MUSKEGON — Steve Buszka and his wife, Jennifer Clark, bought an old building on Pine Street in downtown Muskegon in September 2006 with one goal in mind: to open their own business — a brew pub where they will make and serve their own beers and distilled spirits.
The Muskegon Brewing and Distilling Co. hasn’t yet opened its doors to thirsty customers, but Buszka and Clark aren’t going to let the recession stop them. They are determined to open their business sometime in 2009.
Clark said she’s heard rumors that some people think they have given up, but that is not the case.
“We didn’t work this hard to walk away now,” she said.
“The financing is throwing me for a loop right now, with the economy the way it is,” said Buszka. But, he added, “We’re making it,” and he said that hopefully their doors at 902 Pine St. will open this coming summer.
He said the operation’s business plan calls for a total investment of $1.2 million, which includes purchase and renovation of the building, plus purchase and installation of the brewing and distilling equipment and furnishings they will need. In addition to bankers and some private investors, Buszka is also seeking funding from the Small Business Administration.
Buszka, 41, has never owned his own business before but he has worked at various breweries since he was 21. He lives in Mattawan and was a head brewer at Bell’s Brewery Inc. in Kalamazoo from 1991 to 2001. He also worked at Skagway Brewing Co. in Alaska and has been involved in research and development for a contract producer of energy drinks.
Buszka and Clark recently added a new member to their management team: Seth Revird, vice president of sales.
The pub will seat 78 people and offer basic pub food, according to Buszka.
In addition to a full line of beers, they also plan to make their own vodka, whiskey, gin and rum.
“Vodka basically starts out as un-hopped beer,” he said, and distillation is simply an extension of the process involved in making beer.
“In the beginning, it’s going to be kind of a skeleton crew,” said Buszka, estimating the business will employ 12 to 15 people, not counting himself, his wife and Revird.
Buszka said one of the complications of starting the new business is that the law requires that the serial numbers on the brewing/distilling equipment they will use must also be on the license application, so a lot of investment is required up front.
At this time, there is no brew pub in the city of Muskegon, according to Muskegon Mayor Steve Warmington, who is also a pub owner/operator.
While there is still a lot of open space in downtown Muskegon where old commercial buildings once stood, conditions have been changing in the last couple of years. Buszka said he considers himself lucky because now “lots of things are building up around that area” where his pub will be located. He mentioned the new Harley-Davidson dealership nearby and the Baker College culinary arts school that is under construction.
“I was hoping I might be the first one (to open a new business there) back in 2006, but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.
Warmington, whose Marine Taproom is on the southwest side of Muskegon Lake near the marinas and summer cottages, said there is a lot of moral support in Muskegon for entrepreneurs like Buszka and Clark.
“We’ve been waiting for him to get it going for a long time,” said Warmington. “A lot of people are excited about it.”