Courtesy of the Ferndale Project
It had been a great couple of years for Eastern Market Brewing Co., a brewery founded by Dayne Bartscht and some friends on a lark, initially as a side hustle. With luck, they scored primo real estate in Detroit's Eastern Market district, and within two years they expanded to take over the Ferndale space formerly occupied by Axle Brewing Co.'s Livernois Tap.
Dubbed "The Ferndale Project," Eastern Market Brewing Co.'s expansion opened in February — mere weeks before officials reported that the coronavirus pandemic had reached Michigan.
But Bartscht says the company is poised to weather the pandemic thanks to support from the community and creativity in diversifying. The company actually exceeded its projected revenue in 2020, he says.
"I think it was in some ways a blessing in disguise because we weren't really set in our ways and we really saw an opportunity to innovate," Bartscht tells Metro Times
. "It forced us to get creative and come up with new concepts."
With the pandemic causing the otherwise bustling Eastern Market district to see decreased foot traffic, the sprawling Ferndale Project, located among a residential neighborhood, and with a large patio, wound up being ideal for social distancing.
Plus, the community had already felt the sting of losing a neighborhood brewery when Axle Brewing Co. shuttered last year.
"People love having a brewery in their neighborhood," Bartscht says. "I think there's a fear when you've lost your neighborhood brewery once — is it going to happen again?"
To further harness that community support, the Ferndale Project launched an investment campaign
with a platform called Mainvest. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Mainvest treats its investors as, well, investors, promising return of a 1.4 multiplier on investments as low as $100. In other words; an investment of $100 yields a $140 investment; $1,000 and get $1,400 back. That return is paid back in five years, regardless of revenue.
Bartscht says it was important to open investing opportunities to the general public in the community. "We wanted anyone that's in the neighborhood, no matter how much they could afford, to have the opportunity to invest in it," he says. "It's something that we've been thinking about because we've had countless people over the three-plus years that Eastern Market Brewing Co.'s been open reaching out about investing, and oftentimes they do want to invest smaller amounts of money."
So far, the campaign has raised $211,300 of its $250,000 goal, with a little more than two weeks left in the campaign.
Bartscht says many have donated the lowest amount, $100, but the largest investment was $16,000.
The Ferndale Project will use $47,000 of the money raised for capital investments in packaging equipment for expansion and quality control. The next $100,000 will be set aside as a "Pandemic Reserve Fund" in case further restrictions are put in place. (Indeed, indoor dining has been banned until at least Dec. 20, and could be extended.) Any investments beyond $147,000 will be used for working capital, Bartscht says.
It's Bartscht's hope that the campaign will give the company a cushion and make it in a better position for the spring and summer, "when hopefully we returned to some level of normalcy," he says.
Beyond that, Bartscht says he intentionally decided to name Eastern Market Brewing Co.'s suburban expansion "the Ferndale Project" because he thought of the space as an incubator for other ideas, a move that proved prescient.
The pandemic, he says, caused them to be creative with other concepts, which has helped the company survive.
For example, they launched a delivery service called Peddler
to deliver its beers to customers. That quickly expanded to include products from other Michigan makers.
The Ferndale Project has also expanded into doughnuts with Dooped Donuts
as well as Detroit-style pizza, which Bartscht says will be rebranded and launched as a separate brand.
It doesn't hurt that his beer is good too, he says, with a focus on New England double IPAs and sour beers.
"We've just been really thoughtful about what we make, and I think the community responded," he says.
The Ferndale Project is located at 567 Livernois Ave., Ferndale; 248-556-5512; ferndaleproject.com.
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