Dining Destinations: What a social district did for downtown Farmington's foodie scene

Farmington Brewing Company owner Jason Schlaff grew up in Farmington, and wouldn't want to be pouring beers anywhere else.

“We love being involved in downtown,” he says. “At the end of the day, I really just like being that little community center where anyone with any particular viewpoint can come in, relax, have a beer, glass of wine, seltzer, or cider, and maybe make some friends."

Schlaff has witnessed, first-hand, how downtown Farmington’s popular social district has become a pillar of the city’s evolving food scene. Dubbed The Syndicate, the district allows guests to purchase alcoholic beverages from participating establishments and enjoy them in designated areas along Grand River Avenue, in the Masonic Plaza, and throughout Riley Park.

Patrons are invited to order a drink and step outside to experience a number of other downtown attractions, such as the summer Lunch Beats concerts at the Sundquist Pavilion. According to Farmington DDA Director Kate Knight, the social district has been influential in growing the city’s vibrant cultural landscape. 

“In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of our independent eateries and bars thrive with the addition of the social district,” Knight says. “We’re seeing families come — multiple generations of neighbors and friends gathering where people grab carry-out and a beverage. It’s been a really nice additional draw into our walkable downtown.”

Downtown Farmington’s social district was launched on New Year’s Eve in 2020, not long after the passing of a short-term Michigan law that allowed for the establishment of community “social zones” with a state-issued permit. In 2022, the social district law became permanent with the passing of House Bill 5090.

“We feel that it has been a huge boon — a great economic development tool for our downtown district,” Knight says. “The law differentiates and gives an advantage to those businesses that are located in walkable downtowns. We have a couple of businesses who feel that it really helped them stay afloat during the pandemic. The idea that you could sell a beverage to-go just provided a really critical piece of additional revenue for our restaurants who were crunched by the impact of indoor dining restrictions.”

The Syndicate hosts a diverse selection of restaurants and bars, with options ranging from classic sliders and street tacos to seasonal vegan and casual fine dining. Diners with a taste for craft brews will find plenty to choose from at the Farmington Brewing Company (FBC), an artisan brewery that’s been pouring in downtown Farmington for almost a decade.

Farmington Brewing Company is a key feature in downtown Farmington's social district.

Farmington Brewing Company
33336 Grand River Ave. // (248) 957-9543 // www.fbcbrewing.com 

The FBC is currently hard at work readying their taproom for the summer months, with offerings like their Guava Pale Ale, a Downtown Farmington (DTF) Lime Lager, and local fan favorite, the Blood Orange Wheat.

Schlaff has been in business with his original beers since 2014, after partnering up with a friend to turn their shared hobby into a career. He became the sole owner of the business in 2019 and has since continued to establish Farmington Brewing Co. as a staple gathering place downtown. 

“This is my hometown; my parents still live here," he says. "I grew up going to the downtown and the different shops, including the bookstore that is now our brewery.”

Schlaff works hard to keep his business centered at the heart of the Farmington community. The brewery hosts weekly games of trivia and created its own Tuesday-night run club, where participants can take part in a 5K run to receive 10% off pints of beer. Schlaff is also working to launch a charity initiative with the Farmington Hills Fire Department to benefit local firefighters with the sales of a specially-crafted brew. 

"We’ve had people get married or become best friends that met waiting in line to join our mug club," Schlaff says. "It’s really just a full community sense in our taproom.”

The addition of a social district has extended the reach of FBC brews to an ever-diversifying demographic of beer drinkers. Schlaff now includes the Syndicate logo (a requirement for all social district beverages) on his canned beers, allowing Syndicate customers the choice between the brewery’s specialty cans and its popular draft products.

“The Syndicate has been a game changer for the brewery,” he says. “We have a fairly small taproom, but with [the social district], we can serve a much larger group of beer enthusiasts. Our DDA is wonderful. With the Syndicate, they truly have made a difference in the renaissance of our downtown.”

Here’s a look at the Syndicate’s other participating dining locations:

Basement Burger Bar
33316 Grand River Ave. // (248) 957-8179 // www.basementburgerbar.com

Browndog Barlor
33314 Grand River Ave. // (248) 957-9073 // browndogbarlor.com

Chive Kitchen
33043 Grand River Ave. // (248) 516-7144 // www.chivekitchen.com

Loft Cigar Lounge
33419 Grand River Ave. // (248) 482-7242 // loftcigarlounge.com

Los Tres Amigos
33200 Grand River Ave. // (248) 442-1100 //www.lostresamigosonline.com

23310 Farmington Rd. // (248) 536-2387

23360 Farmington Rd. // (248) 957-8119 // mimosafarmington.com

Sidecar Slider Bar
32720 Grand River Ave. // (248) 536-2907 // www.slidecarsliderbar.com

1Up Arcade Bar
33316 Grand River Ave. // (248) 919-2197 // www.1up-arcadebar.com

All photos by David Lewinski.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Sierra Okoniewski.

Sierra Okoniewski is a freelance journalist with a passion for good food and intentional hospitality. She lives in Rochester, Michigan, and finds joy in eating her way around the mitten state.