TRAVERSE CITY — David Skibowski right now is hard at work near Chum’s Corner creating vodka and gin that will, starting in early summer, be served at “The Tasting Room by Legacy Distillers” in the Breakwater apartment building.
“We’ll be very focused on the food,” said co-owner Christine Skibowski. “We’re bringing in a wood-fired pizza oven. We’ll have a full kitchen. All of our menu is kind of geared toward shareable plates.”
The Skibowskis, along with business partners Carolyn and Derek Weeks, incorporated Legacy Distillers in October. The two couples already were partners in the Park Street Café and its second location in the Copper Ridge Surgery Center.
Legacy is the newest entry in the burgeoning spirits marketplace in northwest Lower Michigan. Grand Traverse Distillery began selling product in 2007. Other area distillers include Traverse City Whiskey Co., Northern Latitudes Distillery in Lake Leelanau, Mammoth Distilling in Central Lake, Ethanology in Elk Rapids, Iron Fish Distilling in Thompsonville, and Long Road Distillers in Charlevoix.
Though The Tasting Room by Legacy Distillers won’t open until summer, it already shows up on Google Maps. It’s main entrance will be on Union Street, next to the Boardman River. It will occupy one of three commercial spaces in the Breakwater building. It will feature three outdoor fireplaces outside and will occupy 5,900 square feet inside.
The two couples may be jumping on the spirits train at an opportune moment. The craft spirits industry appears headed for rapid growth after a coronavirus-induced hiccup in 2020.
A survey in April 2020 by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the American Distilling Institute showed that small distillers furloughed more than 40 percent of their workers. That’s despite a reported 24 percent increase in off-premise alcohol sales around that time.
According to Research and Market’s report Global Craft Spirits Market 2020-2024, the global craft spirits market is poised to grow by $25.34 billion, progressing at a combined annual growth rate of 19 percent during the four-year period.
The couples behind Legacy Distillers plan to hire 50 to 70 people for the summer rush. At the moment, the company has just a single worker: David Skibowski, already toiling at the company’s production facility south of town.
“Our distiller is hard at work,” Christine said of her husband, who worked at Northern Latitudes Distillery for nearly 5 years. “We will have some vodka, some gin — your traditional spirits. We’re also partnering with a production facility in Mexico so we can bring in tequila.”
Wine and cider also will be available on the premises.
“People should feel comfortable at a bar with premium cocktails built with well-crafted spirits and ingredients,” said David Skibowski. He said he aims his creations to be “friendly and less intimidating.”
Work is progressing on Union Street.
“They’re moving along very quickly. Walls are going up, floors are being polished, furniture is on the way,” Christine Skibowski said.
All four owners plan to be hands-on at the distillery and tasting room. But Christine will continue to work at the Somerset Group insurance company and continue as managing partner at Park Street Café. Derek and Carol Weeks will continue to work at the company they own, Legacy Financial Services Group, Inc.
The partners at first envisioned a basic tasting room.
“It started with a much smaller space originally,” Christine said. “But when we toured the Breakwater development at Boardman and Union, we fell in love with the patio on the river and were sold on the larger concept.”