Phil Farrell's picture

Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

The founders of Founders Brewing Company talk about the early years and their breakthrough with big beers.
Founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers first met in college, became friends, enjoyed brewing at home and later decided to do more than talk about starting their own brewery. Three years after they opened the doors, however, their Founders Brewing Company was literally within a week of ceasing operations. “Brewed For Us” is not simply a catchy marketing phrase or a clever line on a mission statement. It was the survival strategy that saved Founders from being another flower memorial along the Craft Brewing Highway.

Mike and Dave recently took some time to give us more details about how they started, how they survived in the brewing business and why they are now thriving under a major expansion of their operations in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series. The second post will cover the early years of Mike and Dave’s friendship, favorite beers and flavors and thoughts about homebrewing.)

BC: What motivated you to start brewing?

Mike: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is what got me motivated. I’ve always been a passionate guy, a tinkerer. I like to do things on my own. I like the unknown areas. It’s always been a fun challenge to see, ‘Hey, I wonder if I can do that sort of thing?’ It wasn’t big in my personal circle at the time but the idea of it really, really intrigued me. I had a trip to the Pacific Northwest early on where I tasted the Red Hooks and the Sierras and saw what was really going on in the early craft scene. It motivated me to see if I could do that. As crazy as this is in conservative West Michigan, there was a homebrew shop up in Rockford. I got Charlie Papazian’s book, read that cover to cover, bought all my supplies and made my first batch of shitty beer. I kept at it but really I don’t think turning that hobby into a career was so much motivated by my brilliance as a homebrewer. But it was enough to get me thinking about the next question, the next unknown: I wonder if I can start a brewery?

The bottom line is I think there is a fundamental difference between a true entrepreneur and someone who runs a company. There are less people who can be entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur looks for the unknown and embraces it while someone who runs a company professionally tries to minimize risk and the unknown. An entrepreneur excels in the unknown world. That’s where the greatest companies are formed. The Rockefellers, the Carnegies those guys gambled everything. The brilliance comes out of the unknown. Not too many people want to tackle that.

Dave: My brother was a homebrewer and he dabbled in winemaking and even mead. So I tried some of his homebrews and that led to my parents buying my first homebrew kit when I was 19 just a couple of years later. They saw I had an interest and they even pushed me a little into it.

Pages

Comments

pchchicago's picture
Founders Tap Room is NOT family friendly or able to handle large groups. On Saturday, November 24, 2018, my attempt to coordinate a family holiday gathering at Founders Brewing Tap Room at 235 Grandville Ave SW in Grand Rapids, resulted in harassment by Tap Room Manager, and assault by a wait staff employee. The day started when I called the Tap Room early to see if they would accommodate a reservation since we were bringing a larger group of 11 people that included 2 senior citizens, 4 children and someone with a broken ankle. I was informed that the Founders Tap Room that they do not accept reservations, but I was assured that at our desired arrival time of 4 pm, there would be plenty of room to accommodate our group without waiting. A few minutes before 4 pm, my husband and I arrived early to set up our seating arrangements ahead of the rest of the group. We found a larger table in the first room we entered, but it only fit 6-8 chairs. I asked a wait person with purple hair how we could arrange the table to accommodate 11 people. She told me that people usually move table and chairs together from other parts of the restaurant because that was “easier for her”. At first, her comment was offensive since she was stating that the workload of employees was more important than accommodating paying customers. Then I noticed a smaller table that had been vacated nearby that would add room for 4 more chairs. My husband and I moved the table and chairs (even with my broken ankle in a cast) next to the longer table. We arranged the chairs for 11 guests and a different wait person started setting place settings to get ready for our group. Out of nowhere, the Manager, Aimee Stevenson, arrived with a negative attitude telling us that we could not move the tables together without a valid explanation. I explained to her that her staff member with the purple hair told us to move the tables together, but she refused to listen to our reasoning. I asked her for another solution since we had 11 people about to arrive for a family reunion, and she did not have a workable solution. She pointed out smaller tables in the same room that could fit 4-6 people, and then told me to walk into the other room to see if tables were available. Based on her suggestion, I hobbled over to the other room with my broken ankle in a cast, and I looked up to see her walking so close behind me that she was almost hovering over me. I told her on a few occasions to “get away from me” since I could figure out a solution on my own. Her only suggestion was to use a table that was the same size as was available in the other room (up to 8 seats). She recommended that the other 3 people sit on a bench without a table surface to eat from. This was an unacceptable solution since were planning to eat appetizers, dinners, drinks, dessert – not just a casual gathering. As we were walking back to the original table, I told her that I wasn’t sure this place was going to work for our needs, and that I was going to write a negative review about how I was being treated, and how the Founders Tap Room was not able to accommodate large family groups based on lack of reservations and larger tables. To my extreme surprise, this is the point where she snapped. She told me that I had to leave the premise immediately. When asked, she did not provide me with any reasoning, and I am was utterly shocked since I purposely and carefully avoided yelling, use of profane language and interference with any other patrons. She told me she was going to call the police if I did not leave immediately. I have NEVER been threatened like this in over 50 years of dining at restaurants. I asked her for the name of the President since I wanted to contact him about this experience. She refused to give me that contact name, but she said she would get me a card for her District Manager, and then left. While waiting for the contact name, I walked outside to let our guests know what was going on. I walked inside and out a few times checking to see if she had returned with the business card. The last time I attempted to go inside to retrieve the card, a wait staff employee wearing a skirt who was waiting on tables outside, walked up to me and told me that I was “not allowed to enter the restaurant anymore”. When I asked him why, he provided no response to my question. I told him I was waiting for the Manager to provide a business card for me, and I continued to walk toward the door. He then pushed me, and he placed his arm across the door and across my throat. When I reached for the business card from the Manager, his arm pushed against my throat. This violent action out of line for the situation. Also, by refusing to serve our family group, Founders Tap Room refused service to someone with an obvious handicap, and persons based on age since 7 people in our party were over 40 years old, and 2 of them are over 65 years old. As I mull over the situation, I cannot arrive at any conclusion that would justify the violent treatment I received at Founders Tap Room. I took all of the necessary steps to create an excellent experience for my group who had never been to Founders before including calling in advance for reservations, arriving early to secure a large enough table, keeping an open mind for Manager to provide options (which she did not have any), and avoiding any confrontational behavior such as profane language, yelling or disrupting other patrons. The Manager and her staff acted inappropriately. This behavior is especially ridiculous when aimed at a group of church-going, family members who were far from being rowdy. The good news is that we moved our family reunion down the street to New Holland Brewery at 417 Bridge Street NW in Grand Rapids. Our group spent over $400 on appetizers, drinks, dinner and dessert, and the service and staff at this venue were excellent. They were easily able to accommodate a spacious location for our large group, and the food and drinks were both unique and tasty. We all agreed that we would both recommend and return to New Holland for a future event.

Pages

Advertisement

Comments

pchchicago's picture
Founders Tap Room is NOT family friendly or able to handle large groups. On Saturday, November 24, 2018, my attempt to coordinate a family holiday gathering at Founders Brewing Tap Room at 235 Grandville Ave SW in Grand Rapids, resulted in harassment by Tap Room Manager, and assault by a wait staff employee. The day started when I called the Tap Room early to see if they would accommodate a reservation since we were bringing a larger group of 11 people that included 2 senior citizens, 4 children and someone with a broken ankle. I was informed that the Founders Tap Room that they do not accept reservations, but I was assured that at our desired arrival time of 4 pm, there would be plenty of room to accommodate our group without waiting. A few minutes before 4 pm, my husband and I arrived early to set up our seating arrangements ahead of the rest of the group. We found a larger table in the first room we entered, but it only fit 6-8 chairs. I asked a wait person with purple hair how we could arrange the table to accommodate 11 people. She told me that people usually move table and chairs together from other parts of the restaurant because that was “easier for her”. At first, her comment was offensive since she was stating that the workload of employees was more important than accommodating paying customers. Then I noticed a smaller table that had been vacated nearby that would add room for 4 more chairs. My husband and I moved the table and chairs (even with my broken ankle in a cast) next to the longer table. We arranged the chairs for 11 guests and a different wait person started setting place settings to get ready for our group. Out of nowhere, the Manager, Aimee Stevenson, arrived with a negative attitude telling us that we could not move the tables together without a valid explanation. I explained to her that her staff member with the purple hair told us to move the tables together, but she refused to listen to our reasoning. I asked her for another solution since we had 11 people about to arrive for a family reunion, and she did not have a workable solution. She pointed out smaller tables in the same room that could fit 4-6 people, and then told me to walk into the other room to see if tables were available. Based on her suggestion, I hobbled over to the other room with my broken ankle in a cast, and I looked up to see her walking so close behind me that she was almost hovering over me. I told her on a few occasions to “get away from me” since I could figure out a solution on my own. Her only suggestion was to use a table that was the same size as was available in the other room (up to 8 seats). She recommended that the other 3 people sit on a bench without a table surface to eat from. This was an unacceptable solution since were planning to eat appetizers, dinners, drinks, dessert – not just a casual gathering. As we were walking back to the original table, I told her that I wasn’t sure this place was going to work for our needs, and that I was going to write a negative review about how I was being treated, and how the Founders Tap Room was not able to accommodate large family groups based on lack of reservations and larger tables. To my extreme surprise, this is the point where she snapped. She told me that I had to leave the premise immediately. When asked, she did not provide me with any reasoning, and I am was utterly shocked since I purposely and carefully avoided yelling, use of profane language and interference with any other patrons. She told me she was going to call the police if I did not leave immediately. I have NEVER been threatened like this in over 50 years of dining at restaurants. I asked her for the name of the President since I wanted to contact him about this experience. She refused to give me that contact name, but she said she would get me a card for her District Manager, and then left. While waiting for the contact name, I walked outside to let our guests know what was going on. I walked inside and out a few times checking to see if she had returned with the business card. The last time I attempted to go inside to retrieve the card, a wait staff employee wearing a skirt who was waiting on tables outside, walked up to me and told me that I was “not allowed to enter the restaurant anymore”. When I asked him why, he provided no response to my question. I told him I was waiting for the Manager to provide a business card for me, and I continued to walk toward the door. He then pushed me, and he placed his arm across the door and across my throat. When I reached for the business card from the Manager, his arm pushed against my throat. This violent action out of line for the situation. Also, by refusing to serve our family group, Founders Tap Room refused service to someone with an obvious handicap, and persons based on age since 7 people in our party were over 40 years old, and 2 of them are over 65 years old. As I mull over the situation, I cannot arrive at any conclusion that would justify the violent treatment I received at Founders Tap Room. I took all of the necessary steps to create an excellent experience for my group who had never been to Founders before including calling in advance for reservations, arriving early to secure a large enough table, keeping an open mind for Manager to provide options (which she did not have any), and avoiding any confrontational behavior such as profane language, yelling or disrupting other patrons. The Manager and her staff acted inappropriately. This behavior is especially ridiculous when aimed at a group of church-going, family members who were far from being rowdy. The good news is that we moved our family reunion down the street to New Holland Brewery at 417 Bridge Street NW in Grand Rapids. Our group spent over $400 on appetizers, drinks, dinner and dessert, and the service and staff at this venue were excellent. They were easily able to accommodate a spacious location for our large group, and the food and drinks were both unique and tasty. We all agreed that we would both recommend and return to New Holland for a future event.

Pages

Advertisement