GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping Cedar Springs Brewing Company’s dream of recreating a place in Grand Rapids for German gemütlichkeit.
“It’s kind of just that warm, fuzzy, comfortable feeling of friendship and that warm glow that you get when you’re sitting around with friends and say, ‘Isn’t this great?’ And you’re having a little nibble of this and a little sip of that and enjoying conversation and friendship and family. That’s gemütlichkeit and that’s the atmosphere that we’re trying to promote here,” said David Ringler, owner of Cedar Springs Brewing Company and the soon-to-be Küsterer Brauhaus.
Ringler says he set his sights on opening a German beer hall in Grand Rapids decades before opening Cedar Springs Brewing Company in 2015.
“It had always been in my heart. I ended up in another industry for a while, and I always figured someday somebody was going to come along and kind of do something similar, and gosh darn it, no one did. So there was (nothing) better than to pull up our bootstraps and do it ourselves,” he told News 8.
Ringler says the diversity and German roots of the city’s West Side neighborhood made it an attractive option.
“Our goal is to be part of this community and bring a little bit of the West Side back to life as it had once existed,” he said.
Before Prohibition, the neighborhood was home to several German-owned breweries. Ringler’s new venture on Bridge Street between Gold and Lexington avenues is named after one of those: C. Kusterer & Sons Brauhaus.
“That ended up becoming the original Grand Rapids Brewing company in 1893,” Ringler added.
SURVIVING THE COVID-19 CRISIS: ‘WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER’
Küsterer Brauhaus was supposed to open by the end of this year until coronavirus changed everything, delaying construction and the German brewing system the new beer hall will use. Now, the aim is to open the Bavarian beer hall in 2021.
“We were excited about this. We were hoping to be open now, quite honestly, (but) when COVID hit, it became apparent it wasn’t going to be business as usual,” said Ringler. “As a business, we had to conserve dollars. We had to make sure that we could pay our people (at Cedar Springs Brewing Company) and make sure that we kept the business going.”
Survival meant shifting to takeout and launching delivery service for the first time in Cedar Springs Brewing Company’s history.
Like other bars and restaurants, Cedar Springs Brewing Company is now battling for its bottom line amid a 50% capacity restriction, added health and safety expenses and business slowed in part by the cancellation of Cedar Springs’ long-running Red Flannel Festival.
“It’s been hard for consumers, it’s been hard for businesses. We’re obviously no exception. We’re down about a third of what we’d normally be this year. We’re working to try to keep as many of our people as we can employed and serve as many people as we can do so safely,” Ringler said in September.
At one point, Cedar Springs Brewing Company had to trim its team of seasoned staff members from about 49 people to 17 employees. Ringler says the brewery has reinstated about half of its workforce since then and is hoping to bring back more staff as circumstances allow.
The brewery is also in the process of enclosing its outdoor biergarten and adding heating elements so patrons can enjoy the space during winter.
The struggles spurred by COVID-19 didn’t stop Cedar Springs Brewing from reaching out to the community, preparing meals for first responders and senior living residents and creating a grocery program with its suppliers for people who could no longer find necessities in stores.
“We’re all in this together,” said Ringler.
BRINGING BACK THE OLD BAVARIAN EXPERIENCE
The building that will soon house Küsterer Brauhaus has a storied past. Built in the 1920s, it served as a theater for decades before eventually becoming a church in April 2000, according to Grand Rapids Public Library archivists.
“We’re still working on their bread of life. It’ll just be in liquid form,” Ringler said with a smile.
Those liquids will all be brewed following strict German beer purity laws Ringler learned during his decadeslong brewing career that started in Germany.
“We create a vast variety and panorama of flavors and diversity, but we use four ingredients in everything that we do. So it really forces you to be a little bit more creative,” said Ringler.
“There’s certainly nobody in this area and even in the Midwest doing what we’re doing,” he added.
The team at Cedar Springs Brewing Company is well-versed in making German beer. Ringler says the staff regularly travel to Germany for training and have created brews that have bested German brewers in international competitions.
“This is an opportunity to taste just a little bit of Munich without the plane ticket, and right now plane tickets are tough to come by,” said Ringler.
Cedar Springs Brewing Company regularly creates 40 to 50 varieties of beers, including wheat beer and lagers. Küsterer Brauhaus will include some of the brewery’s beers as well as one brew only available at the beer hall.
“I joke that everybody’s making new beer (but) we’re making old beer. We’re making beer that literally, these recipes are hundreds of years old that have stood the test of time. And there’s a reason for that,” he said.
KÜSTERER BRAUHAUS ‘A LABOR OF LOVE’
Küsterer Brauhaus will expand on the Bavarian experience with deli-style food guests can enjoy from regular tables or long tables traditionally found in Germany.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen people who have lived in Cedar Springs or the surrounding area their whole lives and have never known each other,” said Ringler. “Through that process (of sharing a long table) they’ve now become friends and they meet regularly.”
“That’s how neighborhoods were created. (This) was the Facebook of its day… and that’s really what we’re trying to get back to in creating that communal feeling,” he added.
If COVID-19 is still an issue by the time the beer hall opens, Ringler says long tables will also include moveable plastic shields for groups to safely enjoy the experience. The virus has already sped up the brewery’s plans to add bottled beers for purchase, which will be available at the front of the business.
Ringler says the Küsterer Brauhaus has no immediate plans to harness sidewalk seating already approved by the city.
“We may eventually, but we want to make sure we can walk before we run,” he said.
Ringler says the beer hall is “truly a labor of love” that he’s excited to share with the community soon. For now, he’s asking for patience.
“We want to start pouring some wonderful house-made beers as soon as we can, but obviously it’s just going to take a little time before we can do that safely and with certainty,” he said. “We’re going to get there as soon as we can.”