2021 40 Under 40 award recipient: Kyle VanStrien

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Kyle VanStrien. Courtesy 616 Media

Kyle VanStrien, 36

Co-owner, co-founder

Long Road Distillers

An inveterate 40 under 40 alum, Kyle VanStrien still is not content to rest on his laurels, but the pandemic brought a tidal wave of challenges to the co-owner of Grand Rapids’ award-winning Long Road Distillers.

“We’ve all experienced extreme challenges over the past 16-plus months due to the COVID-19 crisis, but few industries have been harder hit than the hospitality industry,” VanStrien said. “We have been forced to make difficult decisions daily (sometimes hourly) to protect the health, safety and livelihoods of our families, employees, guests and community.”

Since March 2020, Long Road closed its doors twice, laid off nearly all of its employees twice, rehired them twice, shifted from producing award-winning spirits to making hand sanitizer, began offering to-go cocktails and cocktail kits, moved quickly to offer outdoor seating in the streets and sidewalks where it never existed before, moved a tasting room from one city to another and opened a new tasting room in a new town.

“For over a year, my responsibilities as a business leader couldn’t be shut off, set aside and picked back up again after a vacation or sabbatical,” VanStrien said. “More than ever, our employees have relied on us to make the right decisions.”

The distillery came back with a vengeance in 2021, though. This year, Long Road joined other businesses that announced they were raising base wage for all employees to $15 an hour, and opened its fourth tasting room in downtown Cadillac.

VanStrien also was instrumental in the creation of the Michigan Restaurant Promise, a coalition of over 500 Michigan restaurants and bars that made a commitment to follow safety best practices.

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