Later this month, the Spartan Brewpub will move into the former home of the Golden Rose Restaurant. Operator Jon Wells is the son-in-law of building owner Tom McNeil, who will serve as the restaurant’s chef.
You can add another player to mid- Michigan’s hopping craft microbrewery scene: Later this month, Spartan Brewpub will take over the former home of Tom McNeil’s Golden Rose Restaurant. Technically in Mason, the building sits just south of I-96 on Okemos Road. The concept came together quickly, driven primarily by McNeil’s son-in-law, Jon Wells, who will serve as the new business’ operator.
“Tom came to me about a month ago and told me that he wanted to find a new use for the building,” Wells said. “He knew I had a passion for beer, and he thought (a brewpub) would be a good fit. He just didn’t want to do it himself.”
McNeil will serve as Spartan Brewpub’s chef. The acclaimed local restaurateur already has a few hits under his belt, including bygone local eateries Windsor Mountain Grill and The British Isles. He moved his catering company, Country House Catering, into the space that would become Golden Rose in 1986 and opened the restaurant six years later. When that closed in 2010, McNeil continued to use the building for catering. Last year, he allowed a young beer maker to use the site to brew, but Wells said the brewer left after McNeil decided not to allow him to turn it into a microbrewery.
“The problem (with microbreweries) is that you can only sell your own beer,” Wells said. “So we decided to go the brewpub route. It allows us to sell a mixture of what we make ourselves and the best of what’s being made around the state and around the country.”
That includes breweries close to home.
The local craft beer scene is spilling into every corner of Greater Lansing, and Spartan Brewpub joins four other breweries in the “coming soon” category. Expected in mid-2017 are BrickHaven Brewing Co. in Grand Ledge, Dime’s Brewhouse in Dimondale, Looking Glass Brewing Co. in DeWitt and Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale in REO Town. Southwest Michigan’s Arcadia Ales’ Michigan Avenue brewpub is also expected to open this year.
“Craft beer is incredibly popular right now, but (Spartan Brewpub) isn’t just an attempt to cash in on a trend,” Wells said. “I’ve been brewing for a while, and I’ve got a few beers that I think will be able to go toe-to-toe with the best of what’s already out there. And Tom’s menu is going to be second to none. We’re really working hard to make this something special.”
The Spartan Brewpub food selection will focus primarily on barbecue fare, tapping into the other hot trend in the local dining scene. Brisket, chicken and burgers will anchor the menu, with flatbread pizza expected to come later. The cheddar and ale soup from McNeil’s British Isles restaurant will also make an appearance. The bar will have a full liquor license, and the 20 taps will feature between five and nine originals brewed on-site.
“I’m a bourbon guy, so I want to have a nice selection of those as well,” Wells said.
Although he said he’s been home brewing for years, Wells said this will be the first time he’s ever brewed commercially.
“One of the reasons I’m keeping this as a brew pub is that I like to take my time to craft a brew,” Wells said. “One of my favorites to make is my bourbon stout, but it’s a real trick to get aged bourbon barrels, and you can’t really do big quantities. I’m not a huge IPA guy; I like darker stouts and porters. It’s going to make for a nice mix.”
Wells oversaw the interior renovation, which was mostly done by close family (“A lot of them aren’t calling me back anymore,” Wells joked.) Major changes included the construction of a second bar and moving the main bar out farther to accommodate brewing equipment. The décor was given an MSU Spartan theme, and new mug racks were built to hold drinkware for the new mug club, handmade mugs with the Spartan Brewpub logo.
“We’re also going to have dart boards and foosball and big-screen TVs, but our big (entertainment) focus is on live music,” Wells said. “It’s important for me to have that.”
Wells worked his way up through McNeil’s ranks, serving as a bartender and a server at the British Isles in Okemos. But he’s also been a musician for years, playing drums and keyboards in several local bands. He said Friday and Saturday nights will be dedicated to live music, which may include performances on the restaurant’s new patio area.
“Tom has a big following, so I know we’re going to have no problem getting his (former customers) to come back,” Wells said. “The challenge will be to get new folks from East Lansing and Lansing to come. We’re only 10 minutes from campus, and we’re right off the highway, but there’s a (misconception) that we’re out in the country. It may take a while, but I think people will find us.”
Blue’s brews Last week marked the opening of Blue Owl Coffee Co. in REO Town, the newest addition to Lansing’s third big craft scene. Co-owner/operator Nick Berry said he’s had a unique relationship with java his entire life.
“Everything important that’s ever happened in my life was at a coffee shop,” Berry said. “It’s where I met my first wife. It’s where I signed my first record label contract. And I’ve closed on every house I’ve owned at a coffee shop. It all started when I was 15 and my youth leader at church took me out for my first cappuccino. It changed my life.”
Blue Owl features a blend of traditional coffee drinks — latte, cappuccino and espresso — as well as tea, nitro coffees, pour overs, French presses and non-alcoholic “coffee cocktails,” featuring a creative blend of coffee and housemade mixers. The beans are mostly from local roasters, including Bloom Coffee Co. in Old Town and Craft & Mason. There’s also a light menu featuring sandwiches and salads catered by Midtown Brewing Co.
Blue Owl courts early birds and night owls alike — opening at 7 a.m. and staying open until 10 p.m. most days — giving local musicians and poets a new perch from which to hoot. As for that name, it comes from a bizarre dream Berry had.
“There was this blue owl that consumed everything in the world,” Berry said. “It ate everything I ever loved, then turned to me and said, ‘Are you coming with me or not?’ I woke up completely in awe of that dream, and that feeling stuck with me.”
Berry said he hopes to become a central part of REO Town’s new vitality and is particularly pleased with the warm reception Blue Owl has received in its first week.
“On our first day open, a girl posted a picture of herself with a guy saying ‘I think I’m falling in love at a coffee shop, thanks Blue Owl,’” Berry said. “It made me melt. That’s exactly the response what I was hoping for.”
Spartan Brewpub (opening later this month) 3056 Okemos Road, Mason 3-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- midnight Friday-Saturday; noon-11 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday (517) 507-5098, spartanbrewpub.com
Blue Owl Coffee Co. 1149 S. Washington Ave., Lansing 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday facebook.com/miblueowl