Alt City brings alcohol-free options to Beer City USA

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two brothers with plenty of restaurant experience are giving patrons of Beer City USA a high-class alternative to alcohol.

Soon after Paul Clark gave up drinking alcohol about five years ago, he noticed something missing during a celebration out at a “very nice restaurant.”

“Everybody ordered really cool cocktails and drinks, and when it came time to cheers the birthday girl, I was holding a glass of sparkling water, which was my (best) option,” he said.

Clark said it happened again weeks later during a night out with his wife at a brewery. The only nonalcoholic options were drinks also available at a gas station convenience store.

“In a town this size, especially with as much drinking is going on, there has to be other people that, like me, (are) no longer drinking that still want to go out with their friends and spend some money at some place and hold up a cool cocktail in cheers at a birthday celebration,” he said.

Now all those people have an option: Alt City Beverage Company at Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market.

(An employee of another business in Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market visits with the owners of Alt City Beverage Company ahead of its grand opening.)

“I don’t know where else in Grand Rapids you could like even go to get something similar to what we’re doing,” Clark said.

CREATING LAYERS OF FLAVOR BY THE CUP

The menu has “a little bit of something for everyone,” Clark said. It features about 20 drinks all made in-house, including espresso-based spritzers, nitrogen infused cold brew coffees and teas, smoothies, juices and zero-proof cocktails far more complex than your typical Shirley Temple.

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows some of the smoothies created by the business that’s now open in Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market.)

“We put a lot of thought into all of our beverages. A lot of thought went into the zero-proof cocktails to bring those to another level,” co-owner Chad Clark said. “They’re not just a juice mocktail that somebody made in a hurry.”

Drinks range from $5 to $9 and include an alcohol-free spin on a French 75, an aloe cooler and an apple celery soda “made the old-fashioned way” with an acid phosphate solution, according to Chad Clark.

From saline solution drops for balance to nitrogen for mouthfeel, there’s a lot of science behind Alt City’s creations.

“(Nitrogen) doesn’t actually add… any taste or odor to the beverage, but what it does do is it tricks your tongue. Those tiny little bubbles will trick your tongue into believing something has just a hint of sweetness to it that doesn’t actually exist,” Paul Clark explained.

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows coffee grounds grated atop a drink.)

The brothers say the menu will include tried and true favorites and rotating seasonal options “just to keep things interesting.”

Starbucks, watch out: Paul Clark says they will release their own version of the popular pumpkin spice latte.

“I am just like a sucker for fall. As soon as those pumpkins spice lattes hit, I just go blow all my (Starbucks rewards) stars that I’ve saved … on pumpkin spice lattes,” he said. “That’s how I splurge on myself. Yeah, 100% we’ll be doing our own.”

Paul Clark says the company’s popular chai coffee cold brew blend will also “be making a resurgence.”

“It’s unlike any other like chai coffee that you’re going to get anywhere else,” he added.

The facility and menu are peanut-free. And while nothing from Alt City Beverage Co. has alcohol, the beer industry served as inspiration.

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows a zero-proof cocktail.)

“Very early on… we looked at the way tea companies were marketing themselves and the way juice companies were marketing ourselves. And we … purposely walked the exact opposite direction,” Paul Clark said. “So we tried to look more toward what the craft beer scene was doing.”

COVID-19 CHALLENGES

Paul and Chad Clark used the Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen program to come up with the right recipe for success.

“There’s nothing better in Grand Rapids locally to get started as efficiently. And the economics of it work out really well, too,” said Paul Clark, who previously tapped the program for his then-food truck “Do Your Wurst.”

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows co-owner Chad Clark preparing drink samples.)

But the program can’t shield Alt City Beverage Co. from the challenges created by COVID-19.

“We haven’t been able to do the tasting that normally would have pre-COVID (when) we would just maybe set up a little tent and start making drinks and, you know, asking people for feedback. It’s really just been the marketing executives (taste testing),” Chad Clark said.

“But I think we met and exceeded their expectations, just based on some of the reactions and questions and feedback that we got,” Paul Clark added.

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows co-owner Paul Clark serving up a drink sample.)

The owners are optimistic their niche product, grab-and-go business model and prime spot near the single open entrance to the Downtown Market will pay off.

“When we realized that we had the opportunity to build something right up front, even though the cost was obviously more … we jumped at the opportunity,” Paul Clark said. “It’s super convenient … which is going to actually pay off in dividends now with takeout being even that much more important.”

(Co-owner Paul Clark cleans surfaces ahead of the grand opening of Alt City Beverage Company in Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market.)

The brothers say that while there have been drink creating disasters and there will inevitably be more, they’re enjoying creating something new for West Michigan with each other.

“Starting off, you know, we’re just trying to have fun — take our product very seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously,” Chad Clark said.

(An undated photo provided by Alt City Beverage Company shows some of the smoothies created by the business that’s now open in Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market.)

“It truly is one of a kind, at least in West Michigan,” Paul Clark said.

Alt City Beverage Company is open from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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