. While these added expenses were an unexpected hit to the zoo’s budget, its partnership with Wise Men Distillery will save the zoo about $4,000.

“Wise Men Distillery’s generosity is appreciated for many reasons. While it provides some budgetary relief, it also helps support our commitment to our guests’ health and safety,” said Bethany Stowe, John Ball Zoo development director. “They are a wonderful community partner, and we look forward to continued opportunities to collaborate and celebrate our community with them.”

Wise Men Distillery produces gin, rum, vodka, whiskey and bourbon at its distillery and tasting room at 4717 Broadmoor Ave. SE in Kentwood. A future downtown location is in the works.

Mark your calendar

Horizen Hydroponics sold 2021 “Grow Room” calendars in an effort to bolster local food pantries.

Each calendar sold for $5, with every dollar being split between Feeding America of West Michigan, Greater Lansing Food Bank and Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Horizen Hydroponics committed to match the dollar amount collected from each purchase. In addition, Detroit Nutrient Company and Pheno Hut Seed Bank also committed to match the final amount donated to each food pantry. Each organization will receive $1,000.

“These calendars are not only fun and feature some of our valued local customers’ grow rooms but also are going to three amazing organizations,” said Horizen Hydroponics owner Bridgette Ujlaky. “We know these three food pantries provide a valuable service for those in our community.”

Each month the Horizen Hydroponics 2021 calendar features images from local grow rooms. Local growers participated in the contest in late 2020 to determine if they made it into the calendar. Those not chosen for a monthly spot were placed on the January 2022 page at the end of the yearly calendar, Ujlaky said.

“It is part of the culture of our company to be active in helping our community where we can,” she said. “After the turbulent year of 2020, we hope the money these calendars will generate will help put food on people’s tables.”

The company has locations in Lansing, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and the Growers Outlet in Byron Center. Its website is

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