Coopersville brewery creates sense of community

Jeremy Grossenbacher aims to put Coopersville on the map.

Nearly a year ago, Groosenbacher opened Coopersville Brewing Co., the first craft brewery in this small farming community in Ottawa County. Located near a roundabout just off Interstate 96, the brewery fills a gap along the “ale trail” between Grand Rapids -- Michigan’s Beer City -- and the lakeshore resort towns.

A craft brewery is a draw, for sure, but for Grossenbacher, who grew up in Coopersville, creating a sense of community and cultivating civic pride is at the heart of his operations.

“It’s not a novel idea that a small town in a rural community could support a brewery these days,” says Grossenbacher, who became passionate about craft beer while living in Chicago for a decade. “There’s just one other brewery along the stretch from Grand Rapids to the lakeshore -- in Allendale -- that means there’s a big, big market for another brewery.”

For many, Coopersville has been merely a gas-up-and-go stop along the busy interstate. The city’s primary business district -- a main street lined with turn-of-the-century brick buildings -- lies a mile or so away from the interstate exit. Much of the land in the nearly 5-square-mile community -- about 20 miles east of Grand Rapids -- remains in agricultural use.

“I’ve been disheartened that people don’t know where Coopersville is. If you mention the dump then people know where Coopersville is,” the 37-year-old Grossenbacher says, referring to the landfill visible from Interstate 96, south of town. “It’s a bummer to be known only for some surface-level thing.” 

Coopersville Brewing Co. is changing that reputation, if only one beer at a time.

Many of the beers are named after local landmarks or businesses.“There’s really nothing else like the brewery in Coopersville,” says Kate Terpstra, marketing and economic development for the Coopersville Downtown Development Authority. “He’s definitely creating a new sense of place, using the brewery to create a sense of community and working with the DDA. It’s very much a community brewery. One of our main goals at the DDA is to create a sense of place here because there is so much more than what you see just off the highway.”

The Brewery

Coopersville Brewing Co. describes itself as farm-raised and city-inspired, references to Grossenbacher’s local roots and his professional years in Chicago.

Housed in a former laundromat, the brewery’s interior pays homage to the local farming community, with an open contemporary barn feel. The wainscoting is made from pallets from a local company and have been painted to mirror the colors in the brewery’s logo. The repurposed interior beams are 150 to 200 years old and came from local barns. The wood tables are handmade and include the name of a sponsoring business. Pictures on the walls show Coopersville in the past and present. Windows along the front and side offer plenty of natural light. 

Photographs pay homage to Coopersville's past.Grossenbacher, his business partner, Jim Goodburn, and management team embrace a blend of down-to-earth, roll-up-your sleeves values with the eclectic and experimental energy of Chicago -- something Coopersville, home to just 5,000 people, has not experienced before. 

From the beginning, Coopersville Brewing Co. opened its doors to the community. The 10,000-square-foot facility regularly hosts live music, comedy shows, trivia night and yoga. High school sports teams have held annual banquets in the taproom, and Santa showed up over the holidays. 

“They really put a lot of thought into every little thing,” says Coopersville Mayor Duane Young, who has frequented the brewery several times with his wife, family and friends. “We’ve been really impressed with the place. They’re very connected to the community and there’s been a lot of social media buzz about them.”   

Like others, Young believes there are misperceptions about Coopersville. “Most people from outside here think we live on a landfill, but we have a beautiful downtown and a lot of history here,” he says. “We’re trying to work hard to let people know what we have here.”

The selection of beers on tap includes many styles. They include pilsners, IPAs, lagers, Belgian weisse and others. In a nod to the community, some beers are named after local institutions or landmarks. Tasker’s Pils, for example, is a pilsner named after Tasker’s Drug Store, a mainstay in the community since 1917. Alt’s Oil, a dark lager, was inspired by Alt Oil Co., a fuel supplier for local businesses. Another Man’s Treasure pays homage to, you guessed it, the landfill.

“We use local names or references when it makes sense and it’s fun,” he says, adding there lighter profile beers too because not everyone likes craft beer. “We draw a huge number of non-craft beer fans. It’s good to have diversity, a little bit of everything.”

Other than being a beer aficionado, Grossenbacher admits he had no experience with brewing before opening the business. Goodburn is the brewer and spent two and half years at Grand Armory Brewery Company in Grand Haven before joining Coopersville. The pair brought in Sean Sorensen, a former roommate of Grossenbacher’s as general manager. Sorensen has spent more than two decades in the food and hospitality business.

Jim Goodburn, brewer and business partner, checks a tank.

The brewery also includes a restaurant, One Eyed Pete’s, with a menu inspired by Grossenbacher’s passion for food, especially BBQ. The eclectic menu includes BBQ and brewery staples like burgers and chicken wings but offers the unusual: a smoked white fish guacamole and brisket burrito. As much as possible, the food is prepared from scratch. 

Grossenbacher is intent on giving back to the community as well. 

One beer, It Was All A C.R.E.A.M., a light bodied-cream ale, is used as a source to raise donations for community organizations and others. Standing for Community Recreation Education Arts Music, a portion of sales from the brew have helped support the family of a local man who died in a work-related accident and the local newspaper, The Coopersville Observer. 

Beginnings

Brewing beer was not top-of-mind when Grossenbacher graduated with a business and marketing degree from Baker College in Muskegon. He left for Chicago to pursue a career in corporate America, eventually landing a job at Groupon, just as the digital coupon company was getting off the ground.  One of Groupon’s first hires, Grossenbacher earned an invaluable education working with small businesses, many of them restaurants and bars.

While living in Chicago’s Logan Square, Grossenbacher began a journey into the world of craft beer, hanging out at Revolution Brewing and learning about styles of beer, ingredients and brewing from the bartenders. He also developed a love for cooking, especially BBQ, and interest in local food sourcing. 

“Beer and food became our hobby,” he says, laughing, referring to his wife, Sara, who is originally from nearby Allendale. “We had countless four-hour brunches … Chicago has some of the best restaurants in the country. You can’t live in Chicago and not become a foodie.” 

Grossenbacher returned to Coopersville in 2016 to help with the family’s RV business, Fun-N-Sun RV, where he had also worked during college. When a nearby family-owned property became vacant two years later, Grossenbacher pitched the idea of creating a brewery there to his father. Coincidentally, they were at a beer festival in Ludington at the time -- his father was all for it. 

“I never had a passion for RVs,” Grossenbacher says. “If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, your business is going to suffer.”

Opening and operating a brewery is neither an inexpensive nor quick undertaking.  The process took about two years and Grossenbacher estimates the cost of renovating the former laundromat (which had been leased as a drill shop and as restaurants), interior work, brewing and kitchen equipment between $750,000 and $800,000. The renovated building includes the kitchen, taproom and the brewhouse, as well as a 68-foot-by-50-foot unfinished space that will eventually be used for events.

The tables were designed for the brewery. Some contain the logos of local companies.

To help finance the project, Grossenbacher and his co-founders tapped local investors. Those who donated $500 have been honored with a brick in the brewery, known as “villagers,” and are lifetime mug club members.  Ownership stakes also were offered to the laborers and designers who built the bar, designed the tables and interior support beams. 

In its first eight months of operation, Coopersville brewed about 225 barrels of beer and is on pace to produce about 500 barrels next year, a sign of its growing business and demand for its beer. The brewery plans to begin canning some of its beer for regional distribution this year. 

“We’ve been busy. We’ve had a lot of good word of mouth. I’m really fortunate the way everything came together,” Grossenbacher says. “The number of people coming in are consistently saying “We’re so happy you’re here. Coopersville really needed something like this.’”