This year, the Advancement Office offered a new virtual opportunity to connect with alums through a webinar series – Davenport Dialogues. We called upon our friends, faculty, and alums within the Davenport community who have a wealth of talent and information, bringing a unique inside look into various timely topics. The topics ranged from learning in a virtual world, creating your brand, buying and selling real estate, making the most of your home office, to preparing your child for college. As we wrapped up our first season, the final episode welcomed Chris Andrus, co-founder of The Mitten Brewing Co.
Chris and his co-founder, Max Trierweiler, opened The Mitten Brewing Co. in November 2012 in the historic Engine House No. 9 on the West Side of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since opening their doors 10 years ago, they have expanded from a small taproom to three locations – with additional locations planned for the future. Below are some highlights of the interview with Andrus and some insight he gave regarding the launching and branding of The Mitten.
Q: What major obstacles did you and your business partner have to overcome when starting The Mitten Brewing Co.?
A: At the time, craft beer was still an unknown, and getting through the hurdles of doing business in a neighborhood which included working through the city planning process created some hurdles. Explaining to community members how a craft brewery was different from a bar atmosphere was a challenge. When we chose this location on the West Side, there hadn’t been a brewery here since prohibition. We knew we had the opportunity to reclaim the neighborhood and let it grow around us. It took some faith on the part of the investors.
Q: Can you talk about your business plan and how it’s morphed over the years?
A: I always say “be flexible with your mission” because it’s really your best guess. You don’t want to be tied to a losing strategy when your customers are telling you that you are something that you didn’t think you were. Our kitchen is small. Because of its size, we knew we could probably only do one thing and wouldn’t be able to have a full-service kitchen. The amount of pizza we put through it is incredible. We had an inkling that pizza was going to be the new wine and cheese. In our initial plans, we anticipated selling 15 to 20 pizzas a day. Now food is 55% of our sales.
Q: You recently collaborated with Trail Point Brewing Co. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
A: We and the owners of Trail Point talked about collaborating on a beer that could help raise mental health awareness. When we would get together, we talked about the challenges we face as brewery owners and I have been candid about my struggles with mental health. During COVID, many people were speaking out about their own struggles also. There was a national campaign to make a beer called ‘Things We Don’t Say IPA’ that was meant to raise awareness for mental health issues in our industry. I had been toying with the idea of how to provide no-cost mental health care for our staff, which is difficult for a small business to do. We’re fortunate to be right across the street from a mental health counseling center. I asked them how we could do this in a way that we could afford. We determined that we could do it if we donated every pint of this beer that we sold. The beer sold out way faster than I anticipated, so we continued to make batches as we had other bars reach out wanting to utilize it for the same purpose.
To hear the full interview with Chris Andrus, as well as our other recorded Davenport Dialogues, click here.