GRAND RAPIDS — It was Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers on Monday, and as expected, Tigers fans packed the house. When the first pitch was thrown, it was standing-room-only; scores of peanut shells already littered the ground, crackling underfoot; almost everyone in sight had a pizza slice or a beer in hand. The crowd was briefly hushed, but then broke into applause as, hundreds of miles away, the ump called ball one.
This was Opening Day, not at the ballpark, but at The Mitten Brewing Company in Grand Rapids. For West Michiganders who, like those congregated Monday, can’t make it to game itself, The Mitten should be a good substitute all season long.
The place emanates a baseball feel. The first seats available upon walking in aren’t at a table — they’re seats from old Tiger Stadium displayed in the lobby. Once inside, Tigers insignias, flanked by vintage portraits of old teams and baseball legends, decorate the walls. The tapboard and the menu complete the baseball theme: Beers like the Triple Crown Brown and pizzas like the Thai Cobb pay homage to the game.
This is all the intention, the “field of dreams” if you will, of The Mitten’s founders and owners, Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler. Their earliest plans for The Mitten envisioned a baseball-themed brewpub. “We wanted to create our dream place” said Andrus, “the place that we’d like to visit.” That place was a place where people can drink really good beer while watching their beloved Detroit Tigers.
They built it, and they hoped that the fans would come. So far they’ve had to rely more on the place’s organic marketing than on any blowout promotions. Though they initially planned to have their opening day on the Tigers’ 2012 Opening Day, they had to push it back to the World Series more than six months later. As Tigers fans will remember, the Series was painfully short; The Mitten’s first season came to an end just days after it started.
This seemed like a problem for a baseball-themed pub: “Our biggest fear was the offseason,” Andrus admitted. But the placed boomed, and demand was so high that baseball took the backseat. “All we were trying to do was catch up during the offseason,” said Trierweiler.
With no time to market or even showcase itself, The Mitten had to rely on fans to figure things out for themselves. That appears to be working.
David Collins and a handful of relatives — some from out of town — sat down at a table just before the first pitch. Collins had been there once before and noticed that “there’s something about the place that just feels like baseball.” His cousin Chandler agreed, and after a few innings began to admire the pub’s energy. “I’d watch any game here,” he said.
Paul Tufft, a Grand Rapids native, occupied a different table with some friends. He, too, had decided to come for Opening Day based on what he had seen there before. “I figured we’d be among Tiger fans,” he explained. “It’s the perfect ambiance for a game.”
This season, The Mitten will aim to build on the fan base it already has and expand its baseball connection. The brewery has added a chili dog pizza to the menu (Andrus described it as a “a yesterdog, but flat”). It will also have a tap at Fifth Third Ballpark this summer, and will offer $1 off any food or drink item for anyone who brings in a ticket stub from a Whitecaps game. Trierweiler suggests that they might even host a whiffleball tournament in the parking lot before a Sunday afternoon game.
Right now, both the Tigers and the Mitten Brewing Co. are off to a hot start. Even though the Tigers won’t win every game, The Mitten probably will.