Kalamazoo’s First Brewpub, Olde Peninsula, Continues to Quench Michigan’s Thirst for Craft Beer
Kalamazoo is one of the cities best known for the resurgence of brewing in Michigan. An iconic businesses that got it all started is the city's first brew pub, Olde Peninsula.
We sat down with owner Steve Blinn during a rare quiet moment between the lunch and dinner rushes recently and asked him about the craft brewing scene and how he turned his passion for beer into a thriving business.
What is the current state of the craft beer scene in Kalamazoo or Michigan as a whole and how has it changed over the last 20 years?
For craft beer, it's great. They call it the barrier to entry. Everyone is now willing to try craft beer. When we got into it in '96, craft beer was new. People in Kalamazoo kind of knew about it because of Bell's Brewery, but still it was new and you had people who wanted just their domestic light beers. But now they're willing to give that up and give craft beer a try.
Do you have a story about someone who made a connection to craft beer because of Olde Peninsula Brewpub?
It's really gratifying. Just this past weekend was the Michigan Craft Beer Festival in Ypsilanti. Many people came up to our booth and told us that you were the 'one who introduced me to craft beer.' Or, 'you're the reason I decided to go to Western [Michigan University] or live in Kalamazoo or stop in Kalamazoo because we heard about you and that you were the original.' It's humbling how many people have told us a story like that.
You've branched out from the Olde Peninsula Brewpub and added Harvey's on the Mall. What lead you to grow your business in that way?
We got into Harvey's after they had closed for about 5 years. They tried some other things in that location, then the opportunity was there for us. We wanted to bring back an old favorite. It was a place my wife and I had gone to while in college. And we thought, 'let's bring Harvey's back to life.' There's a need for that come-as-you-are kind of bar downtown.
Thinking back 20 years ago before you opened Olde Peninsula, what was the process like getting funding to start your business?
That was our biggest challenge - getting the financing. Because craft brewing was new, traditional bank financing was difficult. They were afraid of it. We did go conventional, through a bank. We finally found the right partner to guarantee the loan.
What advice would you give someone starting out today and dreaming of becoming a small business owner?
You want to have the proper financing and collateral. You don't want to go into it so cash-strapped that if something did go wrong that you had no where to turn financially. You want to make sure you're well funded so you can do what it is you want to do.
Olde Peninsula Brewpub and Restaurant - 200 East Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo
Harvey's on the Mall - 416 South Burdick Avenue, Kalamazoo
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BONUS VIDEO - Olde Peninsula Celebrates 20 Years in Business
St Patrick's Day 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of Olde Peninsula brewpub in Kalamazoo. We asked Steve on that day to reflect on the first 20 years of Kalamazoo's original brewpub.