Community, camaraderie, craft: Ferndale Project establishes itself as a true neighborhood brewery

The Ferndale Project opened on Feb. 22, 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the economy.

It’s a heck of a time to start a new business and especially one like the Ferndale Project, a brewery that takes as much pride in creating community as it does quality and boundary-pushing craft beer.

“We opened and had three weeks before we had to shut down. We made it our goal to pivot and we haven’t had to lay off an employee since this started,” says Shalyn Getz, president of Eastern Market Brewing Company. Ferndale Project operates as the experimental arm of Detroit-based Eastern Market Brewing Company, specializing in sour beers, New England IPAs, and more.

“We had to think of new ways to reach our customers. We always said that our tap rooms are the heart of our business. And COVID-19 flipped that on its head.”

The patio at Ferndale ProjectIt was their goal to pivot and pivot they have. While Ferndale Project has continued to brew and release new beer throughout the course of this pandemic, the brewery and its sister brewery EMBC have consistently come up with new ways to stay open and stay relevant.

There is the push to launch a new business a day. Getz says that EMBC managing partner Dayne Bartscht first came up with the idea in the early days of the pandemic, wanting to find new outlets and revenue streams for the breweries hampered by restrictions on indoor gatherings.

“The creative side of it was the real impetus here. It keeps us creative and engaged in a difficult time,” Getz says. “How can we harness all this creativity?”

Several of the ideas have stuck. The breweries started a beer delivery service just two weeks after the shutdowns. First called Wing It, the delivery service has since been rebranded as Peddler. What started as a means for delivering their own beer, Peddler has since expanded as a delivery service for all things craft and local, making home deliveries for the breweries but also like-minded companies like Bon Bon Bon and Drought Juice, too.

One employee’s vegan donuts proved so popular that they’ve been acquired and rebranded as Dooped Donuts, yet another business. And another employee’s pizzas will most likely become a separate venture, too.

The partnerships benefit the breweries and their employees alike.

“COVID-19 has been really hard on the service industry, both from a financial perspective and mental health perspective,” Getz says. “The idea was to play off the strengths of our employees.”

“Our company motto is community, camaraderie, and craft. We want to be involved in the communities our businesses are in,” Getz says.

The Ferndale Project and EMBC have maintained a busy community outreach calendar throughout the pandemic. The breweries have been hosting virtual events like Good Neighbors Bring Beer, a panel discussing how we can be good neighbors following the presidential election. There’s People Power, which raises money for community organizations through beer sales. And a toiletry drive supports the Detroit Phoenix Center.

The next virtual community conversation will cover topics of housing and hunger.

“Our company motto is community, camaraderie, and craft. We want to be involved in the communities our businesses are in,” Getz says. “It’s super important to give back to the communities where we work.”

And while the breweries consistently find ways to involve themselves in their communities, they have also become adept at involving the community in their business.

Ferndale Project recently completed a Mainvest campaign, successfully raising $250,000 via community investment. Rather than crowdfund money from the community, the Mainvest campaign actually rewards contributors with revenue sharing notes. The community investors receive returns on their investments.

Money raised from the Mainvest campaign will be used to keep employees on staff, pad a rainy day fund, and purchase new production equipment.

“We went from no packaged products to all packaged products,” Getz says.

For all their energy spent on offshoot businesses and community engagement projects, virtual or otherwise, Ferndale Project remains, at its core, a craft brewery. Located on a stretch of Livernois that is relatively quiet compared to Ferndale’s main commercial drags, the brewery patio maintains a neighborhood atmosphere.

“I love seeing people in the neighborhood walking up with their blankets,” Getz says.

This winter, Ferndale Project launched the Après Ski event, transforming the outside patio into a veritable ski lodge. Guests purchase “lift tickets” for $5, gaining admission and 50 percent off tap beer. There are often giveaways from ski-themed vendors. The Ferndale event sells out each week. And Eastern Market Brewing Company hosts their own Après Ski events too.

“Instead of being bummed about winter, we flipped that on its head with the Après Ski events. We’re embracing our Michigan winter and craft beer,” Getz says.

“I love seeing people in the neighborhood walking up with their blankets.”

And then, of course, there’s the beer. Ferndale Project releases new beers every week, Getz says. The Paloma Gose is the newest cocktail-inspired sour ale. And a new NEDIPA, Tough As Nails, was released to coincide with the brewery’s January book in their Virtual Book Club, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.