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Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

Founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers

 

BC: Your brewery history on the website tells the story of how you had to do an early course correction for the brewery by changing the lineup of beers you offered.

Mike: Basically what happened was we wrote our business plan in 1994 and quit our jobs and said this is what we are doing. By 1997 we opened up and sold our first case.

About three years into it we started running into bankruptcy problems. The landlord called and said ‘You’ve got a week then we’re going to put a chain on the door, unless of course you can make whole on a $200,000 commitment.’ The bank called our note and that was about $350,000 we owed there. I hadn’t paid Federal excise tax in a while so they started chasing. So if we are going down why don’t we start brewing beers we want to drink? I mean this shit’s not working we might as well go out punching. We miraculously fixed the financial problems and found investors in that week’s time.

My first 12 years all I did was hit the streets looking for investments, but we found some in that week where one ponied up to guarantee the loan and another couple bailed us out on the lease. So we restructured everything and reinvented Founders. We went away from the wheat beer, amber, and pale ale and we invented Dirty Bastard. In a conservative community where most of investors were 55, 60 or even older, they thought we were just idiots. ‘You have a name like that; you have a big, dark high gravity beer. Who the hell is going to drink that kind of thing?’ As soon as it came out all of a sudden we saw our sales immediately climb.

Quickly then we came out with the Curmudgeons and Devil Dancers and Breakfast Stouts. Over that 3 year period that’s when we became Founders; when we were on the forefront of what is considered the extreme beer movement. It became the hot thing and we were one of the half dozen pioneers. In a week we came up with a new path and a half million dollars. That’s why “Brewed For Us” means so much. I argue to this day that extreme beer catapulted craft beer forward and excited the consumers. They started scratching their heads saying ‘Holy cow! They have chocolate, coffee, raspberry and oatmeal in that beer. I’ve never heard of anything like that.’

Dave: I said. ‘We need to do something bigger and bolder but it can’t be too bitter. I think we should do a big malt bomb.’ I literally opened up the BJCP Guidelines and started looking at different styles and circled a handful that I thought would work. I said you know I think we should do a Scotch Ale it fits the bill. Fairly quickly we came up with a recipe. I think we tweaked it a couple of times. Once we hit with Dirty Bastard a couple of things happened. One, we didn’t use Founders Pale Ale, Founders Amber Ale, we used Dirty Bastard. It was a little sexier and the liquid was amazing. It was different and it was unique. It didn’t have a lot of competition out there. People didn’t necessarily know what a Scotch Ale was but they fell in love with it because it was a big, robust malt bomb and the fact that it had a name like Dirty Bastard didn’t hurt it.

Once we made that decision we started getting some attention fairly rapidly and one thing we did pretty quickly was to say alright from this day forward we are going to be a product driven company. We aren’t going to listen to our investors. We are making all these calls now. Everything we are going to do from this day forward is going to be bigger and bolder, more complex with bigger aromatics. Soon afterwards that’s when Breakfast Stout came out. Curmudgeon Old Ale came out. Devil Dancer came out. That’s when things finally started to get fun.

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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.

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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.

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