Mitten Brewing Company

527 Leonard St NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504

Pat Evans and team are brewing up community pride

In our fair Beer City, USA there is a growing number of craft breweries, each with a loyal following stretching past where their bars end and the community begins. The line doesn’t stop there, either. The welcoming sense of hospitality extends from brewer to brewer and, as Mitten Brewing Company’s Pat Evans, Director of Content and Sales, explains, the spirit of cooperation is intoxicating.
“Whenever you go into a brewery there’s a very good chance you’re going to see somebody else in brewing at your table or bar,” Evans said. “It’s just that sort of community. We all fuel each other.”
The Mitten team has shows its philanthropic side every month by giving to a different cause, they share ideas and ingredients with other breweries, and they even mobilize their mug club members to beautify the Westside neighborhood. It’s no surprise to see a growing local business dedicate some manner of resource to a good cause, but at Mitten it’s not just a seasonal special, it’s always on tap.
Connecting with others
Whether it’s traveling to other Michigan breweries to trade 144 pounds of hops at a time with founders Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler, listening to some of the other big players in town share their advice, or just sitting down for a beer with fellow brewers, the Mitten staff treasures the bonds made with other beer professionals in West Michigan. Brewery Vivant is especially inspiring, Evans said, as they’ve been a leader in the sustainability charge for years now.
“They’re trying to inspire people to be better neighbors and better to the earth, and even promote local business,” Evans said of Vivant. “They’ve got great sustainability ideas and work with numbers to show cow neutrality (how many burgers consumed vs. how many cows fed with the brewery’s spent grain). It’s really inspiring to see. These people are doing it, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing it.”
Rockford Brewing Company’s Seth Rivard is a member of the local Beer City committee admin team, giving him a view from 30,000 feet when it comes to the brewing community. He said West Michigan businesses in general, and moreover the breweries, have long worked together.
“There has always been a brotherhood of sorts between all of us,” Rivard said. “Not only has it has been mutually-beneficial to do so from a business-standpoint, but there is this overall feeling of being a part of something really cool and exciting, something that we are all equally passionate about, that drives us all to hang-out together and talk beer.”
Enriching community
Evans sends an email blast out to the 300 mug club members every so often and entreats them for help. Recently, Mitten took on the task of helping clean up the West Leonard neighborhood with along with Rockford Brewing and several other Westside organizations.
“Any little thing helps and our mug club group is very involved. If you just ask them to do something, there’s a good chance that even 5 percent of them will say, ‘Why not?’” Evans said. “A lot of our mug club members are from the Westside neighborhood, so if they go out and just clean up their neighborhood, that’ll do.”
The next aim is to get the members and Mitten staff to help a nonprofit or neighborhood project at on a regular basis, Evans said.
“The community involvement group’s numbers are great but numbers only do so much,” he said. “We’re trying to get our staff and our mug club out and preferably volunteer at a nonprofit at least once a month.”
Supporting staff
The brewery is fostering mentorship and helping its staff move on to bigger and better things through its employee internship placement program.
Evans said it’s unlikely that any cook or server at Mitten intends to stay in that position all their lives; they’re typically in college and trying to make a career of their own. Mitten wants to help them get that career started, and more importantly help start it in Grand Rapids. When a Mitten staff member has been employed there for six months, Evans and team gets to know more about the employee’s career aspirations and specific skill set with the intention of placing them in a valued position on another local team.
“We’re starting to really cultivate relationships with OST and Rockford Construction and Ferris Coffee and all these other bigger companies on the west side,” he said. “They love the idea of saying, “we need an intern, Pat,” and I’ll look at what they might deal with—marketing or sales possibly—and I’ll direct them to a great employee at Mitten who is really good at that.”
The Mitten team shares its passion for being a good neighbor with other businesses on the Westside, and it’s starting to create valuable partnerships.
“We’re trying to be OST’s source of beer and food and interns and they’ll help us with all our community projects,” Evans said. “We’re just trying to be good neighbors and become one of the great Westside businesses.”
Giving back
Mitten Brewing allows a group of investors to pick a nonprofit organization each month and then markets the opportunity to customers, setting aside a portion of its monthly sales and 50 percent of the food receipts the last Monday of every month for the chosen NPO.
“Last year we raised more than $30,000 for the area nonprofits, which is great for our first year being open,” Evans said. “This year, we’re going to shoot for more than that.”
With the “barrel grant” program, a new philanthropic idea the brewery is trying out, Mitten will add a dollar from every barrel sold to a monthly pot, typically adding up to over $500. Students or other interested community members can apply for the grant by submitting a project proposal, and the Mitten staff will vote on which project most deserves to be funded.
Looking ahead
Mitten’s various pushes in the form of philanthropy, partnership, community projects, or just good beer are echoed in the mission of the Beer City admin team, which hopes to spread that ethos around West Michigan.
We want everyone to know how that we are not only proud of our products, but proud of our culture as well. As we work together throughout the year, we'll be seeing festivals for charity, beer collaborations for awareness, community outreach, and all sorts of things that have a good purpose,” Rivard said. “As a group of Greater Grand Rapids beer-centric businesses we strive to enhance the craft brewing culture through quality, education, and growth. In partnership with our community, it is our vision to promote tourism and foster the local economy.”
Rivard said he’s always felt that the growth of Michigan Beer is tied to the growth of the region’s culture.  
“It is a culture that has been suppressed for decades but now is finally waking up and showing its colors, not only in craft beer, but many other forms of art as well,” he said.
And as for Evans and the team at Mitten, their aims may be local, but their implications are worth spreading worldwide.
“We want to take care of our neighborhood,” Evans said. “We want to make sure it’s a nice area in town and we want to keep making it better.”

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected]

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