Taking the Long Road to Grand Rapids’ First Craft Distillery

IMG_1465What started as an idea more than 18 months ago has finally come to fruition for two local entrepreneurs.

At 5 p.m. tomorrow, May 28, Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien will officially open the doors to Long Road Distillers, Grand Rapids’ first craft distillery.

Located at 537 Leonard St NW in a renovated 19th century building, Long Road will begin offering “grain to glass” vodka, gin and whisky, along with small plates prepared by executive chef Scott Seese.

Everything at Long Road centers around the importance of making spirits on site from beginning to end. Whole grains from nearby Heffron farms are mashed, then distilled and filtered in two gigantic stills that can be seen from the bar and tasting room through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The entire fermentation process takes at least 5 to 6 days, and O’Connor believes these are the first two legal stills ever used in Grand Rapids.

The distillery is part of the continuing revitalization of the Leonard & Quarry intersection that also includes Mitten Brewing and Two Scotts BBQ, and the two Long Road owners have significant West Side roots. Both live on the West Side, and both were board members of the West Grand Neighborhood Association. O’Connor also worked on the Welcome West initiative.

The building itself has been a bit of a neighborhood anchor, operating as a dry goods store for nearly 70 years until the 1950s or 60s before becoming a Harley dealership, and more recently, a clothing store. O’Connor and Van Strien are also working to convert the upstairs area that was formerly apartment space into additional seating for 100 that can be used for special events or to catch live music. They also plan on offering tours in the future.

While admiring the stills and the spirits, hungry customers can also order off a menu that has a decidedly West Side mix of Polish entrees like kielbasa and sauerkraut, along with classic Mexican dishes that will be added within the next couple of weeks.

Bottles of Long Road spirits will be available to go and O’Connor and Van Strien plan to distribute to Grand Rapids and beyond down the road. They’ve already rolled out a version of a mug club called the Wayfarer’s Guild, where members can receive perks like individually-numbered wooden coasters, discounts, private tastings and tours, swag and more.

Following tomorrow’s debut, Long Road will be open 4 p.m. until midnight on Mondays through Thursdays; noon to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays; and will also be open on Sundays.

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