Forty-five minutes north of the bustling Grand Rapids beer scene, Nick and Krista Looman sit inside the newly completed Newaygo Brewing Company. With 12 beers on tap, a full restaurant menu and over 20 employees, and the once-vacant building’s remarkable transformation is complete. The only thing delaying the grand opening is the license allowing them to sell the beer they have made.
Though they have yet to officially open their doors, the community has given its newest neighbors a warm welcome, as Newaygo Brewing Co. has accumulated over 3,500 Facebook “likes” and sold nearly half of the available 150 mug club memberships.
“We wanted to move outside of the Grand Rapid brewery boom,” Nick Looman said. “We love Grand Rapids, but we knew that if we wanted to do this with family money on a smaller scale, which was our intention, we’d have to go outside of the city to get immediate traction.
“Our thought was that there would be less demand for craft beer, but that was the opposite of the truth. There was nothing like this around here so the demand was huge, and people were already driving to Muskegon, Big Rapids and Grand Rapids for craft beer. Newaygo was an accidental great choice for what we have today.”
Nick’s journey into the world of craft beer also began accidentally, when he ordered a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale by mistake right after his 21st birthday.
“Then, I non-accidentally ordered another one.”
Within weeks, Nick purchased a beer kit and brewed his first beer: an imperial IPA. This started seven years of homebrewing and the founding of the Amateur Brewers of Grand Rapids; a group of like-minded people meeting up in his garage, brewing beers in a large kettle over a turkey fryer.
It was during these days that Krista realized there was more to “brew days” than the beer.
“Every time I walked in, the guys weren’t talking about weather or sports, but they were talking about heart stuff, family stuff, life stuff,” Krista said. “It became clear to me that beer equaled community. When we looked at our life, it became clear we wanted a life of community, so it just kind of made sense.”
In late 2013, Krista asked Nick if he had ever considered opening a brewery. By March of 2014, they had raised $200,000, recruited Nick’s brother Eric as the CFO and purchased a 115-year-old building in downtown Newaygo.
A year later, as Nick stands in front a new stainless-steel brewing system created by Greenville-based Psycho Brew, he says not much has changed since those days in the garage.
“It’s pretty much the same,” he says. “It’s just a lot bigger and we have more control over the process.”
One significant change, however, is the addition of brewmaster Dan Humphrey — the former owner of Cellar Brewing Company — who helped fine-tune some of Looman’s recipes, as well as creating several originals. Humphrey’s veteran presence in the brew house has allowed Looman to focus his energy elsewhere.
“As the project developed and we added a full kitchen, our taproom seating expanded out to 85, and we became a full-service restaurant, our time was stretched very thin,” Nick said. “With how many eyes were turned to us, we knew the beer had to be perfect coming out of the gate.”
The Loomans were also able to convince Nick’s dad, Scott, to retire from 30-years of public school teaching to take over as the restaurant manager. Before teaching, Scott had opened a number of restaurants and taught restaurant management, so it was a natural fit.
The restaurant menu consists of artisan pizzas — ranging from a vegetarian pie, with hummus and roasted vegetables, to a pulled pork pizza topped with Michigan apples — along with appetizers and an award-winning Texas sheet cake. The beers vary as much as the pizzas, featuring many American and English ales, stouts, and IPAs hand crafted in house.
While there is not an official opening date yet, Looman expects the 85-seat taproom to be packed when the doors do open. To keep up to date on the opening of Newaygo Brewing Co., as well as to see a full tap list, and inquire about purchasing a mug club membership, search for them on Facebook or visit their website (www newaygobrewing.com).
– Chad Cramblet, Contributing Writer
Though I spent most of my formative years in West Michigan, it wasn’t until I began attending college at Cornerstone University back in 2004 that I began to understand how truly special Michigan is. The different cultures, foods, arts and landscapes that we have access to are remarkable. Since graduating from Cornerstone in 2011 and planting my roots in Grand Rapids, I have only fallen more in love with my city. With diversity in arts and music, a great sports scene, wonderful restaurants and of course a number of world-class breweries, I am never without something to do, eat or drink. While my “grown up job” has given me less time to write about my city and my state, it hasn’t stopped me from experiencing what it has to offer alongside my beautiful wife and my wonderful pup.