Shaw Thoughts: Unique businesses can be worth the risk

2013-09-23T14:18:00Z Shaw Thoughts: Unique businesses can be worth the riskAndy Shaw nwitimes.com
September 23, 2013 2:18 pm  • 

“The only difference between you and me,” he said, “is that you’re afraid to take chances to make money and I’m not.”

“He” was my late brother-in-law Patrick J. Gallagher, who made and lost several fortunes before multiple addictions cost him his wife, and later, his life.

We were on a lazy afternoon stroll after a boozy lunch in Acapulco, Mexico, in the winter of 1980, during a family vacation that included our two infants.

Gallagher was spot on—I’d watched our Shaw family finances collapse under a sea of gambling debts when I was in college, and it left me with a “Depression Era” mentality, so I treasured every dollar like it was my last.

I was happy to work and play hard, and support others in their entrepreneurial endeavors, but me: I wasn’t rolling dice, doubling down or betting on the come, and it’s been that way ever since.

I pinch pennies, squeeze quarters, and paraphrase Dr. Seuss’s description of the Oft, who weighed “minus one pound,” when I brag about spending “minus one dollar” on lunch.

That’s just the way it is.

But risk-averse as I may be, I’ve always admired those who do take chances. I encouraged Mary to open a Bed & Breakfast Inn in Chicago, and build a new Michigan summer home for the family.

I watched from the sidelines and cheered for the home team.

And I’ve enjoyed following the neighborhood exploits of my friend, restaurateur Sean Tehrani, who’s opened and closed several creative eateries along Clark Street in Lincoln Park while managing his superb Basil Leaf Café.

So of course I was rooting for the young Indiana couple that started Rolling Stone Bakers in Beverly Shores.

They built baking ovens atop old Studebaker bodies and began tooling around Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan selling creative and delicious pizzas.

The hours are long and the risk is real, but that’s what entrepreneurialism is all about.

I had the same warm feeling when Scott Sullivan explained his plan for a new brewery in Sawyer, which was little more than an Exit 12 truck stop until the refurbished Garden Center began to attract customers, and Fitzgerald’s gave Sawyer Road an interesting dining establishment.

Scott had home brewing and restaurant experience, he knew other brewers, he understood the tastes of beer drinkers, and he realized the area had a crying need for “in spots” to chill at, which helps explain why his Greenbush Brewery, adjacent to Fitzgerald’s and the Garden Center, is packed day and night.

Craft Breweries are the rage these days.

Friends in Chicago launched Half Acre on Lincoln Avenue a few years ago, featuring my favorite, the ultra-hoppy Daisy Cutter, and now they can’t keep up with demand.

“If you brew it, they will come,” or so it seems, and now it’s on to Bridgman, where Joe Rudnick, a 39-year-old engineer from Mattawan, and Greg Korson, a 44-year-old accountant who’s living in St. Joe, gave up their corporate day jobs to follow their hearts and launch Tapistry Brewing Co. in a couple vacant storefronts on Lake Street.

Like Sullivan, the pair spent a few years exploring breweries in Michigan and hatching batches at home before taking the big sudsy splash in the town that’s been our getaway for thirty years.

And now Lake Street, like Sawyer Road, is filled with cars after years of mostly empty parking spots.

Bridgman gave the new brewers some tax breaks and grant money to launch the brewery, and the owners’ sweat equity and savings provided the rest.

“It’s a cool little town,” Rudnick told an interviewer recently. “It’s a close-knit community. For us it’s a no-brainer. It’s a great spot.”

Tapistry has more than a dozen beers—strong, hoppy, malty and everything in between—and a pleasant bar menu of sandwiches and snacks.

It’s still a work in progress, but they’re off to a great start.

And their arrival signals an apparent revival in Downtown Bridgman, where there’s now talk of a new restaurant, other businesses and maybe even a new motel.

Bring it on.

And while they’re at it, I hope Bridgman officials eventually recognize the potential of their municipal gem, Weco Beach, where sand and surf and magnificent sunsets would attract hundreds of taxpaying customers to the Margarita bar I’ve always visualized on that site.

Southwest Michigan has plenty of entrepreneurs who would jump at the chance if local leaders ever shed their no-booze-on-public-lakefront property mentality, as Chicago pols did in their lakefront parks years ago.

The tax revenues would be welcome, and it could be regulated easily if they have a good plan going in.

Heck—I might even confront my lifelong fear of financial risk-taking by investing in that one.

I’d like to prove Gallagher wrong. Finally.

And I’ll take mine on the rocks, please, not frozen.

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