Rene Greff

René Greff
Owner, Arbor Brewing Company
Board Member, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

Tottered on: 9 December 2005
Temperature: 25 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: snowy
Wind: NNW at 10mph

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TT with HD: René Greff

HD: Alright here we go ...

RG: Okaaay ... Yeah. This good, I like it. Especially if you do all the squatting.

HD: I think the first order of business should be to simply confirm that you really are on the totter, we really did get eight inches of snow last night ...

RG: Correct! That's right! Yep! My boots are in snow.

HD: So you got the hang of it?

RG: I do. I'm more comfortable here than I thought I would be. I like it. I don't even remember the last time I rode a teeter totter so it's probably been thirty...-...five years?

HD: Of the various pieces of playground equipment, how would you rank the teeter totter?

RG: Hmmm ...

HD: There's a right answer to this question, René!

RG: I don't think it was ever my favorite I hate to say, I think I was more of a slide person. You know what it probably is: you're kind of vulnerable on a teeter totter.

HD: In what way?

RG: Two things. You're depending on the other person not to pull any shenanigans. Just physically you're a little bit vulnerable on a teeter totter ... if somebody decides to bail on you.

HD: Alright, and what's the other thing?

RG: It's kind of an intimate playground setting it's not like swinging where you're side by side. I mean it's sort of ... it's me and you and we're having this thing going on here.

HD: Right, you have to convince somebody to play along. It's kind of a metaphor, too, you can't teeter totter by yourself ... life is in balance, etcetera etcetera ...

RG: ... and it's a little exclusionary, it's not a group activity.

HD: As far as I know, and I haven't made a huge effort to confirm this, but as far as I know this is the only real classic teeter totter in the City of Ann Arbor.

RG: Really?

HD: The Parks and Recreation Department, they've confirmed for me that there are none in the various parks.

RG: Is it liability, or do kids just not like'em any more?

HD: Um, I can't imagine that it's kids don't like'em anymore. I refuse to believe that, but the story has to do with safety concerns regarding the pinching at the balance point.

RG: Yeah I can see that.

HD: And the public schools have also told me that they yanked all their teeter totters years ago, but they have something roughly equivalent that's got springs, but that's not really the same.

RG. Yeah, it's not.

HD: Alright, so what's on your mind. I imagine that it would be the Calthorpe Report? I downloaded that thing, printed it out, and studied every word.

RG: Yeah, well I hate to admit that you have done a bit more than I have. Normally the Calthorpe Report would be occupying my every waking moment. But right now, I'm very preoccupied working on the microbrewery. So I have been a little bit less involved in city stuff than I normally am. I guess if there's any city projects that I'm really working on right now, it's still the First and Washington RFP's.

HD: So as far as you see though, the Calthorpe report doesn't seem to hold any huge surprises?

RG: Not at all. It's basically what DDA has been saying for you know the last five years And not just DDA but the Downtown Residential Task force I think [had already] pulled out a lot of the things that Calthorpe discovered, so I don't think there's any big surprises and I don't think there's anything really controversial.

HD: Do you feel that the DDA has some sense of vindication that you have some external validation?

RG: I guess I never really thought about it as 'vindication'. It was more a vehicle for finally getting things moving.

HD: The Larcom building. It seemed to me there was some ugliness that kinda played out in the public forum between the City and the DDA as to who had control of the DDA budget.

RG: Yep.

HD: Is it safe to say that that's been put behind us, or is there still some leftover ...

RG: I think it has 'gone dormant'. But it'll come back again.

HD: It seems like like people are hoping that a decision can be delayed ... a lease can be extended and that a decision on the Larcom building won't have to be made as urgently as previously thought.

RG: Yeah, you probably know the City is asking the County to give them a drop dead date. And I think the County's going to do that and I think it's going to be 2010, which if you were going to pick a site or assemble a site, put out RFP's and do site work and build a building ... they basically need to get started in the spring, so I don't think it really has bought us that much time.

HD: When you say 'the spring' you mean this spring 2006?

RG: Yeah, I think you're at least three years if everything goes wonderfully which it never does.

HD: And that would be on the scenario they actually build a new building from scratch.

RG: Yes.

HD: If you just had to predict without saying what you'd like to see happen, what would you say: new building or renovate the old one?

RG: New building.

HD: And do you think it would retain the same name? Or would they find a different name?

RG: Oh, I had never even thought about that.

HD: Anybody come to mind as someone who needs to have a city building named after them?

RG: Nooo. Not off the top of my head.

HD: So the microbrewery is going to be called the Corner Brewery?

RG: Yes, it's the Arbor Brewing Company Corner Brewery.

HD: So that's the whole official name, first and last. What's the relationship between the set of beers that the brew pub will serve and brew, and the beer that the CB will serve and brew? Will it be possible to drink beer at the CB that was actually brewed at the brew pub? How about visa versa?

RG: It would be possible, but it would not make any sense, because if any beer were served at the brew pub that were made at the microbrewery it would have had to have gone through a distributor, so basically in order to make it at one place and sell at the other place somebody else gets a 30% cut. Economically it would be ridiculous, but we actually might do that for packaged beers, bottled beers and kegs. Right now the supply of bottled beer [at the brew pub] is very inconsistent. It's basically: when we have time to run the bottler, we do and then the six packs go really fast and the kegs we sell to order, so the supply is unpredictable. It would be nice if [the brew pub] could be more like a normal retail outlet and have a case full of six packs and a cooler full of kegs that you could just walk in off the street and buy. So for carryout stuff [the brew pub] might actually buy through the distributor from the microbrewery, but everything on tap at the brew pub would be made there still.

HD: But is it safe to say that good old favorites at the brew pub like Red Snapper, will be available at the Corner Brewery, it'll just be brewed there, too ...?

RG: Yes, and more importantly you'll be able to get them in stores, which is kind of the whole purpose of the venture. And in addition we're working on some specialty recipes that we have never done before at the brew pub. So there will be new things coming out on the market that people haven't tried yet. We also want to have a few things available on tap at the microbrewery that you can't get at the brew pub. And a few things at the brew pub that you can't at the microbrewery, because they're really not meant to be some kind of a franchise deal. I mean we really want each to have it's own separate personality. I think they're each going to develop their own sets of regulars and we really want to maintain some separation.

HD: So is there any sense in which these two enterprises could in any way be construed as, well you know Zingerman's has this notion of 'family of businesses'?

RG: No. I don't think so and the reason I don't is: I don't see us ever opening a third business.

HD: So it seems to me you're not so much expanding, it's that you're now doing the thing that you really wanted to do in the first place.

RG: Right. Yeah. We really wanted to be brewers and not necessarily restaurant owners. I mean we love the brew pub and we're absolutely thrilled obviously with the way everything has turned out. But it's really brewing and just being able to distribute our beer statewide and eventually nationwide that I think excites our imagination.

HD: One question about a particular beer, No Parking Pilsner. Will that be available at the CB as well?

RG: I don't know.

HD: Because it looks like there's plenty of parking at the CB site.

RG: We're actually thinking about doing a totally different type of pilsner that's almost like an imperial pilsner: much hoppier, much maltier, much bigger, So if we do a pilsner there it's probably going be a different recipe, different name, different animal altogether, Actually, the No Parking Pilsner, we tried to change the name. When we named it that, the City had demolished the parking structure [across from the brew pub] and didn't plan to rebuild it. And then after the City built a beautiful new 9 million dollar parking structure, I thought, you know, we really shouldn't call this No Parking Pilsner because it's kind of a slap in the face, after, you know, somebody does something really wonderful. So Matt and I changed the name to Golden Tiger, which is our favorite beer bar in Prague. And it was rejected by staff and customers alike because people get really attached to a name. We went on vacation and when we came back our staff had done a petition drive and had gotten like a thousand signatures.

HD: From customers?

RG: From over a thousand customers saying we want the name changed back to No Parking Pilsner, so it was like 'Alright!'

HD: Seems like there would have been some room for middle ground : you name it Golden Tiger but in parentheses: previously known as No Parking Pilsner.

RG: There is no middle ground in Ann Arbor, you know that!

HD: Well, I gotta ask you this question: if you could be a beer, what kind of beer would you be?

RG: Oh ... I would be a Flemish Red, because ... they're interesting, ... they're unique, ... they're hard to find, they're a little sour, ... they're a little unpredictable, but there's something spicy and enticing about them that once you start drinking them ... The one I gave you is a Flemish Red in style, so I think when you taste it you'll see what I mean it's a really interesting beer.

HD: In one of your emails you mentioned that you're doing some demolition yourselves at the CB property. Now when you say yourselves, do you mean you're actually swinging a sledgehammer?

RG: Yeah, well when I say 'we' I usually mean Matt. Matt has done most of the demolition but ...

HD: ... he's got a sledgehammer in his hand?

RG: Oh yeah ...

HD: ... he's not just saying, okay, Fred, knock that down?

RG: Noooo. He personally, by himself, took down a cinderblock wall and a ceiling and moved all the cinder blocks out, we're actually using them for an enclosure, so he hauled them out there and then hired an industrial dumpster for the rest of the debris and loaded the debris out.

HD: So it's going pretty much according to schedule? April opening still going to happen?

RG: It is. April or May. We've have picked a bank and finalized the loan specifications but the whole process of paperwork I think is probably going to take about a month longer than we thought. So we were hoping to close on the loan at the beginning of January and it might end up being more towards the middle or the end of January.

HD: But as far as the property, that's locked in.

RG: Yep!

HD: The upside down Christmas tree, you've seen it and heard of it, right?

RG: I have not.

HD: Okay, well, let me tell you about it ...

RG: Actually I've heard that it's a new trend, but I have not actually seen one and I don't know what it symbolizes.

HD: Well, I think it's a basically utilitarian sort of deal. After the challenge of hanging it, if you can get over that hurdle, then there's more ornaments at eye-level and then more space for presents underneath. So your Christmas tree if you have one, will not be hanging from the ceiling?

RG: No, I actually am a little Christmas weird and I have four Christmas trees and they are all traditionally oriented. Maybe I get around the present thing by having four trees. So I never have a problem finding room for all my presents.

HD: Is there any holiday gift that you're especially coveting this year? That you've thought, wow, I really wish somebody would buy that for me!

RG: Nope.

HD: I noticed you drove a Honda Civic hatchback here. Front wheel drive, good in the snow?

RG: Yeah it's wonderful. We have actually two of them we love them so much.

HD: So if they still manufactured that car would you buy another one for your next new car?

RG: Next one I'm going to buy is a Honda hybrid. And I think it's a Civic, I think Civic has a hybrid.

HD: Are they good in the snow?

RG: Probably not, but ...

HD: So it's the idea of the hybrid you're committed to?

RG: Yeah.

HD: Well it did snow today, did you do any shoveling this morning?

RG: I did.

HD: Did you actually use a shovel or was it a blower?

RG: I used a shovel.

HD: What route did you take over here from Ypsilanti? Did you take [I-]94?

RG: No, I never take [I-]94. I always take the back way, so I think it's Superior to Geddes, ... to Huron River Drive,.. to Huron, up to Fourth.

HD: And was that route pretty well plowed the whole way?

RG: Yeah.

HD: Now I've never actually personally experienced this but I've done my part in propagating this myth, legend, that based on the snow plowing you can tell when you cross over the divide between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor ...

RG: Yes. Sometimes when the roads are especially bad, I'll take Washtenaw to Huron and when you're going up Washtenaw, you can tell when you hit it because it's night and day. And it's Ypsi that does the best job of plowing the streets.

HD: Absolutely noticeable, not controversial?

RG: No.

HD: Well our street got plowed today, which was a pleasant surprise.

RG: So I have to say by the end of this interview I think I'm going change my opinion of teeter totters.

HD: Yeah?

RG: Maybe I was just too restless as a little kid, it's very ...

HD: ... peaceful isn't it?

RG: Wonderful! I could see getting a few of these you could have parties and people could have beers and hang out ...

HD: You mean a few teeter totters?

RG: Yeah.

HD: Well, there's only so much space in the back yard.

RG: I'm wondering if you could engineer it in such a way that you could have another one that goes that way [oriented 90 degrees to this one].

HD: You know what does exist is a sort of four-way kind of deal that also spins.

RG: That might be a bit much.

HD: I don't think I want to attempt anything quite that ambitious. And the teeter totter itself is scary enough.

RG: True.

HD: So is there anything you wish people would just ask you?

RG: I don't think so.

HD: So you feel like you're able have a voice when you want to have a voice?

RG: Yeah, I think I'm for the most part pretty well understood.

HD: How about I snap a photo and we'll call it a day

RG: That was painless!