Jeff Jacobson, Eric Hoffman and Mark Gongalski, from left to right, are preparing Unruly Brewing for a March or early April opening in downtown Muskegon. Photo by Johnny Quirin
Unruly Brewing will be the first microbrewery in Muskegon — “unless somebody pops up” first, according to Jeff Jacobson, one of the founders and managing partners.
That’s not likely to happen, even though Unruly Brewing won’t open until March or early April. But even if other entrepreneurs did start a microbrewery in Muskegon first, it probably wouldn’t be in a downtown location as visible to the public.
Unruly will be the anchor at the Muskegon Retail Incubator and is sub-leasing from MRI, a two-year-old, not-for-profit community development organization that is a tenant in the Russell Block Building owned by downtown Muskegon developer Gary Post.
Located at 360 W. Western Ave. where the Muskegon Mall once stood, the building is adjacent to the Century Club building, which in turn is adjacent to the historic Muskegon Savings Bank. Post’s company, Port City Construction and Development Services, owns all three of the historic buildings, which were at the core of a vibrant downtown Muskegon when built in the late 19th century.
Terry MacAllister, president of the board of MRI, sees humor in the inadvertent link between a microbrewery and Muskegon’s beer-related nickname. The city has long been known for its many major summer events that draw big crowds of celebrants and tourists, from music lovers to motorcycle enthusiasts.
“We’ve laughed because they call us the Beer Tent Capital of the World, and how interesting that Unruly Brewing is the first microbrewery to go into Muskegon County,” said MacAllister.
“(The brewery) will be the anchor,” he said, with a long-term, renewable lease. Meanwhile, MRI is seeking other business tenants in the 5,000-square-foot, open-market type first floor — particularly, food service businesses to complement the craft beer.
“We have two other leases that are confirmed,” said MacAllister. One is a specialty coffee bar called Drip Drop Drink, and the other is Kickin’ Kitchen, which will sell specialty foods and culinary equipment, plus home-brewing equipment, which the Unruly fellows think is a great idea.
“We are in the process of evaluating and working with a couple of different parties,” regarding food service, he said. “We feel that food is a critical element. We’re looking for just the right kind of operation, the right kind of menu to fit in there.”
Making downtown Muskegon a destination for retail and entertainment is at the core of MRI’s goals.
Unruly’s brewing equipment will be located in the basement, with a tasting bar and seating on the first floor. There also will be common seating areas for the customers of the food service businesses.
Near the tasting bar in the open area is a door to a courtyard, which also will be renovated, said MacAllister, “so we will be able to have an outdoor beer garden in good weather.”
MacAllister said volunteer supporters of retail development in downtown Muskegon decided to form a not-for-profit organization in order to qualify for grants and other types of financial aid as they try to provide assistance and encouragement to entrepreneurs. The MRI also set a goal of raising $300,000 and has received donations of $25,000 from John and Kathy Workman and Mark and Christine Fazakerley, owners of the Eagle Alloy foundry. Consumers Energy Foundation has selected MRI for one of its $125,000 matching grants being made to a number of economic development projects across Michigan in celebration of the utility’s 125th anniversary.
The three managing partners of Unruly Brewing have lined up other investors, although Jacobson declined to say how much is being invested in the new business. Besides Jacobson, the other managing partners are Mark Gongalski and Eric Hoffman, who will also be Unruly’s brewmaster.
Unruly Brewing has been in the works since last winter, with the partners spending a lot of time earlier in 2012 looking at potential locations for the business.
Jacobson, who practices business law at Parmenter O’Toole in downtown Muskegon, said the name of the brewery is intended to indicate “that we are progressive in beer design and the way we are structuring our business, which is outside of traditional models.”
All three of the managing partners were avid home brewers for years.
Jacobson said MRI is doing much of the renovation inside the Russell Block Building, “which makes it possible for us to start with a smaller budget than a lot of breweries.”
“Our build-out is going to be pretty minimal,” he said, because of the open market concept. There will not be any interior walls separating the brewery from the rest of the businesses.
Unruly Brewing will probably brew several times a week, with either a three- or five-barrel system depending on demand. A barrel is 31 gallons. The goal, said Jacobson, is to supply the tap room first and then begin distribution locally in bottles. The microbrewery will produce several types of beer and ale and will employ three or four people at the start.
“We want to create a community brewery feel and get people excited about making beer and being involved in the process and the hobby itself, so we will actually be providing our recipes to people if they want to do it at home,” he said.
MacAllister said Gary Post has played a major role in preserving the architectural heritage of downtown Muskegon through his acquisitions and development projects.
“He is to be commended for having that kind of concern and putting his money where his mouth is. He’s a big supporter of downtown Muskegon, and we’re very fortunate to have him.”