Brewer sees a full glass in Battle Creek's plans

Tim Suprise tapped into a growing industry 15 years ago and has been watching his business brew ever since.

Suprise, 53, founder and president of Arcadia Ales, operates the restaurant and microbrewery in Battle Creek called Arcadia Brewing Co. that draws people from as close as around the block and as far away as Chicago.  

And at any given time -- under the watchful eye of Suprise's head brewer and leadership team -- the microbrewery produces a number of the 23 varieties of beer sold under the Arcadia Ales label.

The first beer Suprise developed and sold was Angler's Ale. Arcadia IPA is his best-selling brand and helped the company exceed $2 million in total annual revenue.

Sitting at a wooden picnic table near a bank of windows fronting West Michigan Avenue, Suprise says he is positioning the business to ride a revitalization wave expected to sweep through Battle Creek's downtown area.

"The Kellogg Company and the (W.K.) Kellogg Foundation have a very vested interest in this community. As recently as 18 months ago the company was at a crossroads and was being heavily recruited to relocate personnel," Suprise says.

Among the locales looking to grab some of the cereal giant's business were North Carolina's Research Triangle in the Raleigh/Durham area and Portage, Battle Creek's neighbor to the west. Suprise says if Kellogg Co. executives decided to establish future development anywhere other than Battle Creek, the Cereal City would have been devastated.

But officials with the Kellogg Foundation upped the local awareness of the importance of Kellogg Co.'s growth and continued presence in Battle Creek.

"A decision was made not only to not relocate but to reinvest," Suprise says.

With a firm commitment secured, leadership of various entities with a vested interest in the downtown area created a downtown transformation plan that will feed off of the historic legacy of the food industry in Battle Creek.  

The plan, Suprise says, creates a "much more campus-like, pedestrian-friendly environment" designed to attract more businesses and people to the downtown area.

Now, after several lean years, he is looking at expanding his business to capture the positive results of the comprehensive plan.

"Part of that plan is to take vacant buildings and turn them into viable businesses," Suprise says. "We're trying to create the downtown as the hub of the greater community."

No one is more excited about what's coming than Suprise, who admits to taking a calculated risk when he decided in 1996 to open his enterprise in Battle Creek rather than Kalamazoo.

"The community demographic is very different here. The metropolitan area is half the size of Kalamazoo," Suprise says. "It did not have the diversity of higher education and the workforce demographic is different. It's historically been a cereal-producing town. The market opportunity was a lot more of a question mark for us."

His original plan called for the microbrewery to set up shop in the renovated Globe Building in downtown Kalamazoo. After being unable to raise the necessary $1.6 million in capital to fund the project, Suprise says he was encouraged by an initial investor to consider locating the business in Battle Creek.

That investor was George Franklin, former vice president with the Kellogg Co. and a Western Michigan University trustee.

"He (Franklin) thought it was a shame that the project was going to fail for lack of interest," Suprise says. "At the time he was employed with Kellogg and was a board member of Battle Creek Unlimited. That lead to a lunch which culminated in a Plan B being developed."

Evidence of the successful implementation of Plan B is the 33,000-square-foot building housing Arcadia Ales.

Suprise says about 70 percent of his revenue comes from Arcadia-branded beers sold in 12 states including Illinois, Missouri and New York, in addition to Michigan. He says the company will soon be adding North Carolina to that list.

"On average, we're bottling 1,600 cases each week," Suprise says.

Besides the beer, Suprise says the restaurant end of the business has picked up in the last two to three years. For the first eight years a wood-fired pizza oven from Naples, Italy, was the kitchen's lone piece of cooking equipment.

Seven years later, a trailer-mounted barbecue pit from southern Georgia was purchased and it's being used to cook up fare such as Texas-style beef brisket and ribs. Plans are in the works to expand the kitchen-area to accommodate a growing menu.

Given his background, those who know Suprise well are likely not surprised to see him celebrating his 15th year as a successful business owner. This, despite the fact that he had no real hands-on experience in beer making or as a restaurateur. 

Prior to starting his brewpub and restaurant, Suprise was a marketing manager with the former Durametallic, now Flowserve, headquartered in Kalamazoo.

"I traveled quite a bit on business and in my travels throughout the United States and Asia became interested in locally-brewed beers," Suprise says. "I was paying attention to the groundswell in the craft brewing community and visiting small craft breweries."

In the meantime, Durametallic was transitioning from a privately-held to public company.

"I came to the conclusion at that point in my life -- I was 39 -- that I wanted to have control over my own destiny," Suprise says.

He set about developing a business plan and found a mentor in Alan Pugsley, founder and owner of Shipyard Ales, based in Portland, Maine. Pugsley has parlayed his vast knowledge of craft beer production into a paid consultant business.

Suprise says that beyond their teacher-student relationship the two have become friends.

"He has the ability to instruct entrepreneurial types," Suprise says. "I was trying to find something I was passionate about."

So what's next on tap for Battle Creek's king of craft beers?

"We've been in a rather extensive makeover of our company logo and a complete redesign of all of our brand images," Suprise says. "We needed to have some cohesiveness. I would like to double our business to between 10,000 and 15,000 barrels of beer a year."

Jane Parikh, a freelance writer living and working in Battle Creek, owns In So Many Words.

Photos by Erik Holladay.

Arcadia Brewery has been making beers in Battle Creek since 1996.

Tim Suprise, Arcadia Brewery founder, uses fine malted barley from England and open fermentation tanks to produce fresh, handcrafted beers.

Tim Suprise, 53, hopes to expand his business riding on the Kellogg Co.'s reinvestment plans and commitment to the Battle Creek area.

Arcadia Brewery has begun to relaunch its beers with new eye-catching packaging and logos.

Arcadia Brewery is located at 103 W. Michigan, near the heart of downtown Battle Creek.

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