BY GLENN PUIT
— TRAVERSE CITY — Nate Crane and Tina Schuett spent nearly two years chasing their dream of opening a brew pub in the midst of Traverse City’s craft beer boom.
It hasn’t been an easy ride, and the business partners already weathered several storms. Plans for their initial location fell through, as did support from their first group of investors.
But now the two are closing in on a spring opening for their Rare Bird Brewpub at 229 Lake Ave. in Traverse City.
They couldn’t be more excited.
“We are still standing,” Crane said. “We will be cheering our beers over it. We are not sweating it, but there have been some very trying times where we definitely needed a shoulder to lean on and someone to talk to us, saying, ‘All right gang, this is what you need to go do … go get conventional financing.’ We’ve been chipping away at a boulder.”
Crane and Schuett are part of a growing cadre of young entrepreneurs in Traverse City who seek to capitalize on northern Michigan’s healthy economy. Tourism, a bustling restaurant culture and a growing population base are feeding a boom in craft breweries, in particular.
At least 10 breweries opened in the Grand Traverse region in recent years.
Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce President Doug Luciani said one reason for the boom is the region’s ability to cultivate young entrepreneurs. A culture of assistance for young entrepreneurs exists in the Traverse City area business community, he said. Many business owners look out for each other and freely give advice to those who are just getting started.
“One of the most important things (young entrepreneurs) can do is reach out and ask for help from existing businesses and other entrepreneurs,” Luciani said. “People will bend over backwards to help them, to give them the benefit of their experience.”
Luciani also said the experiences of Crane and Schuett, and their ability to withstand adversity, is a good example of the trials many young entrepreneurs face on their pathway to success.
“Don’t let other people say no for you,” Luciani said. “The successful entrepreneurs keep looking and keep asking.”
That’s certainly what Crane and Schuett have had to do. They met while they worked at a future competitor, Right Brain Brewery. Both invested their life savings and borrowed from family members, but their initial plan to occupy the old Right Brain location in the Warehouse District fell apart, as did their financial backing.
That setback sent Crane, 31, and Schuett, 28, in a another direction. Both sought traditional financing from banks, despite their ages and relatively small bank accounts.
“It wasn’t easy,” Schuett said. “You had two young people who had no real equity. We both own houses, but we’ve never owned a business. We didn’t have any numbers to show them besides comparative stuff and demographics. We had to go on character and credit and luckily we had perfect credit. We knocked on a lot of bank doors.”
They sought help from SCORE business counselors and refocused on occupying the Old Traverse City Canning Co. site. Slowly, bank after bank jumped on board and now they’ve secured Small Business Administration loans.
Four different lenders now finance the project. Crane said a brew pub like Rare Bird requires at least $500,000 in financing to take flight.
Then came the physical labor. They gutted the old building and spent months upgrading the interior. The brew pub, located directly across from Hagerty Insurance, will feature upscale pub food, 35 taps offering beers from around the world, four fermenters, and four serving tanks that will be used to craft Schuett’s special brews.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Schuett said. “Everything we do we think will add to the experience.”