TRAVERSE CITY — Don Coe wants to help young entrepreneurs get their businesses started.
Coe co-owns Black Star Farms with Kerm Campbell. Both are retired from successful careers in the wine and agriculture industries and recognize the challenges of starting a new business with little cash.
“We were concerned about the difficulties young people were having becoming established in business because they have student loans or credit card debt,” Coe said. “It was difficult for them to find finances and get businesses established.”
Coe and Campbell rent space to skilled, smart, energetic entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses. The newest tenant at Black Star Farms will be Grand Traverse Distillery, a Traverse City micro-distillery Kent Rabish started in 2007. The distillery will open a small operation at the farm and let customers try its products in a tasting room.
“We’ve worked with them in a combined tasting room in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons,” Coe said. “As I had the opportunity to come to know their spirits, I realized (Rabish) was producing award-winning spirits and we thought they’d be a great match to our business at Black Star Farms.”
Coe said the distillery will add grain-based alcohols like whiskey and vodka to Black Star Farms’s fruit brandies, and offering more varieties of wine and spirits will mean more happy customers. Coe expects the distillery to open in June.
Giving more customers a taste of local liquors like Grand Traverse Distillery’s True North Vodka will help the market for Michigan distilleries grow.
“Ninety-nine percent of the distilled spirit sales in Michigan are with large established brands, and for the small Michigan distillery to find a market in Michigan they need to sell directly,” Coe said.
Coe had to work with Bingham Township to allow Grand Traverse Distillery at Black Star Farms. Currently just wineries and cideries are allowed in agricultural districts, and breweries and distilleries aren’t addressed.
Bingham Township Zoning Administrator Steve Patmore expects the township board to approve the planning commission’s recommendation to add microbreweries and distilleries as special uses for agricultural districts.