Brewer taps into Elk Rapids expansion

TRAVERSE CITY – When Joe Short opened a small brewery in downtown Bellaire, he had no idea if the venture would be successful. Selling complex ales and lagers in a village of 1,200 residents was a risky undertaking. Would anyone even show up?

Short needn't have worried. Short's Brewing Company has skyrocketed in regional popularity and sales, almost doubling production from 670 barrels in 2006 to 1,196 barrels in 2007. The company's innovative line of beers are served on tap at some of the area's most well-known restaurants and bars, including Trattoria Stella, Pearl's, The Park Place and Alden Bar.

With success comfortably under his belt, Short now has turned his attention to expanding production and distribution of his famous ales. And he's found just the place to do it: Elk Rapids, a city rapidly developing a reputation for welcoming both established business owners and emerging entrepreneurs with open arms.

Eye on retail:

Last month, Short purchased the old CSC Manufacturing building in Elk Rapids' industrial park – just north of the town's main intersection on U.S. 31. The 16,000 square-foot facility is quadruple the size of the Bellaire location, and will serve as Short's main brewing, bottling and distribution center.

Brewing at Bellaire will be relocated to Elk Rapids to make room for a bigger kitchen at the pub, which will be kept open.

While the bigger location will expand production from a seven-barrel to a 30-barrel operation, Short is particularly excited about the company's ability to finally produce its most-requested item: a 12-ounce six-pack.

"We've always wanted to sell six-packs, but the only way that could happen was if we got a bigger place," Short said. "Our drafts are served in over 150 bars and restaurants throughout the state, but once we begin producing six-packs, we'll be able to expand into retail, wine and grocery stores. Our goal is to launch our line into three to five more states the year after that."

When asked if he intends to introduce any new brews, Short replied: "We'll have our hands full with the usual suspects, but throughout the season, we'll be able to put our specialty beers into bottles. That'll allow us to diversify our line and reach more people."

Though momentarily focused on the company's production capabilities, Short hasn't forgotten his successful pub roots.

"We've definitely tossed around the idea of opening another Short's store in Northern Michigan, similar to the Bellaire location," he conceded. "But we want to stabilize our quality and manufacturing and build an established product line before we make that leap. If we're still feeling ambitious after that, we'll look at copying and pasting our pub package into other communities."

The Call of the Siren

Michael and Rebecca Peterson are also poised to make their mark on Elk Rapids and, like Short, they got their start in Bellaire. The dynamic couple own Lulu's Bistro, a destination restaurant in the heart of the small town that attracts visitors across the region. On Dec. 17, the Petersons opened their second restaurant, Siren Hall, in downtown Elk Rapids. The name refers to mythical nautical creatures – an allusion that hints strongly at the restaurant's seafaring theme.

"We both lived on the Atlantic at one point or another," explained Rebecca, "and with the harbor right here, it seemed natural to concentrate on seafood. The menu emulates a New England chowder house, but with an elegant atmosphere."

Both Michael and Rebecca toured kitchens in the best restaurants in New York City preparing for Siren Hall's opening, including those of famed chef Mario Batali. Michael, a chef himself, designed the restaurant's kitchen, while Rebecca assumed decorating responsibilities for the front of the house.

They took special care to integrate the building's architectural history into the construction, preserving the exposed steel beams from Elk Rapids Ironworks and the 1915 brick from an old local cement plant. To top things off, the couple flew in a 26-foot Douglas Fir plank, recycled from a submerged tree in Puget Sound, to create the restaurant's stunning centerpiece bar.

With 140-seating capacity (indoor and outdoor), a private dining room, bar, lounge and acclaimed Lulu's sous chef Clif Willson – as well as steady traffic from U.S. 31, Elk Rapids and the waterways – the Petersons are confident they have another recipe for success with their new restaurant. Though currently closed on Sundays (serving lunch and dinner the rest of the week), they hope to expand Siren Hall's operations to seven days a week this summer.

"We've had a great response so far," Rebecca said of the restaurant's first month. "We're lucky because of our reputation with Lulu's; people already know who we are. Of course, we opened during the holidays and there's a honeymoon period for most restaurants, so it's hard to gauge what the interest really is. Hopefully it will remain long-term, because we'd love to stay here."

Not 'Us vs. Them'

Elk Rapids Village Manager Bob Peterson believes businesses like Short's and Siren Hall are attracted to the city because the community "works hard to bring them here and embraces them whole-heartedly."

"I've heard nothing but positive comments about these companies from residents," Peterson said.

Terri Crandall-Kimble, executive director of the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce, agrees. She says the Chamber makes it a priority to work as a liaison between incoming businesses and the governmental sector, tasking teams to meet with every company considering an Elk Rapids move to answer questions and smooth out any potential road bumps.

"Right now, many residents are commuting for their jobs, so we're trying to be proactive in figuring out how we can grow our businesses and keep residents here," she said. "When a business sees everyone willing to work together, they want to develop here. It's not an us vs. them mentality at all."

The Chamber's efforts have been paying off. With the planned opening of a new Traverse Bay Manufacturing plant next month, Crandall-Kimble says Elk Rapids' industrial zone will be "completely full." There's also just one retail slot left open downtown, she says.

"We have a lot of plans for this community," said Crandall-Kimble. "We're looking at areas for new industrial and retail space, as well as developing our biomedical, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. We're taking stock of our natural resources and figuring out ways to make the most of what we have.

"More than anything," she added, "our goal is to create new jobs and opportunities for the residents of Elk Rapids. That's really our top priority." BN