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Beer business ramps up at new brewpub in Zeeland

Garrett Ellison
Grand Rapids Press

Zeeland — Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.

Such is the case with Tripel Root brewpub in Zeeland, which opened Dec. 18 as the first brewery in a city that only reversed a century-old alcohol sales ban in 2006.

But there was no sprint across the finish line for Tripel Root owners Nate and Laura Gentry, who spent the past two years converting, by hand, a 118-year-old former bank branch building into their new 2,400-square-foot restaurant.

The husband and wife team released Tripel Root's first house-made beer in mid-February, a black IPA called Mulletude. The brewpub's second beer, a hefeweizen, is waiting in the wings. That one will be followed by a standard style IPA.

"We're starting to ramp up," Laura Gentry said. "It's our intention to release one beer at a time."

The Gentrys have completely transformed the building at 146 E. Main St., which started life in the late 1800s as the M.C. Ver Hage hardware store, and sat empty for years after a Fifth Third Bank branch closed there more than 10 years ago.

The couple did everything but the HVAC, electrical and plumbing work themselves after helping convince Zeeland city leaders to allow takeout alcohol sales at full-service restaurants in 2013.

The tables, the bar, the trim work — all of it was made with their hands. Donated wooden doors from a country club were turned into a table and the brewpub's front door. Much of the woodwork in the pub was reclaimed from a local barn. Plaster and drywall were removed in favor of the building's original brick.

"We like that natural, earthy feel," she said.

Brewing plans were downsized to a single-barrel nano system during build-out, and the one-beer-at-a-time rollout is an attempt to regulate their inventory in beer-thirsty West Michigan, where new breweries tend to run out of beer upon opening.

The brewpub license allows the Gentrys to serve guest-taps, which they've filled with a lineup of craft beers from Michigan and elsewhere to round out the drink selection. Down the line, the couple would like to expand into distribution.

"If we'd opened as a microbrewery, I'm sure (sellout) would have happened due to demand and the fact that we have a full restaurant," she said.

Tripel Root's food menu includes items such as Bavarian soft pretzels, mix-and-match dip platter appetizers and $8 flatbread pizzas made with spent grain. City regulations stipulate 60 percent of sales must come from food items.

The brewpub seats about 50, plus four seats at the bar. Outside, the former bank drive-thru has become a 40-seat beer garden.

"It's been busy," Gentry said. "Friday and Saturday nights have been standing room only."

Building Tripel Root was a lot of work, but Gentry said it was all worth it.

"Now that we're open, it's incredible to see people enjoying the space we tried hard to create," she said. "It's more than about just making beer. It's about creating a comfortable atmosphere where people can enjoy a beer. I feel like we've accomplished that."

Tripel Root is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. The brewpub will open on Monday and Tuesdays later this year.