By Kathy Gibbons
FRANKFORT — Jim Kunz has never been a landlord.
But he's about to be.
Kunz is one of three partners in a new brew pub under construction in Frankfort, a project they hope will open in early summer. A part-time resident for the past 15 years or so, he's teamed with photographer Brian Confer and Crystal Mountain executive Rick Schmitt on Stormcloud Brewing Co.
Schmitt currently is vice president of sales and marketing at Crystal and part owner of the historic Garden Theater in downtown Frankfort. He will leave his job next month to help run Stormcloud full-time. After spending the better part of the last decade "self-training" to brew beer, Confer said, he'll be brewmaster with help from an experienced assistant. Stormcloud will specialize in Belgian ales.
Schmitt and Confer had long discussed the idea of opening a brew pub. Then along came Kunz. He and his wife, Kris, have had a home in Frankfort for the past 15 years, though they were part-time residents until Kris retired from teaching three years ago.
Now she's there full-time and he comes and goes while he still runs an information technology and computer systems business with a partner in the Lansing and Detroit areas.
"My wife and I were trying to decide where we wanted to be investing and where we wanted to support," he said. "I'm not a professional real estate advisor. We're just figuring out it should be a good investment."
The Kunzes bought the building at 303 Main, most recently home to the Caddyshack Golf & Resort Shop. It's being renovated to house the pub. They also purchased adjacent vacant lots to be the site of the brewery, which is under construction.
"He came to the table and made it happen," Schmitt said. "It seemed like everything fell into place."
The new brewery is next door to the newly restored Garden Theater, which Schmitt said will create synergy. At a little more than 3,200-square feet, the space is divided between the brewery and the brew pub, which will have about 60 seats.
"Part of the beauty of this project is that because we are building on a vacant lot, we are also creating an outdoor beer garden right on Main Street," Schmitt said. "That will have about 50 seats so during the peak summer season; we've got additional seating we don't need in the wintertime."
In addition to between 10 and 16 beers on tap, Stormcloud will have a limited menu including a signature flatbread pizza, cheeses and spreads and charcuterie.
"I couldn't be more thrilled about it," Confer said. "I think the potential is huge."
And that's how they and local officials sum up Frankfort. Planning commission Chair Bruce Ogilvie said there's been steady progress on attracting new businesses to Main Street, including the recent completion of a three-story building that includes two retail stores on the main level and apartments and condo space above.
"We needed more opportunities for people to experience our small town and to have a reason to come to our small town for a unique kind of experience," he said.
Joanne Bartley, executive director of the Frankfort-Elberta Chamber of Commerce, said Stormcloud will give people one more reason to make a point of visiting Frankfort.
"Frankfort is kind of hidden," she said. "You don't drive by it, you have to turn at the light to get here."
And the community needs more year-round businesses, she added.
"In the winter, we still need things to do and places to go," Bartley said. "A lot of people feel Frankfort is a tourist town, but we also live here."