The owners of a new Depot Town brewery intend to use their business to celebrate their beloved hometown of Ypsilanti while also welcoming new faces into the often homogeneous craft beer community.
"We’ve always been proud of Ypsi’s diversity, in all forms. We want Depot Town to reflect that. We want to make it known that this is a place where everybody’s welcome," Patrick Echlin says.
Echlin is one of three longtime Ypsi residents behind 734 Brewing Company, 15 E. Cross St., which will hold an opening on June 2. The brewery is starting off with a small selection of affordable, easily drinkable beer so customers aren't overwhelmed when they see the options on tap. Since the brewery won't sell food, customers will be able to bring take-out, place an order for delivery, or grab something from a food truck. The brewery's interior seats about 70 people and its patio can seat about 50 people.
Echlin and his partners in the brewery, Brian Jones-Chance and Alex Merz, grew up in Ypsi. Two of them were in the same kindergarten class and all three graduated from Ypsilanti High School together. Over the years, craft beer became a focal point of their friendship, from spending time in breweries to brewing beer for Echlin's wedding.
Echlin initially started using the name 734 Brewing Company for his homebrewing enterprise, which Jones-Chance and Merz were involved in in various capacities. When the operation outgrew Echlin's basement, he started toying with the idea of opening up a brewery. "Hanging out with Patrick became talking about how to run the business," he says. So naturally, his two best friends came on board as his partners.
The partners' love of their hometown is built into their business model. Seemingly everything related to the brewery is Ypsi-centric, from the 734 area code in its name to its "Ypsi born, Ypsi brewed" motto to the use of the iconic Ypsi water tower in its logo.
"It’s something that’s really close and near and dear to our hearts," Merz says. "I think we’re proud to do something and build the community here in Ypsi. It’s our hometown and we want to see it do great things."
Craft beer for all
The partners want to combat the pretentiousness and intimidation that's sometimes associated with craft beer. They plan on trying to appeal to demographic groups who may feel isolated by the predominantly white and male craft beer industry, including women, people of color, and older people. They're particularly proud to bring a business partly owned by a person of color to Depot Town's mostly white-owned business community (Jones-Chance is black).
Jones-Chance, whose family has lived in Ypsi for five generations, says he didn't spend time in Depot Town when he was growing up. He thinks there's a longstanding feeling among some residents, especially those on the south side, that Depot Town has seemed "a little closed off" to them, and the brewery would like to change that.
"We’re trying to knock down whatever barriers we think exist between someone who’s never tried craft beer, or doesn’t drink it a lot, and actually getting into it," Jones-Chance says.
He notes craft beer's high price point as one of those barriers. The brewery will sell its beer for $3 to $4 a pint, around the same price point as domestic beer at many bars and restaurants.
Head brewer Mariah Gavin, who has a degree in microbiology, will use her science background to collect data on the brewing process, customer feedback, and sales. She expects the brewery to "constantly be evolving and changing" based on customers' wants and needs.
Gavin is looking forward to teaching people about the brewing process and beer styles. She enjoys helping people find new favorite beers by having conversations with them about their beer preferences.
"I think we will be able to accomplish a lot for the Ypsi community and grow the craft beer scene a lot around here," Gavin says.
To begin with, 734 Brewing Company will offer an amber ale, oatmeal stout, cream ale, fruited cream ale, and sparkling apple wine. Shortly after the opening, the brewery will unveil an IPA. Non-alcoholic beverages, including Hyperion Coffee Co. drinks and 734's own draft root beer and ginger ale, will be available to help non-beer drinkers feel comfortable in the space. The brewery will host tasting panels for mug club members and other customers to give input on pilot batches of beer.
"We're going to put the mission first"
The partners have already started thinking about ways that they can contribute to the community as a whole and be proactive participants in the Ypsi community. They've talked to Ypsi mayor Amanda Edmonds about the possibility of partnering with the city on recurring community-wide cleanups, followed by an incentive at the brewery, like a discount on beer, for everyone who helps out.
The partners plan to put action behind their desire to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone.
"It’s not enough to just say that’s what you want to do," Jones-Chance says.
"You have to live it," Merz adds.
The brewery will feature work from local artists in an effort to give them more exposure and contribute to the arts scene. The partners especially want to draw art from the demographic groups that they're trying to serve, like women and people of color.
They're hoping to cater to their employees' best interests, too, by including them in decision making and taking into account their career path or next steps in employment. Many of the company's values are atypical not just for a craft brewery, but for a small business in general. But Merz views them as critical to 734 Brewing Company.
"We’re going to put the mission first and then see what happens after," Merz says.
Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
All photos by Doug Coombe.