Sustainable practices are notoriously difficult to implement in the service industry. However, for Barfly Ventures, the Grand Rapids-based hospitality group, sustainability has become a central part of everyday business. From diverting over 90 percent of waste to local compost and recycling facilities to operating Michigan’s first USDA-certified organic brewery, the Barfly family of businesses’ sustainability initiatives have grown with the organization itself.
BarFly Ventures began in 2008 with HopCat, an award-winning brew pub in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. Stella’s Lounge and McFadden’s Irish Pub joined the Barfly family soon after. In December 2012, BarFly brought The Grand Rapids Brewing Company to downtown Grand Rapids. The BarFly family continues to grow, with HopCat expanding into East Lansing, Indianapolis, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and several other Mid West cities.
On an individual level, Grand Rapids Brewing Company is proud to be organic —but the entire brewery was designed from the ground up keeping its environmental impact in mind. A number of old architectural elements in the original space at 1 Ionia were reused throughout the building: Floor joists from 1886 became tables, old fire suppression system pipes were transformed into furniture legs, and nearly all the brick that was removed in the renovation was put to use throughout the space, among other efforts. In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the brewery is largely powered by city steam instead of fossil-based fuels.
The beer’s ingredients have also made Barfly Ventures part of the local organic community—almost 90 percent of Michigan’s organic hops supply is used by Hopcat and Grand Rapids Brewing Company.
As an organization, Barfly actively supports local charitable and environmental causes. The No Fracking Way series of collaboration beers has already united several premier West Michigan breweries in a show of support for protecting our lakes, rivers, and water supply.
For Autumn Sands, Barfly Ventures’ sustainability coordinator, these opportunities are a chance for education and community building as well as simply good business practices. “In some areas, for example, in the Greater Lansing area, a composting facility did not exist,” she said. “We have to sometimes create things when they don’t exist, which In the end is actually a good thing. It allows us the opportunity to create change in the communities that we are becoming a part of.”
“Barfly has received an enormous amount of positive feedback [about our sustainable practices] from the community, as well as local business owners,” she continued.
The shift towards creating sustainable drinking and dining experiences for guests has not been without some difficulties. Overall implementation and follow-through on initiatives has been a challenge at times, however Sands sees this as an opportunity to educate, reevaluate practices, and find the most efficient way to make eco-friendly efforts happen on a day-to-day basis. “We’re constantly looking for ways that we can improve. We definitely don’t want to make anyone’s job harder, so that’s a challenge in itself,” she said.
With new, unique Hopcat locations opening in coming months, Barfly’s mission of creating spectacular guest experiences while caring about the environment and the world around their businesses is set to grow. For Sands, the expansion is an opportunity—as well as a commitment. “We have a really good platform to take a stand on a lot of these issues, as well as a social responsibility,” she said. “We have the ability to make a choice. We don’t have to do things any certain way, we can create our own path and set an example for other businesses in our industry and show that it is possible.”
To contact Barfly Ventures, or for more information, please see their WMSBF member page here.