DECATUR, MI — Spencer Macko — a regular at Final Gravity Brewing Co.’s downtown Kalamazoo location — had an unusual question.
He wanted to know if the mobile wood-fired pizza oven there could produce 80 pizzas in an hour. Brewery co-owner Kevin Christensen said he thought 60 personal pizzas would be the maximum, but the full kitchen at the brewery’s original location in Decatur can easily crank out that many. Macko is Safety, Environment and Health Manager at Graphic Packaging Inc., a leading manufacturer of recycled paper and cardboard and converting company. As a way to reward the employees, deemed essential workers during the pandemic, and to show support to one of his favorite breweries during COVID-19 shutdown, he placed an order for about 350 pizzas.
“I was surprised. I was pleasantly surprised,” Christensen said.
At noon and midnight on April 14 and April 16, Christensen and the team at Final Gravity in Decatur delivered about 80 personal pizzas for the employees at the GPI plant at 1421 N. Pitcher St. in Kalamazoo. Kevin and his wife, Trina, and two of the brewery’s cooks, made around 80 pizzas for each delivery. They made the 35-minute drive with the 12-inch pizzas in hot boxes and served the GPI employees in four installments. After the noon session, they returned to the brewery to prepare for the midnight order and repeated the same process. Two days later, they did it all over again.
“I think I laid my head down at 3 o’clock in the morning. It was a long day, but in these kinds of times, you’ve got to do what you got to do. When the opportunities come along, I’m not going to say, ‘Ah, that’s too much work.’ I’m very thankful to Spencer,’” Christensen said.
The massive order came during a period of great uncertainty for the brewery and nearly a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer executive order required he shut down operations.
Final Gravity filed for the Small Business Association’s Payroll Protection Program and other grant and loan opportunities, but little-to-no money flowed in and bills stacked up with no clear end in sight. The Decatur location is also in the process of completing the installation of its new 15-barrel brewhouse — an expensive project in uncertain times.
“The most challenging thing is trying to plan for something that you do not have any idea of the circumstances,” he said. “The rules are changing so fast. It seems like as soon as you react to an order, it changes. We all just keep telling ourselves to roll up your sleeves and stay the course.
“It definitely helped a ton,” Christensen said of the timing of the food order.
At GPI, Macko and plant manager Jim Dice said they knew anxiety would be high at the company during the pandemic. They decided to provide lunch and be available to answer questions from employees, Macko said. Macko also knew other local businesses, particularly local restaurants and breweries, were hurting financially.
“We recognized that we could help a couple of small businesses while at the same time show appreciation to the employees that were coming to work every day. There were a lot of stories about small Kalamazoo businesses that had immediately felt the negative financial impact of the executive orders. The management team couldn’t help but feel some sympathy towards them so we began selecting businesses that had been hit hard and are having them cater lunches every couple of weeks. Being good stewards of Graphic Packaging means being good neighbors and supporting local businesses,” Macko said.
Macko and his wife moved to Kalamazoo five years ago and made it a point to visit the city’s breweries early on to help get more acquainted with their new home.
“We have met some wonderful people, made great friends and tasted some excellent beer,” he said. “What appeals to us about Final Gravity is, of course some of the best beer you’ll find anywhere, but also the unbelievably friendly atmosphere. We fell in love with the place on our first visit. Kevin and his staff are some of the nicest and down to earth people you’ll ever meet. You know you’ve found your place when they know your name when you walk in the door.”
“This event provided by Spencer and the management of Graphics Packaging is a testament to the Kalamazoo business and their goodwill to see that we all get through this together — big and small,” Christensen said.
Final Gravity in Decatur is open for takeout and to-go beer orders starting at 4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and at noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Call 269-436-8052. The Kalamazoo location offers takeout food and pizza on Fridays and Saturdays only 269-350-5136.
Read how faith, social media savvy and quick thinking helped Presidential Brewing Co. revamp during COVID-19.