Chris Andrus ’02: Pitching Community, Hospitality

Chris Andrus ’02 will tell you he took a “crooked path” to get where he is today but credits his liberal arts education for teaching him to be a disciplined graduate with a wide variety of interests.

When Chris Andrus graduated from Alma College in 2002, he had two degrees, one in business administration and one in art and design. He spent the better part of the following decade making music while singing with his band on tour. But when it came time for Andrus to settle and start a family, he went with what he knew best: His passions.

What are those interests? The Detroit Tigers, craft beer and finding a way to make a positive impact on his home city, Grand Rapids.

Andrus and his childhood friend, Max Trierweiler, sensed a gap in the Grand Rapids food and beverage industry — especially on the west side of the city. They set out to create a place that honored their interests and vintage décor.

“There wasn’t that place that married these concepts together,” says Andrus. “We wanted to create a place where we would love to hang out — a place that differentiated from the rest of the market.”

The Mitten Brewing Company, Grand Rapids. The engine house was our first choice, but for a while ...The Mitten Brewing Company, Grand Rapids. "The engine house was our first choice, but for a while it didn't seem like we were going to get is as it was not for sale. We were willing to jump through every hoop we needed to because we knew we had found a unique place that could really help us pursue our dream." — Chris Andrus ’02

Restoring a Historic Landmark

Now, just a few years after The Mitten Brewing Company’s “first pitch,” Andrus and Trierweiler, co-founders of the company, are successfully providing the city with a craft brewery where sports enthusiasts feel welcome.

When Andrus and Trierweiler searched to locate a new home for their dream, the goal was to find a building that craved reinvigoration and reinvestment. “Engine House No. 9,” a Victorian masterpiece built in 1890 as a brick fire barn, was what they were looking for. When the community heard about their plan to restore an official Grand Rapids Historic Landmark, they got behind it.

“Our building is easily one of our biggest attributes,” says Andrus. “It’s such a great and unique setting in the city and one of the reasons a lot of people check us out for the first time.”

Giving Back to the Community

The Mitten serves award-winning beverages and gluten-free pizza while broadcasting Tigers games. However, it might be most recognized for its impact on Grand Rapids and surrounding communities.

Receiving the “President’s Award” from the Association of Fundraising Professionals for their charitable giving program was a humbling and emotional experience for Andrus and Trierweiler.

“Our charitable giving program is what we really hang our hats on at The Mitten Brewing Company,” says Andrus. “The impact we are able to make is a direct result of the support we receive from our customers and non-profit partners.”

With the help of its staff and customers, The Mitten has raised more than $100,000 for local organizations since opening in 2012.

The Challenge of Entrepreneurship

“It’s important for our 60-person staff to know this isn’t just another job,” says Andrus. “This is a place where each employee has an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Andrus also is proud to have an opportunity to connect with former faculty and classmates as The Mitten hosts many Alma College alumni events.

“The support from Alma College runs wide and deep, and there are a lot of successful people out there and a lot of wisdom and connectivity to draw from,” Andrus said.

“Entrepreneurship is tough to learn, but if you have that spark burning, you will run through 10 stop signs to get where you want to be,” he says. “Alma College teaches you how to be successful with your passions.”

Story published on October 04, 2016