Drink Local, Drink Well!

17 Oct

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It’s no secret that many of us young professionals would like to see a few more watering holes around Midland.  So it wasn’t a surprise that Midland was eagerly awaiting the opening of WhichCraft Taproom.  When I heard that WhichCraft was going to feature all local Michigan beers and wines I was so excited. Not only do I think Michigan beer and wine is fabulous, but I love that they are on board with WEconomic Power, and supporting Michigan’s economy by drinking local! I was curious to learn more about this unique new taproom in Midland, and I think many others are as well.  So I hope you enjoy our short interview with Richard and Sharon Caldwell, the owners of WhichCraft.

1. What Challenges are you facing right now?
We imagine they are similar to the problems faced by all start-up businesses. We are obviously still learning our systems and making tweaks as necessary. The first few weeks, we kept having to run to the store for food and beg our distributors to bring us more beer!

We have been overwhelmed (in a truly fantastic way) by the response we received from the community. We expected to be busy when we opened, but WOW, we were really busy! There was literally a line down the block on opening day. That was a surprise! Guests had to wait a very long time for their drinks/food those first few nights. But in all honesty, the crowds are wonderful as they forced us to learn our systems on the fly. We hope that people are patient with us (and our staff in particular, who are truly wonderful) as we continue to adjust things to improve customer service. The more we do it, the better we become!

2. How do you foresee WhichCraft shaping the future of Midland’s downtown?
We really hope to be just one of many businesses bringing people to downtown Midland. There are a lot of exciting things happening downtown, and we are happy to be just a small part of it.

3. What type of experience do you hope people will have at your bar, and how are you different from other local bars?
We hope people try something new! With 40 different types of beer, cider, or mead on tap at all times and a constantly rotating menu of draft selections, you will never see the same menu twice! Order a flight; try a style, brewery, or beer you’ve never had. Expand your horizons. Be brave!

We also hope people take a few moments to talk to their server or bartender. Our staff is extremely knowledgeable, and many of them are truly in it for the love of beer!

What sets us apart? First and foremost, it really is all about the beer. More than anything else, we are dedicated to bringing great products (beer, cider, wine, & mead), made right here in Michigan, to downtown Midland. Craft beer (and wine, cider, and mead) is passionately produced by artisans who care about the products they are producing and love the process of producing them. It has flavor; it has texture: it isn’t mass-produced, its artistry. It has a history, a purpose, and a story to tell.

Similarly, the building itself has a story to tell. Built in the late 1800s, it was originally a livery stable and later Glovers Pharmacy and Mashue Printing. It has been owned by the same family for generations. We wanted to preserve the history of the building, which is why we left the original brick walls exposed. You can actually see where windows were once filled in.

Finally, WhichCraft Taproom truly was built by hand. Richard fabricated the intricate tongue-and-groove bar front with wood he found in the basement. He built the bar top and table tops from a reclaimed bowling alley lane and created the community tables with wood from salvaged fallen trees found in the UP. The items Richard didn’t make himself (barstools, brushed metal tapwall, and room dividers) were handmade by Matt Weckesser of FAB Custom designs. From the art on the walls (aluminum overlaid with photography from local artist Ryan Aiman) to the hand-made ceramic Mug Club Mugs (by local artist Julie Tyrrell, through Serendipity 181), we wanted to showcase local talent that was both beautiful and relevant.
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4. Where did you come up with the idea for your business?
Honestly, it all started with an article in the Midland Daily News! We read an article talking about the plethora of redevelopment liquor licenses available in the downtown district and started to do some research.

5. How did you get started? What’s your background?
Richard is a fourth-generation native of Midland who earned an MBA and a Law degree from MSU before moving back to Midland to work for Dow Chemical, where he spent four years in the finance department until he left to open WhichCraft Taproom. Sharon is a native of West Michigan with a professional background in marketing and publishing.

6. Following you on Facebook, it looked like there were some hurdles to jump while trying to open. What were the struggles of opening your business?
There are always a few surprises when attempting to renovate a building that is more than 100 years old, but the biggest single hurdle was the installation of the walk-in cooler, part of which was actually lost in transit. The shipping company spent about a week looking for it before we realized that the missing parts would have to be re-made. Then, when it arrived, it was to different dimensions than we expected. We were able to improvise, but we did loose at least a month. In the end, everything works as expected, so we really can’t complain!

More than anything, we just underestimated the amount of time each particular step of the process would take! We really didn’t have any major hurdles, everything just took a little longer than expected.

7. What do you hope for the future of WhichCraft? 
We are interested in developing some house-branded beer.

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