Sunday, June 21, 2009

5 Questions With Hugh Hatch

We like to take a moment and meet some of the people behind the Michigan made products. Today, we're talking with Hugh Hatch, owner of the FSI Group LLC, which makes The ForSaleInator product in Warren, MI.

MiMM: Hugh, what was your inspiration for creating The ForSaleInator?

HH: To create a product that would help people sell their car or truck faster by providing the potential used vehicle buyer a convenient card reflecting the sellers’ contact & vehicle information in an enclosure so they cards would not blow away or become damaged.

My other inspiration came when prior to being laid off as an Account Financial Director in the GM Business Unit of a Tier One Auto Supplier at the beginning of May, 2008. I was on my way to a meeting at the GM Technical Center in Warren and saw a Saturn Ion For Sale. I didn’t have enough time to stop and write down the information I needed. I figured I could stop on my way back to the office. Unfortunately the car was gone and so was my opportunity to look at and potentially buy it. At the same time the Seller lost an opportunity to sell it.
Had my product been on the vehicle, I could have quickly stopped and retrieved a card on my way to the meeting.

MiMM: What is your favorite feature of this product?

HH: How easy it is to use. Fill out five or six information cards of the fifteen that come with the ForSaleInator, place them into the container, put a FOR SALE Sign on the interior window and capture the stem between the window and door frame (passenger or driver side). Clean, wax and fill the fluids of the vehicle that is being sold then determine how many people have taken an information card and move it to a better location if only one or two have been retieved.

MiMM: Who is your target audience? Who did you create this product for?

HH: I am targeting anyone who is trying to sell their car or truck faster and more effectively. I am also targeting the same people who list their vehicle for sale on one of many free used vehicle ad websites (eg, VEHIX, Craigs List, Kijiji, etc) who want to potentially sell their vehicle to people who do not use the internet and are passing by the vehicle.

MiMM: What question do you get asked the most about this product?

HH: Is the ForSaleInator weatherproof. The labels are laser printed on weatherproof labels. The container is made of plastic with a UV stabilizer additive and is re-useable. The cards will not blow away due to a strap that is formed across the inner container. If a card gets wet I have included a Form File on my website that can be used to fill out additional or replacement cards.

MiMM: That's phenomenal Hugh. Please share with our readers a product success story.

A gentleman had been trying to sell his “2005” Pontiac GTO for several weeks. He placed a free website ad and received five calls with questions to answer about the car. He would get interrupted by people knocking on his door for more information about what the vehicle had on it and in it. Four weeks after the car was listed on the free website listing service he purchased the ForSaleInator and people weren’t knocking at his door. After only five calls from the website ad and more than twelve cards retrieved by potential buyers from the ForSaleInator, he sold the vehicle to a lady who stopped and took an Information Card.

I have spun off two other versions of the ForSaleInator. A Dealership and Residential Contractor version. There are currently four local Dealerships who have purchased the ForSaleInator for their Used Car Lots. They allow a potential customer who shops after hours with an option to take the card with them or leave their contact information on the card and place it in a Dealer mailbox.

The Residential Contractor version allows Landscapers, Painters, Electricians, Pest Control and other contractors who call on or are working at a home to leave the ForSaleInator on their vehicle with a special information card which reflects their expertise, discounts, hours, specialties and contact information for a potential customer who would like their services but do not want to disturb them while they are on a job or working for someone else.

I have been interviewed by TV Warren, Sky News, Manny Lopez for his column in the Detroit News and by reporters from the Warren Weekly, Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune.

I have only been in business for approximately nine months and have sold the Private Seller and Contractor versions of the ForSaleInator throughout the United States.

MiMM: Hugh, we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. The ForSaleInator, a product Made in Michigan, is available at

Saturday, June 13, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part V. Six.One.Six and Zellars

Our stop for Saturday’s dinner was at Six.One.Six located in the new J.W. Marriott. This experience was introduced to us by a Made in Michigan Movement member, Joel Wabeke. Joel is also the Sous Chef at Six.One.Six. At first, I had my reservations about eating at a hotel restaurant. You know how hotel restaurants are. They’re overpriced and lack any sort of originality and quality. Lastly, they’re all chain restaurants and owned by out-of-state interests. Six.One.Six is owned under the Amway umbrella which makes it a Michigan company. It does however operate in accordance with Marriott guidelines. Joel challenged my generalization and invited us to experience for ourselves something fresh and unique. Our visit to Six.One.Six has changed my perception of hotel dining.

Upon entering Six.One.Six, you’ll note a minimalist quality to the place. Sleek, clean lines without clutter and an openness to the entire dining area. Sort of, a less is more philosophy which means the focus here is on the food. To the left is a lounge area with couches and tables for drinks that are bright from the natural light let in from the large windows which offer a view of the river. Beyond the windows is a clean al fresco area for outside dining. Everyone looks comfortable and happy. Ahead is a cook quietly making appetizers in an open area while to the right is a darker, more tranquil area set away from crowd in the lounge. It's soothing really and the sounds from the lounge are barely heard.

We are greeted by manager Michelle Bayink. She has a wonderful smile and personable quality about her. Restaurant owners please take note of the importance of the first impression offered here by the front house. Michelle welcomes us and our hostess takes us to our table. She would return later for a follow up. Our server is Lindsay who gets us started with the drink order. I felt a Riesling from Brys Estate in Traverse City would be in order and consistent in my mission.

Chef Joel comes out to greet us and to explain a few things about Six.One.Six. He briefly reviewed the menu and noted how the restaurant utilizes local food product and commits to buying the best local food available. They get their meat from Sobies Meats, cheese often comes from Dancing Goat Creamery and other assorted dairies, grains and produce from local farms. Further, when the accessibility of Michigan products are not widely available they still look local to Illinois and Ohio. By doing so, Six.One.Six also keeps their carbon footprint to a minimum as well. Finally, he noted a frugality in the kitchen, which he jokingly attributes to his Dutch heritage. This allows the kitchen to purchase quality goods at the higher end because virtually nothing is wasted. This is clearly reflected in the menu.

The menu offers items in three sizes: Petite, Intermediate, and Nourishing with about six or seven offerings in each category and each demonstrating a range of top-shelf ingredients such as endive, Chinese five spice, arugula, saffron, and even fiddleheads which are the young unfurled fronds of a young fern. The menu isn’t limited, it’s focused. In summation, it’s a candy store for foodies. Chef Joel starts us off with the petite dish: Five Spice Smoked Sausage accompanied by an amuse-bouche of smoked rabbit sausage. Both made in-house, highlighting culinary skill, assuring the lack of kitchen waste and maximum yield of high-end offerings. The Five Spice Smoked Sausage is both simple and smart. It’s a clever play on English bangers and mash as it is served with green garlic, leeks, red onion over thin-sliced new potato with an Asian twist. The smoked rabbit sausage was equally delicious.

During this time, we are also greeted by Executive Chef Andrew Voss who spoke very highly of Chef Joel. I applaud him on his menu and for supporting local. He invites us to the garden after our meal for a quick tour. Yes, they have a garden on the premises with the goal of growing a sustainable amount of heirloom varieties of herbs vegetables. Now that’s local flavor. Michelle takes a moment to catch up with us as well. The staff is not bothersome in the slightest. After all, we came to talk to them and fully understand the Six.One.Six experience.

The meal continued. I ordered a Charred Asparagus Salad and Lynn ordered the Flank Steak Flatbread. The asparagus is of the blue and green variety and grown locally. It’s prepared in a brown butter, golden raisin, shallots and beemster, a Dutch recipe cheese and cooked to perfection without over thought. Lynn’s flatbread was huge for an Intermediate dish as it also served as her entrée. It was a homemade flatbread cooked in a fired-oven with flank steak, bleu cheese, arugula, horseradish crème and fried onions. It’s virtually a steak dinner on flatbread. In continuing with my all local theme, I ordered the Dancing Goat Creamery Agnolotti. The Agnolotti is like ravioli but more like little stuffed pillows of soft goat cheese. It’s served with a wild leek and Parmesan broth, fiddleheads, carrot, fennel pollen, and beemster. It really is a delicate balance between heavy and light, but I must confess, I’m full. Lynn opted to try the Warm Chocolate Praline Lava Cake with homemade vanilla gelato. This was top-notch as the cake was just rich enough, without being too sweet and you could actually see the vanilla bean specks in the gelato. Also, to finish your meal, world-class ONO teas, from Novi, are available on the menu as a substitute for coffee.

We finish the meal and adjourn to the outside garden with Chef Andrew and Chef Joel. I listen as they talk about culinary philosophy and the importance of buying and supporting local which both chefs are strong supporters of. They begin to talk about “farm banquets.” These are organized meals prepared at regional farms which use only local foods. It falls in line with the Slow-Foods movement. Further, they noted that they have the capability of hosting, and have done so in the past, a similar meal on-site at the restaurant, given the appropriate amount of lead time. We wrap up the conversation knowing we have solidified new friendships and are warmly welcomed back in the future. This was another extraordinary experience in Grand Rapids.

Just outside of the hotel, across the street, is a convenience store called Zellars Party Store. We were contacted by Terri Smith, through our website, who found us in a Google search. After a couple of swapped emails and a firm itinerary, we scheduled a time to meet up with her after dinner at Six.One.Six. Terri took us on the quick tour of the store which is standard in most respects. It offers basic goods that you expect you might need in a pinch: beer, wine, liquor, snacks, ice cream, milk and that one thing you always forget about that is necessary to the completion of a food project like eggs and sugar. For a small store they carried over 30 Michigan-made items. The unique part of the story is that Terri created a Made in Michigan sticker for those products. This was before we ever met. Further, since they are in the hotel district, she often encourages people to try local products first such as Uncle Ray’s chips, Hudsonville ice-cream, Bareman’s dairy products, Absopure water, and assorted Michigan based beer and wine such as Founders and Chateau Grand Traverse. I give her a roll of stickers provided by the Michigan Tape Inc., in Plymouth, so she does not have to make them on her home computer. It is people like Terri who are going to part of the Movement that will help raise awareness and turn our economy around.

Thank you to Michelle Bayink, our server Lindsay, Sous Chef Joel Wabeke, and Executive Chef Andrew Voss at Six.One.Six for an incredible dining experience. Also, a special thank you to Terri Smith and the staff at Zellars for raising awareness and supporting local first.

Come back tomorrow for Part VI of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature San Chez Café and Randy’s Granola.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part IV. Festival and The Cottage

After a great night’s sleep, with the windows finally open, we got an early jump on the day. After all today was Day 2 of The Festival of the Arts. In Grand Rapids, it’s affectionately known as “Festival” the way Mardi Gras is known as “Tuesday” in New Orleans. Say it any other way and they know you are not from GR. No worries though as we found the people of Grand Rapids to incredibly laid back and friendly.

We were able to walk to Festival in less than ten minutes from Peaches B&B. Festival, as we discovered, is an event that pays tribute to all of the arts in West Michigan. There were martial arts, culinary arts, literary arts, music, fine arts and my personal favorite art of keeping mustard off my shirt. It never fails and the streak continues. I digress. Festival is on Ottawa Ave. and stretches from the art museum and Michigan St. with branches off on every street. It’s about 10:30AM and this place is already slammed. We’re confident that this is indeed the place to be.

We enter Festival by the Fountain Stage to the sounds of a bluesy-folk musician named Otis Blueswell Jr. I’m distracted though as the air is filled with the scent of grilled food. My caveman-like instincts are alive and if it weren’t for a decent upbringing, I would be drooling. According to the program that we purchased from the local chapter of Red Hats, there are 27 food vendors and each one of them welcomes me. There is everything from Bosnian, to East Indian, Polish, Italian, American, Asian, Dutch, and more. I’ve had ideas that this is what the pathway to Heaven may look like. I’m easy. We were informed by Festival Co-Director Kate Scheid that all of the food vendors were local non-profits and that the booths were their fundraisers. There were church groups, ethnic organizations, and community groups.

The weather was perfect for strolling and people watching. The diversity of entertainment was remarkable. We took in ballet at the Circle Stage, classic rock by Buffalo Cannon on the Clock Tower Stage, and the Grand Rapids Accordion Ensemble at the Calder Stage. The Accordion Ensemble was a twenty member troupe of seasoned players. They were amazing. There was so much going on. You could have enjoyed gospel, jazz, choral music, indie rock, big band, and even spoken word. There was without a doubt something for everyone.

We took time for a little business and stopped to see a friend of the Made in Michigan Movement, Sarah Diem Cash of Diem’s Designs. Sarah is a jewelry maker from Grand Rapids and also on the committee for the Fulton Street Artisan Market. FSAM is a family-oriented outdoor market for artists and also a long-time supporter of the Made in Michigan Movement. We said goodbye and met up with Kevin Kammeraad and Ryan Hipp of The Tomato Collection. Kevin and Ryan collaborated on a children’s book with a Michigan theme. Kevin also appeared on stage for storytelling. What was noticeable throughout the Festival was the impressive number of hands-on activities for people in general but for children. We talked with sculptors and photographers. We really had no idea how big the Arts were in Michigan but they are particularly strong in West Michigan.

We took a moment to interview Co-Chair Kate Scheid who was kind enough to take time from her obviously busy schedule. Kate is from Saginaw and this is her second year of the three year commitment of being part of the Festival management. She remarked how so much of the Festival is possible due to the generosity of volunteers. Kate also noted that great weather helped in the success of this 40th Annual Festival. In minutes, our time with her had passed and back to work she went.

The Festival was a great experience of West Michigan culture and diversity. We want to thank Kate Scheid for taking the time for an on-camera interview and for a job well done. Additionally, we want to thank Sarah Diem Cash, Kevin Kammeraad, and Ryan Hipp for their time as well.

A busy day in the sun, with more to come, forced us to head back to Peaches B&B. We were thirsty and wanted something quick but most places on Fulton St. do not open until dinner. We noticed a bar and grill called The Cottage. It sits off the corner of Fulton, on LaGrave, and the sign is noticeable yet quiet. More importantly, they happen to be open. The Cottage is owned by the Verhill family who also own One Trick Pony which is right next door on Fulton St. It's a darkened building with a low ceiling that boasts a fine collection of steins. It's an old tavern that is still pouring today by a second generation of Verhills. What started as a stop for iced tea became a great experience. They had New Holland Gold Cap Ale on tap and it was cold. Lynn being the more moderate of the two of us held fast to the iced tea. We had no intentions of eating but a bold claim was thrown at me. The manager said that The Cottage holds the title of having Grand Rapids' best burger aptly called The Cottage Burger. I can’t just leave now. So we decided to split the burger and the fries which were allegedly, at the time, the best in Grand Rapids. The Cottage Burger with battered waffle fries was nothing short of amazing. The burger, which comes on a dark rye bun, was cooked perfectly and had two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, phenomenal bacon, diced green olives, and hickory mayonnaise. I repeat—amazing. I have never had another burger in Grand Rapids but I assure you this was indeed one of the best.

What? You don’t expect me to work on an empty stomach do you?

Come back tomorrow for Part V of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature Six.One.Six and Zellars Party Store.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part III. San Chez: A Tapas Bistro

A brief walk down Fulton St. from Peaches is the much talked about San Chez: A Tapas Bistro. We arrived at San Chez early for dinner. Originally, San Chez wasn’t even supposed to be in on the tour of downtown Grand Rapids, but a late week cancellation left us with a Friday evening hole in the schedule and owner Dan Gendler came to the rescue after our host, Jane Lovett made a phone call. He invited us to dine at his establishment which is known for its Spanish tapas. Neither Lynn nor I have had tapas before, so we were skeptical because of the whole “small plates” concept. I just kept thinking, Spanish or not, I’m leaving hungry for sure. Dan Gendler introduced me to my much needed attitude adjustment.

The restaurant is alive with color and tile work. The blues, whites, tera cotta, turquoises are simply neat. It’s not over the top, but fittingly just right. The dining room had only a few patrons upon entering, but we were not there even five minutes, when the place just filled up. Timing is everything. The sizzle and precision chatter is coming from just behind us as Executive Chef Shawn Phillip’s team is ready for business.

We were seated immediately and greeted by Liz, our server. She’s polite and cheery. We explain that we are new to Grand Rapids and tapas so she walks us through it making recommendations and that sharing is strictly encouraged, but only after we start with what could possibly be the best Mojito north of the Tortugas. Everything on the menu sounds fantastic but I really want paella. I reserve ordering the paella as the place already has promise for a return trip. The manager, Jes Savino, stops by to greet us and sit for a moment to talk a little about San Chez. This young woman is electric. Her personality radiates with a smile that lights up a room. She takes the time to explain some of the popular items on the menu but pays special attention to items that are made with fresh local ingredients, wild caught, organic, and Michigan seasonal fares. San Chez is a participating member of the Local First organization that strives to support the local economy as much as possible. That’s the synergy I look for. Earn it here. Spend it here. Keep it here. It was time to order.

Everything on the menu appeared to be what I want. So I threw caution to the wind and let Jes and Liz choose our experience for us. Nothing was out of bounds. San Chez is considered by many to be a “destination restaurant.” We, as well as the table next to us, drove over two hours to be here. That’s how you know it good and we haven’t even had a bite yet. I asked the ladies to order any nine items from the tapas menu and one dessert. It was on.

We started off with a Pan a la Plancha with Serrano ham. It is homemade bread with an heirloom tomato sauce and Spanish ham. The meal was perfectly timed and spaced out with never a rush. Jes told us that a diner spends an hour and a half in the restaurant on average per stay. It’s relaxing and enjoyable; something foreign to guy who is used to quick meals, but really enjoyable. The Champinons were a seared mushrooms with a chorizo and parsley stuffing. Blue cheese fritters. Berejena Azul which was a perfectly blackened eggplant cross-slice with pequillo peppers and Dancing Goat cheese topped with a drizzle of organic honey. Bistec de Lomo was a medium-rare tenderloin, saffron onions, and a blueberry glace. Ostras de Kumamto were the seasonal Kumamto oysters, with gazpacho ice and Spanish sherry. I want a snow cone of gazpacho ice next time!

My three favorites were the Pimiento Relleno. This was a cheese stuffed pablano pepper with a corn-black bean/raspberry chili guava salsa. Incredible. Further, there was the Atun de Escabeche which is a perfectly cooked herb-seared Ahi tuna served rare, served on a spicy mango puree and salsa verde with carrot and leek ribbons. Wonderful. Finally, the Gambas Asadas al Fuego. These were spicy Moroccan fire-roasted shrimp with white rice and a sweet banana mustard cream. I would honestly drive two hours to have this dish again.

The grand finale was a Torta de Chocolate con Trufas. As far as most desserts go, I normally pass. I invest in the meal. The ladies were held speechless after one bite of the torta and the truffle. This clearly was not a cupcake and a Dove square. I tried the cake, it was good but the truffle was exquisite. I save my chocolate moments in life but willingly used a moment there. Attitude adjusted; I did not leave hungry.

After two hours, dinner at San Chez was perhaps one of the best dining experiences I have ever had in this entire state. Clearly, a top three Michigan restaurant but more importantly, a Michigan based favorite. This must have been the place. Tell anyone in Grand Rapids that you ate at San Chez and their eyes light up. They know.

Thank you to Dan Gendler, Jes Savino, our server Liz, Chef Phillips, and the entire staff at San Chez for more than dinner. Thank you for an experience.

Come back tomorrow for Part IV of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature The Festival of the Arts and The Cottage.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

OTR Destination: Grand Rapids Part II @Peaches B&B

After our trip to Founders, we headed to Peaches Bed and Breakfast on Gay Avenue just south of the Davenport campus off of Fulton in the historic Heritage Hill district. It’s east of the downtown area by only a few blocks and easily accessible by to everything by foot. We chose to stay at a bed and breakfast because it’s a local business and their profits stay here in Michigan unlike those of national hotel chains. Besides, Lynn and I like the unique charm of a B&B and find that we get more for our money and more personal attention, if and when needed. How long did you wait for that extra towel at your last hotel stay?

We checked in around 5:45PM when we were greeted by our host, Jane Lovett. Jane has been a long time supporter of the Made in Michigan Movement and was instrumental in us piloting the On the Road series in downtown Grand Rapids. Jane captures the classic art of inn keeping. She finds out your preferences, tastes and schedule in advance to spare constant consulting. Do you like an early meal, have food allergies, and prefer to be left alone during your stay? Perhaps, you seek recommendations and a guided walk through the house daring to catch a glimpse of the estate’s history? Jane is more than willing to oblige; she is a local woman with a friendly smile who maintains profound knowledge of Grand Rapids and all it has to offer. She is the third owner of this historic home.

Parking is off the street and we entered by way of the south facing porch. The Wisteria grows neatly up columns providing shade and privacy while offering unobstructed views of the ground’s gardens. First impressions, this place is enormous and considerably larger than any B&B we have ever stayed at. Peaches Bed and Breakfast is an 8,000 square foot, classically preserved Georgian manor. The house was constructed in 1916 by a local man of wealth and it shows spoils and stature of a home of means. Through the entry way is the wide staircase leading to the second floor. To my left is the dining room that could easily facilitate sixteen guests comfortably. The living room to my right is bigger than my first two apartments—combined! Antiques and period pieces tastefully decorate the manor yet the home is removed of all stuffiness as you are encouraged to relax and enjoy yourself instead of touring the home with museum rules.

The second floor has five large bedrooms each with their own private baths. The rooms are all comfortable and spacious. They have a desk, plenty of closet space, and the usual amenities such as coffee makers and additional seating areas as these rooms are as big if not larger than the average hotel room. Our bed was a four-post queen that just seems to hug you as you lie in it. This is one item, and it is major with me, that the majority of my hotel stays have floundered on—the concept of comfort. We were quite comfortable. A look to the ceiling is a louvered skylight system that is unique to any home I have ever been in. This opens the floor to an abundance of natural light. The third floor is a lofted area which is the proprietor’s quarters.

The house is a true classic. It has a huge kitchen where Jane prepares unique breakfast items such as stuffed French toast and “Magic Pancakes,” a Peaches signature item, complete with beverages and the starter peach cup. All items are served on fine china, real silver, and on linen. There are fireplaces everywhere, a library, a sun porch, pantries, front and back staircases, and a ballroom down in the basement where the original owners spun wax discs on the old Vitrola, perfecting the Lindy hop. The basement is finished and incredibly roomy as well. It has the consistent 10-foot ceiling that the rest of the home has. It has a bar, original hand-painted murals, comfortable seating and the original pool table.

The house is a well preserved marvel of yesteryear’s success. Jane notes, that very little has been altered on the home since 1916, yet nothing is lacking. You still get little bottles of mouthwash, shampoo, shower caps and even WI-FI service to accommodate guests to update their blogs and Facebook pages. The entire home is also smoke free! Our last hotel room smelled like a speakeasy, so this was a refreshing break. Further, you will also note a lack of televisions in the rooms, although they are available upon request. I found that it encouraged us to wake up earlier and stay out later. After all, we did come to experience downtown Grand Rapids.

We washed up and changed our clothes for supper. It’s about 6:20PM and we have a dinner reservation at Dan Gendler’s acclaimed restaurant San Chez: A Tapas Bistro on Fulton St. only 10 minutes away, on foot--right on time!

Come back tomorrow for Part III of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature the coveted trip to San Chez.

Monday, June 8, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part I @ Founders

We arrived in Grand Rapids just before 3PM. Our first stop was at Founders Brewing Company. I’ve been to microbreweries before but Founders immediately pushes the envelope of the term micro. There is nothing small about this place because the Taproom is enormous, the glasses of beer are big, and a server just walked past me with a sandwich the size of my head (you’ll have to trust me that I mean big.) Before I walked into the door, I knew their reputation was big too. Friends of mine that live in eastern Maryland are huge fans of Founders beer which in their area has more popularity than all of the local beer. And let’s face it; their reputation here in Michigan is well respected too. Founders was the most requested place, from our readers, to stop in downtown GR. They were adamant that we stop there. Twist my arm.

Even their co-owner, Dave Engbers stands about six foot three. He’s a local-kid-done-well with a kind of quiet and casual stance but I got it immediately. He shook my hand and put a beer in the other one. Why don’t most of my encounters begin this way? He’s humble and just feels that to truly know Founders, you must start with the product. I tried the Old Curmudgeon Ale: Malty and smooth; a great introduction. It’s early still but the place is humming because it’s Friday, Festival is on, and summer finally seems to be here. The porch, which can easily hold 150 people, is filling up and the tables, which were made from recycled timbers from the last expansion, are quickly occupied. The employees are hopping and they all have that certain spring in their step. Meanwhile, Dave is ready to show us the Founders process with the kind of eagerness a kid has when he wants to show you a new bike. You can tell this guy loves beer.

Through the windowed doors is a spacious and shiny facility where the Founders process begins and ends. Employees zip by with a smile and offer a greeting as the Beatles sound out a blaring cadence to Eleanor Rigby. The place is spotless and sweet smelling while the tanks shine with military-like quality. I pepper Dave with questions and the answers almost always come back to a high standard and employee dedication. Consistently humble. Not once did he compare Founders to other breweries or spend time trumpeting accolades. In fact, he spoke highly of Michigan Brewers Guild and referred to his competition as friends while these people who toil for him are often called family members. He noted that employee loyalty averages six years or better even though they are regularly encouraged to pursue their passions. Employees are often brought to the table for ideas and are prompted to offer suggestions and opinions from everything to beer naming to company involved community reinvestments.

Did I tell you that Dave is humble? Instead of showing us a trophy room full of international awards, tasting grand prizes, jury awards, people’s choice victories, industry number ones and blue ribbons, he takes us to the ingredients room which is a brewer’s candy shop. Hops, and malts, and grains. He described ingredients with a distinct passion and enthusiasm. We saw rows of enormous finishing tanks which were recently installed although they really weren’t supposed to be there for a couple of more years. Business is good at Founders.

The tour continued to the bottling area where the musical ambience shifted from the Fab Four to an electric reggae with a pulse. Again, friendly employees were on the go finishing up for the day. I’m guessing if Laverne and Shirley worked here, they never would have gone to California. We wrapped the tour up in the cold storage, which too was a recent addition due to their expansion, and headed back for a seat in the open-plan Taproom.

The interview really was over so we just talked. He orders us a few samples to try. The Centennial IPA was a little hoppier than I usually would order but evenly balanced and not overly bitter at all. Dave noted that they love hoppy beer at Founders. We tried the Cerise which is made with Traverse City cherries. Far from a novelty beer or even a Lambic, it’s a beer in itself. The Cerise offered a crisp smell with a smooth finish noting the Michigan treasures with every sip. My favorite was the Canadian Breakfast Stout that had a locally produced and fermented maple syrup which he let me try. Rich and buttery to the taste and smell, this syrup was simply too good to ever touch pancakes or waffles.

After a few responsible tastings, it was time to leave. I could have sat and listen to Dave passionately speak about everything that is Founders. It’s refreshing to hear someone speak so highly about owning a brewery, about brewing, about ingredients, about his actual family, about his work family, about his friends in the Guild, about Founders and the community, about Grand Rapids, and about Michigan. While not long-winded by any means, he was just that interesting. Beer drinkers beware though. Founders is all about quality, integrity, and craftsmanship. If you seek the generic flavor of Bud or Miller, they might have to wring the floor mop out for you. If you seek a drinkable treat, Founders is your place.

Thank you to Dave Engbers and his high energy staff at Founders Brewing Company for the pleasure of being a guest. Come back tomorrow for Part II: San Chez Tapaz Bistro and Peaches Bed and Breakfast.

On The Road Series

At the Made in Michigan Movement, we want to be more than a website. We want to put real action behind the Movement in our name. We created the On the Road series for just that purpose. This series looks to show you different ways to focus consumer spending to keep your hard–earned dollars here in Michigan. Further, we want to highlight forward-thinking businesses that are not only fun, but also have a significant impact on their immediate and statewide community. Most, if not all of the businesses we spent time with were selected by the members of the Made in Michigan Movement. If at anytime it sounds or looks like we had fun, I assure you it was strictly business.

We shot video footage and took stills. The stills are now available on our Facebook page and the video is in editing. The annotation of the series begins in the following blog post and is shared in multiple entries. We hope you enjoy!