7 Monks Taproom finally lands in Grand Rapids


7 Monks Taproom will feature a diverse offering of Michigan, U.S. and global beers, with an added emphasis on Belgian beers, where much of the inspiration for the company came from. Courtesy 7 Monks Taproom

When Traverse City-based 7 Monks Taproom announced it was opening a location in Grand Rapids last year, owners Jim Smolak and Matt Cozzens received multiple “Welcome to the city” emails and texts from area brewery and bar owners.

The renowned beer bar and restaurant is slated to open April 21 at 740 Michigan St. NE, and Smolak and Cozzens know they’re joining a crowded market, but they’re amazed at what Grand Rapids has to offer. The pair has looked to join the Grand Rapids beer scene since the original 7 Monks opened in Traverse City in 2011.

“It’s always been in the back of our mind right from Year 1,” Smolak said. “Matt and I put ourselves on the road a year-and-a-half after we opened Traverse City, not just to Grand Rapids, but Royal Oak, Rochester, wherever, and came back to two places: Boyne City and Grand Rapids.

“We love spending time down here. That drives us: Where is it we want to be? And Grand Rapids was always a bull’s eye on the map, no doubt about that.”

Last year, 7 Monks opened its second location in Boyne City. Prior to the announcement the company would open its third location at the base of the 616 Lofts on Michigan building, Cozzens and Smolak did a lot of scouting, looking at upward of 45 addresses.

Helped by Chris Muller of M Retail Solutions, the owners narrowed it down to about nine locales and were debating between Michigan Street and Wealthy Street. The space, a big, cavernous room with a lofted area, was perfect for what they were looking for. Smolak designed 7 Monks to fit within the space, and Integrated Architecture applied it to real life.

Cozzens said the 616 Development team also was a deal closer.

“We loved the space immediately, and it didn’t take long for this to move into the top spot,” he said. “Michigan Street is growing. I like going on the roof and looking west. University, hospitals, just the flat amount of traffic, it makes this an appealing place.”

Hundreds of apartment units surrounding 7 Monks have or will be coming online in the near future, including 57 units directly above the taproom, which Smolak said is “built in clientele, hopefully.” Other major projects include The Brix at Midtown and Diamond Place.

7 Monks has been named to multiple lists as among the best beer bars in the country and state, a testament to the work General Manager Jason Kasdorf has done in building relationships with brewers, Cozzens said.

Kasdorf spent most of his adult life in Colorado, learning from one of the states that is leading the beer charge. Now, he lives beer.

“All I do is eat, drink and sleep beer. I’m not trying to exaggerate, and it’s maybe to a fault,” Kasdorf said. “My wife tells me I need to be a more well-rounded individual. When you go to a family reunion and try to talk to your uncle about wild fermentation and he says ‘I just won at bingo,’ it’s like, gee OK, I realize not everyone is into beer like I am.”

On opening day, 7 Monks will feature a list full of beers that are hard to find for the bar’s 51 taps. The list includes beers brewed, or blended, for 7 Monks from breweries like Grand Haven’s Odd Side Ales, Bellaire’s Shorts Brewing Co., Comstock Park’s Speciation Artisan Ales and a collaboration between Brewery Vivant and New Hampshire’s Schilling Beer Co.

The beer list normally will feature a diverse offering of Michigan, U.S. and global beers, with an added emphasis on Belgian beers, where much of the inspiration for the company came from. The majority of the menu will come from the original Traverse City menu but will include specials by Chef Danielle Garlock, who has kitchen experience ranging from burger joints to fine dining.

“My hope is people get lost in a corner of our beer offerings and explore the world,” Cozzens said. “Beer is so diverse; it will pair well with whatever we have on our food menu.”

Cozzens and Smolak met on essentially a blind date set up for them by Cozzens’ wife and Smolak’s girlfriend, who were friends. Both had an itch to begin an entrepreneurial endeavor. Cozzens had worked at Father’s Office in Santa Monica, California, “one of the first truly amazing American craft beer bars,” which turned him into a beer person in the mid-2000s.

Needing an out from a career as a salesperson, Cozzens met with Smolak, a self-described barfly whose girlfriend suggested he turn his passion into a career.

They met and immediately hit it off and began planning 7 Monks. At Father’s Office, Cozzens tried many of the great West Coast beers that launched trends in beer.

“I’d never had beer like that,” he said. “But you can put Michigan beer up next to those and still have those here now. That’s the fun, having brewers coming in, knowing them, talking with them. That makes our day fun and our staff’s day.”

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