Laura and Dave Miller invested “up to their eyeballs” to turn their dream of owning a brewery into a reality. Courtesy Brewery 4 Two 4
A few years ago, the Millers had given up hope on having a baby and turned their attention to a brewery.
The couple opened Brewery 4 Two 4 last month in Holland, 321 Douglas Ave., and now the pair is expecting their first child. Dave and Erin Miller have been married for 10 years, and the brewery was a pipe dream for nearly seven.
Now with the brewery operating and a baby on the way, life worked out for the Millers. They thought a baby was out of the picture, and for a time, even after construction started, the $250,000 brewery looked to be on its heels, as a lead investor dropped out last year.
Instead of walking away, the Millers went all-in on the project, taking a second mortgage out on their house and cashing out a retirement fund.
“I’m in debt up to my eyeballs,” Dave Miller said. “We had figure out how to move forward. We had this vision and were pretty sure it will work, but until you start putting up your house and retirement, you don’t know your stress on if it works or not.”
The two will keep their day jobs, Dave Miller at the Ottawa County Department of Public Health and Erin Miller at the Food and Drug Administration.
The brewery is operating on a half-barrel brewing system, for the time being, as financing a larger brewing system could have increased the project cost up to another $100,000. For Miller, who pays close attention to the brewing industry, he recognizes a small system isn’t the worst way to start up.
He doesn’t have grand distribution plans, but rather will sell beer at his taproom and, eventually, hopes to offer beer to go. For now, the brewery will only be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the beer supplies are depleted by customers looking to get an early taste.
The small brewing system has kept the brewery’s overhead relatively low, and Miller said the brewery will be more than set with weekends as long as they keep selling at 50 percent the volume they did on the grand opening weekend June 30-July 2.
Miller is brewing and working nonstop to keep his business moving forward. He heads to his day job at 7 a.m. so he can be out of the office earlier in the afternoon and heads to the brewery and brews until 10 p.m. With efficiencies, like an instant hot water heater, Miller can make his way through three batches of beer a day.
Each one of his batches is one keg, so he has to work to keep his supply stocked.
He knows there will be a point he might be forced to go into the brewery full time.
“For me, there will be a pinch point where the only thing limiting our growth is making more beer,” he said. “There will be a tough spot where the business is doing well enough that I have to make more beer to get past the weekend-only beer, but maybe we’re not doing well enough financially to justify it, but I have to jump in to make it feasible.
“Every weekend, I get more confident it will happen.”
Once some of the debt is paid off and the demand has taken Miller full time, he expects to expand with a bigger brewing system to supply the taproom and canned or bottled to-go beers and, possibly, some limited distribution. His expansion plans are modest.
“More days open and carry-out with growlers and howlers are the first two things,” he said. “Whether either of those can happen before we get a bigger system, I don’t know.”
Miller started brewing at home when he began dating his wife, who already had a homebrewing background. Eventually, he was helping brew beer at Holland’s Our Brewing Co. and that really kicked off the idea opening a brewery was feasible.
The planning started three-and-a-half years ago and construction started last April.
“The Our (Brewing) thing really got my juices flowing, and then a friend in finance started talking to me about how I could do it,” Miller said.
Brewery 4 Two 4 is in a strip mall, but Miller said they’ve put together what he hopes isn’t a bland location. The couple wanted to ensure the brewery was on the north side of Holland and looked at 13 locations before settling on the final site.
“We don’t have the old vacant buildings here, this was all farm fields 50 years ago,” he said. “We weren’t sure how much we’d draw of people walking or biking in, but the local neighborhood has really embraced us.”