City Built Made Pandemic Changes & Boosted Business Today

Now in its fifth year since opening, Grand Rapids-based City Built Brewing looks different than it did before the pandemic. Of course, many businesses can say that as the world of craft beer seemingly changed overnight. For some, it was a struggle, but for City Built owner Ed Collazo, it seemed to be a slight blessing in disguise.

Collazo shared with Brewer recently some of the changes the brewery made and how it helped spur growth even as others may have struggled.

Style Focus Switch

From its launch until the pandemic, Collazo said, “everyone talked about our food first, which bugged me because we’re a brewery.

“However our food is dope, and our chef is fantastic.”

The then two-year-old brewery changed how they brewed and what they brewed.

“All of a sudden we were selling whole batches of beer in a week during the pandemic,” he said. “I know somewhat that was because of what was happening. Lots of people stepped up and supported locals.

“I saw the same guy and every time his order came in, I knew who it was. He showed up during COVID and I have a feeling he drove out of his way to come here,” Collazo recalls. “But every day on his way home, he’d stop and get ​two crowlers and tacos. We had a lot of that.”

Outdoor Space

Located on the banks of the Grand Rapids River, City Built has a park and bike path located just across the street from its main doors. Creating patio space both on its side of the street and across it, while adding a large tent doubled “capacity.”

“We have higher rent [inside the taproom] and 138 seats inside,” Collazo said. “We have no rent and 144 seats outside.”

In early 2021 — and with the taproom closed — January sales were the highest in any January since the brewery had been opened.

“It was out of that tent,” he said, saying they added a large heater and walls to boost temperatures by 30 degrees.

“It’ll heat two houses or that tent,” he said. “So if it were zero out, it was 30 in there. That felt warm for half an hour or 45 minutes. But if it was 30? Man, it felt 60 in there and if you’re dressed appropriately, you could hang out there all day. All sorts of people that probably never would have come here did. It was great and that changed the game for us.”

The tent remains there and summers have been great, Collazo said.

“I feel like we kind of have not quite a beach community vibe,” he said. “But in the summers, it’s been, chill-by-the-water people.”

City Laws

The city of Grand Rapids — known as Beer City USA and recently the winner of the USA Today 10Best award as voted on by the public — connected a large swath of its downtown area’s outdoor refreshment areas. That means patrons can hop around and sample breweries and stores without finishing a beer in one place.

“Even in 2020 with a closed — or somehow limited taproom — we got really busy because the city created these social districts and social zones on our side, which is where the picnic tables are,”‘ he explained. “You have to have a logoed cup up there, then you can walk from just north of us, all the way down to Atwater, and take a right to go all the way down to Harmony Hall or Küsterer Haus, or you can keep walking to Founders.

“That changed the game for us.”

Event Creation

That outdoor area and the ability to walk and drink around helped Collazo with an idea. In May of 2021, City Built started doing live shows across the street. It led to an anniversary party that became one of the most popular beer festivals in the country according to USA Today.

“I had this business plan for 2020 that I never actually got to do,” Collazo said. “Because you really couldn’t have events, you really couldn’t do a whole lot. I really thought I saw that our business needed to have event-based beer sales.

“We wanted to create a party, which would create an opportunity for people to come and try our beer. And so that’s what we did.”

Called ‘Friday Night Live,’ the brewery had live music in the park and created a beer — a Golden Ale named Friday Night Crusher — for the events.

“Man, people just came,” Collazo said. “Our first one, there were like 1,300 people there. We were not prepared for that.

The need to lower crowd lines meant creating three bar locations — inside for the full menu, a walk-up window that had a jockey box with three beers, or a jockey box in the tent outside.

“We couldn’t keep more than six beers on,” he said. “We’d walk in on a Friday only having like 20 kegs over six brands — which usually one brand is 20 kegs for us. We’d come in on Monday and we’re down to three beers. But then we’re packaging three beers.”

Those successes, coupled with its anniversary celebration called Bridge Blast have helped create a party mood for the brewery that is celebrated by consumers. City Built’s Bridge Blast was ranked the sixth most popular beer fest in the country according to USA Today’s 10Best contest.

City Built had been playing catch up until April of this year when they increased capacity by 250% and added some Lager tanks and more fermenters and another bright tank.

“That’s allowed us to push beer a lot faster,” he said. “Now I think we have like 17 or 18 beers on now. We have maybe eight brands in cans in our case. We’re now sending beer in distribution again for the first time.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.