Just a couple miles east of the infamous Michigan Ave hill, Vander Mill Cider has created a new home away from home. It is safe to say they have upgraded, just a tad — growing from 3,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet. Walking into Vander Mill Grand Rapids, you feel instantly connected to their home location in Spring Lake.
You’ll notice the same vibrant deep red color they are known for, a wall constructed of boards from apple crates from their grower, and some of the familiar ciders so many people have grown to love. What sets this location apart is the huge glass windows in the taproom and restaurant overlooking the production facility below. And the best feature, I must say, is an added on mezzanine that overlooks the production facility — that wasn’t in the original plan.
The new location, the big brother to the Spring Lake location, opened April 18 and it wasn’t an overnight decision. They certainly could have achieved their space needs in a cheaper market, but they held customers as their largest priority in choosing the right location.
As Paul Vander Heide, co-owner, stated, “If we are going to build out what is going to be our long term production facility, it makes sense to put it in a space where people can see it. Grand Rapids is an area very welcoming to craft beverage and good food. The market here is smart — it just made a lot of sense.”
In gaining 40,000 feet more of square footage, Vander Mill Cider has decided to shift their main production to Grand Rapids. The facility at 505 Ball Ave NE allows a lot of flexibility in making new products, being more efficient, experimenting, and expanding their barrel aging program. To say the very least, the production staff is very happy to not be crawling on top of one another.
The Spring Lake location will continue to press cider and host the fall activities they have been known for in the past. With its large outdoor area, they will still host their festival out in Spring Lake, as that seems the most fitting. As they develop the property and realize each locations capabilities, they expect the specific usage of each to naturally come to fruition.
If you aren’t intrigued yet, Vander Mill Grand Rapids intends on becoming a foodie destination. Justin Large, the new executive chef of the Vander Mill family, is sure to be an attraction on his own.
“He was the culinary director for One Off Hospitality Group, who started Blackbird. Justin was the first Sous Chef under Paul Kahan at Blackbird. He was seeing over 400 people at eight restaurants. He really has a pedigree that is pretty impressive for anyone in the Midwest,” says Vander Heide.
People are going to be surprised by the level of quality of the food. French Country inspired, they are presenting unique, high end food in a casual environment and striving for the best service. Simple, minimal ingredients executed at a really high level with a lot of precision and technique.
Like when making their cider — they strive to find the best ingredients possible.
“There is a reality of growing seasons and that local may not always be the best option. So we certainly are invested in local agriculture with cider being the greatest examples of those. We source locally when we can, but we are ultimately looking for the best,” stated Vander Heide.
When Vander Mill originally opened its doors in 2006, there were only a few people making cider and most of the places were wineries. Cider just makes sense in Michigan. Apples are the number one agricultural product in Michigan. Cider begins with a seed, to a tree growing from the earth, to beautiful apples picked and smashed, into your glass and then finally what is left of the apple goes back to the earth. Talk about sustainability. With this strong, natural cycle, Vander Mill has been able to create strong presences in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
“Our approach has always been to go deep in the market instead of wide. Our (Spring Lake) facility limited us and we were growing fast. We have seen that is very important to support the markets we are in. We have feet on the ground that can tell the story about the brand and portray how we want the people to see the brand. That is harder to achieve when you start sending cider all over the country. We want to build the midwest strength first and want to be the number one craft cider in that market. We want to use Grand Rapids, Chicago, and the Midwest as an epicenter of our brand growth,” stated Vander Heide.
Vander Mill proudly announced on April 19 that they have opened into the Wisconsin market, with their first product shipped out to them already.
As of right now you can check out Vander Mill Grand Rapids, Sunday through Thursday 2 p.m. – 11 p.m. and Friday through Saturday 2 p.m. – midnight with dinner starting at 5pm every day. In the near future, a lunch service will be available beginning at 11am. Currently their libation list is filled with the usual suspects, as well as a few exclusive beers from Pigeon Hill Brewing Company and Odd Side Ales, Cysers collaborated with Greenbush Brewing and New Holland Brewing, Barrel Fermented Ciders and Nitro Cider. Yes — Nitro Cider, my personal favorite.
Photography: Bri Luginbill