Lake Ann Brewing Co. is actually “open today.” Red Door Café brews community.
Like ripples in a pond, Northern Michigan’s microbrewery scene is spreading from Traverse City into the surrounding rural counties. Stormcloud Brewing Company opened two years ago in Frankfort, Hop Lot opened last month in Suttons Bay, and this week, Matt Therrien will pour his first pints at Lake Ann Brewing Co. (Early this fall, the Cedar Rustic Inn will convert into a microbrew pub, also.)
From Traverse City to Benzie to Leelanau, cheers!
Therrien, who worked for years in his family’s construction and masonry business, has converted Guy Gray’s original Snack Shack—which was built in 1945 in the heart of Lake Ann—into a cozy, northwoods-inspired brewpub that feels like your grandpa’s hunting cabin or a scene from an L.L. Bean catalogue. The ceilings are low, and the walls sport beadboard and plaid paneling. Coleman lanterns hang against the back wall, and a Pabst Blue Ribbon statue and a “fisherman’s thermometer” adorn the shelf above the bar. (Therrien’s uncle delivered PBR for 30 years.) There’s no television at the bar, because Therrien “hates T.V.”
Despite the PBR homage, you won’t find any generic beer on tap at Lake Ann Brewing Co. Therrien will serve craft American ales including his “Listen Chief IPA,” “Aral Hills Pale Ale,” “Village Blonde,” “Lake Ann Amber,” “Mr. P’s Porter,” and “Mr. Blue Sky Wheat,” which is less sweet than those made with German hefeweizen yeast.
“I like bananas and cloves in my nutbread, not in my beer,” Therrien says.
After homebrewing for 20 years and making what he admits at first was “terrible beer,” Therrien couldn’t pass up the opportunity to open a brewpub in downtown Lake Ann. The vacant building had gone into foreclosure in 2011, and when Therrien first eyed the space two years ago, he thought it was a wreck.
“I looked at the building and said ‘no way.’ A year later, I looked again, and the idea began to grow on me,” he admits. “How often does the best location in town sit available for years?”
Therrien eventually negotiated Honor Bank to a favorable price at half the building’s original listed value. It was clear to him that the bank—and the community—desperately wanted an owner. He closed in the spring of 2014. Ever since then, the community has helped Therrien to decorate the space.
“A lot of the stuff we have in here is stuff we reclaimed,” Therrien says. There are church pews from Bayview Wesleyan Church, stools from Union Street Station in Traverse City, chairs from Hermann’s European Café in Cadillac, and a framed portrait of Italian chef Tony Pisari, a former owner of the building. “So many people have come and dropped off stuff and said, ‘Hey, we thought you could use this.’ The nice thing about being in total artistic control is that I can hang things up and no one will complain.”
Last July, his wife Jennie convinced him to place a sign out front announcing that the brewery would be “open tomorrow.” The advertisement was a joke, of course—the building needed to be gutted, renovated, and retrofitted to brew seven barrels of beer at one time. All summer, fall, and winter, the sign remained, though Therrien tired of the incredulous gawks of passersby. (“You’re opening tomorrow? But the place is a wreck!”)
Therrien jokes that this week, when Lake Ann Brewing Co. officially opens, he may replace “open tomorrow” with “open today!” He never wants to see the “tomorrow” sign again. (Though now the mantle behind the bar sports a sign that reads, “Free beer—tomorrow!”)
Therrien expects to be busy. After all, he now has the only watering hole in Almira Township in northeastern Benzie County, a rural tract that is home to more residents than the entire year-round population of Elberta, Gilmore, and Crystal Lake Townships, plus the City of Frankfort, combined. Bucking the predominant trend of other rural Midwestern communities, Almira has witnessed explosive growth in recent years, as the population surged from 2,811 to 3,645 between 2000 and 2010. Lake Ann sits roughly 12 miles from bustling Traverse City, giving its residents access to the urban job market.
“I never realized until I was working here on the brewery how much traffic comes through Lake Ann,” Therrien says. “It’s had population growth without any commercial growth. The town square is basically the same. The footprint of the business district hasn’t changed in 30 years.”
Therrien quips that he recently walked into Lake Ann Grocery at 5 minutes to 10 p.m. to purchase electrical breakers and couldn’t believe the amount of foot traffic inside the rural grocery store.
“It’s like Meijer in there,” he jokes. “And now we’re the only place in town to get a beer.”
Caffeinated Community Center
Matt Therrien’s brewery isn’t the only sign of resurgence in Lake Ann. The warm and eclectic Red Door Café opened last August and has quickly become a popular community oasis. Greta and Travis Kemp, 32-year-old Northern Michigan natives who returned home three years ago from Chicago, and Greta’s parents, Lori and Gary Florip, are co-owners.
The genesis of the café was an early 2014 citizens’ gathering dubbed a “2033 meeting” that would envision Lake Ann 20 years from now. Those in attendance agreed on the need for a community gathering space. The elder Florips—who are members of the village and township boards—stepped forward and, together with Greta, offered to open the café in the building that, in the past, has housed everything from a fire hall to a church.
“There was no place in Lake Ann where you could sit and hang out,” Greta says. “The meeting prompted the idea. We needed a space for a decent-sized group of people. And opening a café was something we’d always talked about.”
The village began leasing the space last spring to the Florips, and Red Door Café opened on August 8 to rave reviews.
“I’m proud of how the space feels,” Greta says. “Whenever someone enters, they’re shocked. It’s not what they expected from the exterior of building. It feels very warm. I painted all the colors myself, and all the artwork on the walls are from local artists whose work is for sale.”
Seated at one of six vintage tables or on cozy couches in the backroom you’ll likely find cabin-bound vacationers checking their emails before going “off the grid,” toddlers playing in the “small fry café” with donated children’s books, local artists discussing their muses over coffee, or an amateur pianist tickling the ivories on the café’s performance stage. Or perhaps a young couple enjoying a first date in the dark turquoise-colored booth.
“Hang out as long as you like,” Greta says.
Meanwhile, the speakers play local folk music phenom Joshua Davis’s familiar cover songs from his recent national run on the NBC show The Voice. Davis and other Michigan musicians affiliated with the Earthwork Music Collective have played on stage here when the café was a mobile church, run by Pastor Justin Grimm.
The scent of Higher Grounds fair-trade coffee wafts from the kitchen. Also available are milk from Shetler Dairy, tea from Light of Day Organics, baked goods from Biga Better Bagels, and gluten-free products from Third Coast Baked Goods and Daniela’s Delectables. Above the coffee bar looms a gigantic “Lake Ann flag,” designed by Greta’s brother, Erik Florip, that is for sale at the café.
The message is clear: the owners of Red Door Café care deeply about supporting local community, art, music, and food that is healthy, delicious, and ethically made.
Greta and Travis Kemp are happy to have left stimulating and hip—but crowded and sometimes overwhelming—Chicago for the northwoods of Lake Ann.
“I missed the outdoor space,” Greta says. “Chicago has Lake Michigan. But if you go, there are hundreds of other people right next to you.”
The Kemps join a trail of “boomerangs” migrating back to Michigan to impact their home communities. Their two kids, son Hunter, who turns five this month, and daughter Brooklyn, who is 21 months old, are frequent visitors to the small fry café children’s area.
“Lake Ann is definitely rejuvenated,” Greta says. “We want to make this a place where locals don’t have to go to Traverse City to get what they need. I think the younger generation is taking pride in this community and making it a fun place to be.”
Lake Ann Brewing Co. is located in the heart of the village’s downtown and just north of the lake for which the village is named. The brewery will serve six to eight of Therrien’s beers and 20 brews in all. The brewpub will also serve local ciders, wines, and meads from St. Ambrose Cellars, Tandem Ciders, Left Foot Charley, and Acoustic Draft Mead. Lake Ann Brewing Co. is open Tuesday-Saturday from noon until 11 p.m. Come high summer, the schedule may expand to include Mondays. Limited snacks will be available for purchase, or feel free to bring in a pizza from Stone Oven next door. The Red Door Café is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Feature photo: Matt Therrien serves customers at his newly opened Lake Ann Brewing Co. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.