Battle Creek

Donut and Beer Fest brewing at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

The amount of hygge (it will make sense in a minute) in Battle Creek has increased within the past five to 10 years as a result of a growth in the number of festivals taking place each year, says Annie Kelley, Communications Manager for the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau
“So, I’m reading a book about hygge right now. Hygge is a Danish word that is usually related to coziness, but it’s also about togetherness -- having a sense of connection and belonging,” Kelley says. “Festivals are certainly fun, and they enrich our culture. But my favorite part of a festival is that good feeling from seeing people enjoy being a community, and being part of it myself. According to what I’ve read, that feeling is essential to happiness – even for introverts!”
The number of festivals in Battle Creek can be hard to quantify because the definition is so broad, Kelley says.
Enjoying donuts at a Donuts and Beer Festival“And now food trucks are everywhere – they bring the feasting, add some live music for entertainment, and it’s a festival,” she says. “I can think of 11 Battle Creek festivals in 2012. This year, eight of those festivals remain and 11 new ones have been established.”
Worth noting, she says, is that in 2007 there seemed to be a downturn for local festivals. “There was a committee established to try to facilitate festival planning, but soon after that Fiesta Battle Creek, Taste of Battle Creek, and Holiday Balloon Fest disappeared. They were soon replaced with Festivus and Leilapalooza. I think those two, coordinated by the Battle Creek Metropolitan Area Moustache Society, helped change the landscape. They attracted a younger crowd, they thought outside of the box and they were about building community. Leilapalooza was 12 years old year this summer – the music fest is almost a teenager.”
Because food is such an integral part of so many of these festivals, Kelley says the events introduce people to new businesses.
“Hopefully someone who has tried Island Style BBQ at Que the Creek will seek out the brick-and-mortar business for more amazing jerk chicken,” she says.
And people also may seek out businesses that make donuts and beer after they attend the inaugural Donut and Beer Fest, set for Oct. 8 from noon to 5 p.m. at C.O. Brown Stadium.
This festival will highlight donut makers and beers that are made both locally and in the state of Michigan, says Bailey Shore, Executive Director of Outlier Events, founded by Brian Colopy, owner of the Battle Creek Battle Jacks and Kalamazoo Growlers summer collegiate baseball teams. The Battle Jacks home stadium is C.O. Brown Stadium and the Kalamazoo Growlers are based at Homer Stryker Field.
The Battle Jacks and Growlers are among 18 teams that make up the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate baseball league for players with remaining college eligibility. The Northwoods League teams are located in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario (Canada). 
“More than 141 Northwoods League alumni have made it to the major leagues, including Jordan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer, Curtis Granderson, Andy Dirks, Drew Smyly and Chris Sale. Over 190 alumni were drafted in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft alone, according to the Northwoods website.
Shore says, “Major League scouts watch all of our games. This is especially important for young guys who don’t get a lot of looks from scouts or attend smaller schools where scouts are less likely to focus their attention.”
While the games played give much-needed exposure to the players and give fans the opportunity to see future major league stars in the making in well-maintained stadiums, events like the Donut and Beer Fest provide ways to make full use of the venues and expand the amount of time they’re in use, Shore says.
“It’s great to see the park being used for an event that isn’t sports-related,” Kelley says. “It combines some of the things people love about fall: Oktoberfest and eating cider doughnuts. But those aren’t two things you do at the same time. Unless you’re Homer Simpson, I guess?”
Festivals can also score home runs
In 2017 Colopy pitched the idea of a festival showcasing donuts and beer. The first one, which sold out, took place in Kalamazoo in 2017, and based on its success, the event was replicated in other cities that are home to minor league teams, including Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Columbus, Ohio, Shore says.
Outlier Events works with stadiums used by minor league teams and collegiate teams in Michigan and it's expanding into Ohio and Wisconsin. Shore says Outlier rents out the stadiums to put on festivals. She meets with her team to decide which markets they’re interested in going into and they reach out to ballparks there.
“The Donuts and Beer Fest started doing so well in Kalamazoo that we wanted to see if it would do well in other markets. No matter where we took it it was successful and created intrigue in other communities,” she says. “A lot of it is the quirkiness. Donuts and beer spark interest, regardless.”
The festivals take place on the baseball fields on off-days for the teams during regular season play.
About the only tie these festivals have to the baseball teams is the field where teams play, Shore says.
“We have these beautiful stadiums and we only have 36 home games a year and we wanted to do something where we could use the awesome infrastructure these stadiums have the other days of the summer and fall,” Shore says. “These festivals are a third arm of our business because festivals are in such high demand, even more so since COVID. These festivals have evolved into fun events where you can buy one ticket for a unique and all-inclusive experience.”
The other two arms of Outlier Events are the Battle Jacks and Growlers teams.
Based on the success of the Donut and Beer Fest, held in Kalamazoo in 2017 and 2018, Shore says she thinks the event also will sell out in Battle Creek. A maximum of 2,000 tickets will be available for the upcoming festival. This limit is in place to ensure the best possible experience for those who attend, she says.
Kelley says the limited number of tickets adds to the uniqueness of the Beer and Donut Fest because “usually you don’t have to worry about the event selling out because it’s unlimited.”
Individual tickets are priced at $35 or $50 with the higher price charged to those who want alcoholic beverages, Shore says. Each ticket price includes food and drink tokens and full access to games, inflatables, and a live performance by a Bob Seger Tribute Band.
At least 15 vendors are expected to be at the festival, including Sweetwater’s Donuts, Long Island Café, Groovy Donuts, Territorial Brewing Company, and Handmap Brewing. Smokin 8’s, a Michigan-based barbeque business, is going to be there and will use donuts to make pulled pork sandwiches.
“A lot of local donut providers will create something new for this festival specifically and for judges who will decide who has the best donuts in Michigan,” Shore says. “People will be able to purchase donuts from local businesses as well as places from the east side of the state and up north.”
Besides the exposure the festival will give participating businesses, Shore says local nonprofits also will benefit.
“We always partner with local nonprofits that provide volunteers. We are working with the South Michigan Food Bank so every volunteer who signs up to work on their behalf is going to make money for the Food Bank. Often, we write checks to nonprofits for thousands of dollars. It’s really community-oriented.”
Shore says people interested in attending should plan to purchase tickets in advance because there’s no guarantee that tickets will be available the day of the festival. She says every festival held so far this year has sold out including a Mac and Cheese Fest held in June in Kalamazoo that had to be split into two days because the demand was so great.
“Day one of Mac and Cheese we had 2,100 people and on day two we had 1,500. We could have done it over the course of one day with 4,000 tickets sold but we broke it into two days so could offer people a better experience,” Shore says.
Although Cereal Fest (formerly the Longest Breakfast Table) and Field of Flight, both in Battle Creek remain hugely popular, especially after the pandemic, Kelley says festivals such as Que the Creek and Backyard Burgers and Brew Fest have become big draws. She says she expects the Donut and Beer Fest to become as popular.
“People will travel for a food festival,” she says.
But she says she thinks festivals celebrating culture have also done well this year.
“The Pride Festival is relatively new, and part of Michigan Avenue was shut down for Cinco de Mayo. I thought the Afro Cultural Exchange at Claude Evans Park drew a big community crowd – it felt like being at a family reunion if you have chefs in the family,” Kelley says. “And while the block party for Color the Creek had to be canceled because of the weather, we see a lot of people interested in the finished murals. There’s a reason a lot of Color the Creek photos show up in the visitor guide – it makes Battle Creek look lively and colorful.”
Shore says the Beer and Donut Fest will focus on culture of a different sort while also adding to the city’s vibrancy.
“It’s really just a once-a-year unique opportunity for friends and families and groups of people to get together on a baseball field and enjoy different varieties of donuts and beer,” Shore says. “As a kid, If I got to eat donuts on second base that would be a memory I would have forever.”
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Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.