LAKE ORION — It took a lot of a love and patience, but husband-and-wife Don and Mary Gindhart are proud to announce the birth of their baby, 51 North Brewing, which opens today in a building that once upon a time was home to a Depression-era gas station.
“Mary and I walked in here and thought ‘Oh my God, this has great character, this building,’” says Don. “The ceilings are dramatic; there’s a lot of space here – it just spoke to us.”
The Gindharts have put a lot of hard work into the project, including installation of a custom-made bar and extensive restoration of the old building, which still sports telltale signs of its automotive past, such as the two garage-style doors in the front. Don and Mary also had to overcome a lot of hostility from local officials unfamiliar with the kind of clientele craft breweries attract.
“The city council voted us down the first time I went before them,” says Don. “They seemed to think we’d have crowds of drunks out here all the time or something, but they got to know what we are about and now they’re solidly behind us.”
The brewhouse was designed (with room for expansion) with the help of Bret and Eric Kuhnhenn of Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren, where Don used to make beer frequently as a customer of the Kuhnhenns’ former “brew-on-premise” business. Don procured a lightly used seven-barrel system from a California restaurant, and then the next order of business was hiring a good brewer.
Although he’s an experienced homebrewer, Don wanted someone with commercial experience to head up 51 North’s brewing operation. Adam Beratta, formerly of the Redwood Lodge in Flint and Great Baraboo in Clinton Township, jumped at the chance.
“Adam and I talked for about five minutes and it was immediately clear this was right,” says Don. “He’s very passionate — in fact, he’s already gone and gotten a 51 North tattoo. That’s how dedicated he is!”
Beratta has worked up six mainstay beers, which are currently pouring: Lake Orion Light, Spencer Island Rye Pale Ale, Paint Creek Wheat Ale, Dog Way IPA, Wind Walker Brown Ale and Velvet Moose Oatmeal Stout. (I tried all of them out of the tanks, and all of them were really clean and really tasty.) As time goes on, other seasonal and rotating offerings will be added, and Don expects to also involve local homebrewers in creating beers to put on tap. Other plans include an outdoor patio, the addition of wines and meads to the beverage menu, and, eventually, distribution throughout the state.
The food menu was designed by Mary, who has nearly a decade of experience as a personal chef. It includes meat and cheese appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches, along with a kids’ menu and even an assortment of dessert cookies.
“Everything’s homemade — all my salad dressings, all my soups, they’re made fresh every day,” says Mary. “Eventually we’re going to do beer dinners and wine and mead pairings and all of that.”
“Mary’s a phenomenal cook,” adds Don. “There’s nothing else like our sandwiches out there.”
Mug Club memberships are available at a $50 annual Enthusiast level, which includes a pint glass and growler (empty); 23 oz. beers for the price of 16 oz. one; 15% off all merchandise, tastings and special events; $1 off growler refills; and a little extra love on your birthday. For $1,200, one can join the Connoisseur lifetime club, which entitles you to all the foregoing plus a hand-blown glass mug for your personal use; a 51 North Polo-style shirt embroidered with your name; half off all tastings and special events (and preferential invitations to same); and an annual members-only party.
On weekends, live music will be part of the mix, including appearances from the two different bands Don plays in. But for people who prefer a more intimate setting, there are a few quiet cubbyholes throughout the bar.
“There are places you can sneak away from the noise if you want to,” he notes. “We have a room with no TVs as well.”
So was all the work worth it?
Absolutely, Don says. “You know the great thing about Michigan microbreweries? There’s no competitors. I’m joining a fraternity.”
51 North Brewing Co., 51 N. Broadway St., Downtown Lake Orion. Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 3-11 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight; Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays. Web: www.51northbrewing.com. Phone: 248-690-7367.