Greenbush plans to expand restaurant, food and beer menu

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2016


SAWYER, Mich. — On an average afternoon at Greenbush Brewing Co. the long bar is typically full of people chatting amicably as they enjoy slices of pizza, house-made sausage and, of course, the craft beer that has influenced people from all over Michigan, Illinois and Indiana to make the trek to Sawyer.

But amid the chatter is a new sound; the distant but detectable sound of a mechanical tool grinding away. And if you haven’t already heard the buzz — that’s the sound of Greenbush growing bigger.

On May 11, co-owner Scott Sullivan announced on Facebook that Greenbush would be purchasing the property next door, formerly known as the restaurant Fitzgerald’s, to expand its ever growing beer empire.

In the post, Sullivan cited the opportunity for more space and the chance for Greenbush to offer a whole different menu and beer selection to customers. This is of course in addition to their already famous menu — known for its brisket, from Sullivan’s secret recipe and full bodied craft beer that is never under 6 percent alcohol volume.

“So, armed with a lot of customers and still not anywhere near enough space we figured ‘Why not give people a new venue to drink up some Greenbush beer but with a completely new theme?’ Cue Greenbush 3.0, diner version,” Sullivan wrote in the post.

Aaron Darling, marketing manager — or “dude” as he prefers — said the plan for the new space is to create a diner that has a menu with lots of southern eats. A few things on the new menu will include, heaping plates of chicken and waffles, savory grits, lox and bagels and other diner delicacies such as meatloaf, open-faced turkey sandwiches, burgers, fries and new to Greenbush, a pilsner.

As for that buzzing — Darling said that is the sound of Paul Sypian working away on making “Greenbush 3.0” ready for business. Sypian is also a Greenbush cook with a specialty in sausage making with former experience in brick work. The work to the building will include, changing the exterior to match the brick work of Greenbush’s other buildings and possibly adding an entrance from the brewery that will open onto the adjoining diner patio.

The plan, Darling said, is to keep the main structure of the building. Darling said they’re anticipating the diner to open sometime this mid-summer.

But this isn’t the first time Greenbush has grown.

When Greenbush first opened in June of 2011, it wasn’t even half the size it is today. Darling can show you the exact point at which a skinny metal pipe that runs along the wall in the Tap Room marks the original space that was once all of Greenbush brewery and it’s about half the size of the current tap room.

Today, the original seven barrel copper kettle that brewed up the first batches of Greenbush beer is secured over the door.

For Greenbush, Darling said what moves them all forward is the ability to never get too comfortable with the walls around them.

“We are going to evolve we are going to keep pushing the boundaries with our beer, with our food, with our marketing, all that,” Darling said.

The names and flavors of Greenbush beers seem to hold some of this spark of creative force. Take Anger. It’s one of the first of its kind — a black India Pale Ale with chocolate notes and a smoky flavor reminiscent of and as classy as scotch. This is one of the first beers brewed up in Greenbush and remains a popular beer, said Darling. It is also his favorite.

There’s also 400 Divine Rabbits inspired by an Aztec myth involving rabbits thirsty for an agave based alcohol. Or the Unicorn Killer a cinnamon and pumpkin flavored beer.

Along the road to success, there have been some growing pains, though. Greenbush has used this same creativity to inspire solutions to problems. Darling said when more and more customer started flooding in and Greenbush outgrew their 112-seat tap room, they had to find a solution outside of the two-hour waits.

If a customer arrived for dinner with friends to find a packed venue, they couldn’t just hope the enticing smells of smoked brisket and pulled pork would be enough to keep people around.

“We’re not going to sit around and be like ‘oh, great’ we have two-hour waits, you know, we are content with that,’” Darling said.

In 2014, Greenbush opened up the Annex across the street where customers could snack on fine cheese, meat and beer and play games in an outdoor area until their table is ready. The Annex will remain open and continue to serve as a place for people to hangout or wait for a table.

“So that’s really helped alleviate our summer crowds,” Darling said.

This crafty thinking is a trend in the brewery’s history.

From the beginning, co-owners Scott Sullivan and Justin Heckathorn, both of Harbert, had a vision for a brewery that they would be able to continually make bigger and better, while producing flavorful beer full of character and complexity that would be easy to drink. After some experimenting with home brewing, Sullivan asked Heckathorn to join him in the brewery venture and now the two friends are seeing their vision come to fruition.

Three expansions later including the brewery main building expansion, Annex expansion in 2014 and beer garden addition and Greenbush has gone from producing 15 barrels a year to 15 barrels a week ­­— or around 8,000 barrels a year — from employing a handful of people to employing more than 100 and from seating 112 people to more than 300 people after the diner opens.

Sitting at a table near the window, Arnav Dutt and Tommy Maranges enjoyed a flight of beer and a basket of fried goodies. Both are from Chicago and, while Dutt is a regular at Greenbush, Maranges is new to the brewery. Dutt said that before he came to Greenbush, he had heard from friends that it was one of the best breweries in the Midwest. As a regular, he said he concurs with this opinion.

“This might just be my favorite brewery,” Dutt said.

Neither Dutt nor Maranges had heard that Greenbush would soon be expanding, but both said it was exciting news.

And this expansion will not be the last of the Greenbush growth.

Darling said, in the works, is a plan to have a bigger area to brew more beer and eventually to have their own deli.

And while Sawyer is popular amongst out of towners, drawing in the summer vacation crowd, Darling said the brewery also seeks to do something for the community of Sawyer. Right now Greenbush is selling T-shirts with designs created by local artists to raise money for the Chikaming open land to protect the environment that makes Sawyer beautiful.

“We are trying to make this area better for everyone,” Darling said.

Additionally, Sullivan said the brewery expansion and its footprint in town are intertwined.

“Producing more beer helps fund new businesses on the street and, conversely, helps us grow our brand presence in the market.  We’re a brewery first and foremost, but helping build up our downtown is equally important to us,” Sullivan said.

And if it isn’t the proximity to Lake Michigan or the lush forests that draw people to Sawyer, Greenbush might encourage those who call Sawyer home or those just passing through to take a deep breath, take a sip and take it all in.