So when one of his suppliers called him and wanted to give him a 1967 antique fire truck that had animals living in it and wheels that had sunken into the cement, he wasn’t interested in another project.
However, a call to his wife Rene changed his mind. “She said you call him back right now. If someone offers you a fire truck, you take it,” Greff said.
So the couple accepted the antique and had a brewery volunteer, who was an antique fire truck aficionado, fix it up with a rebuilt engine and removed the "squirrels from the glove box.”
The antique has been a part of the Corner Brewery since.
However, about two months ago, when Matt suggested to Rene a new home for the fire truck.
“How would you like a fire hall to go with your fire truck?” Rene said her husband asked her.
The couple has been chosen as a finalist to renovate the old Fenton Fire Hall along with Clarkston Union owner Curt Catallo (who we will introduce you to with a story Tuesday on Fenton Patch.) The Greffs met playing Ultimate Frisbee, opened a brewpub in India, they love beer and community and could be Fenton’s newest neighbor.
Meet Matt and Rene
He grew up in Detroit. She was raised in Bowling Green, Ohio. Their worlds collided at Kalamazoo College playing Ultimate Frisbee. They both studied abroad, Rene in France and Matt in Germany. That’s where Matt’s love affair with beer and the couple’s passion to be part of the community began.
“We love the pubs of Europe and how they were the focal point of the communities that they are in,” Matt said. “That’s where people go for births, deaths, wakes, celebrations, weddings. We loved that feel.”
Matt began brewing beer is his kitchen, but the two continued to work at their day jobs. Rene did graphic design and technical writing work and Matt worked as a health care consultant.
“It was painfully boring,” he said. “We really loved beer and brewing and I didn’t really like my job, so we said let’s take a risk and she what happens.”
Opening Arbor Brewing Company
The Greffs opened the seventh brewery in the state of Michigan in 1995 (currently there are now more than 100) in downtown Ann Arbor, which was the first in Washtenaw County. They followed by taking an old warehouse and turning it the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti in 2006. Matt said Arbor Brewing Company accounts for about three percent of beer sales in Michigan and they’d like to move to about 10 percent.
Beer in India?
Yes, that’s India, not Indiana as the Greffs are often asked.
The Greffs signed on as consultants to help build an Arbor Brewing Company modeled after the original ABC Brewpub in downtown Ann Arbor in India after Gaurav Sikka, a University of Michigan student and frequent ABC Brewpub patron connected them with the leaders of India’s craft beer movement.
“They are very into beer,” Matt Greff said.
The couple spent last winter in India helping get the brewpub ready. They enjoyed the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture, something they hadn’t been able to do since college. They even did a traditional Indian dance for their business partner’s wedding and practiced at a going away party at their pub before they left. (See attached YouTube video)
“We were living a normal everyday life in the middle of a city of nine million people with all the good things and bad things happening there,” Matt said. “It’s the most amazing experience we’ve ever had.”
From India to Fenton
After coming back from India, the Greffs said they weren’t thinking of expanding, but they heard about the Michigan Brewing Company foreclosure and the termination of the Fenton Downtown Development Authority/MBC lease through industry contacts. They followed up with the city, took a tour of the old Fenton Fire Hall and fell in love with the building.
“We are suckers for romantic locals,” Matt said. “We came out and looked at the building and once you start daydreaming about it, it’s a done deal.”
Rene said future expansion had been thought about in a touristy place, like Traverse City.
“Fenton was not on our radar,” Rene said. “But as soon as we came here we thought this is an amazing opportunity.”
Matt, who handles sales for Arbor Brewing Company, has spent time in Fenton and has helped put on beer events at The French Laundry. He said the area has been a good market for craft beer.
The couple, who enjoy running, biking and music, said they would bring activities and events to the Fenton, something they do often at their other locations, whether it’s live music, outdoor games, homebrew competitions or trivia.
The Greffs would also like to bring their energy saving, environmentally friendly attitude and business approach to the old Fenton Fire hall. They even would like to turn that old fire truck, perhaps running on biodiesel fuel from the brewpub, into a mobile draft system with multiple taps and take it around to festivals
“Our business truly reflects our personalities and its good for us what we care about also makes good business sense,” Matt said. “Our goal from the beginning has always been to be part of the community and you really need that to be competitive.”
The Fenton DDA is currently conducting a financial review of both Arbor Brewing Company and the Union joints and checking on their legal history.
The Old Fenton Fire Hall Selection Committee consisting of DDA member Tom Bertschy, DDA Vice Chairman Jim Saule and DDA member Doug James are expected to meet in a closed executive session for a final review of the proposals at 10 a.m. June 19 and then will make a recommendation to the DDA during its meeting at 6 p.m. later that night when the DDA is expected to vote for the finalist.
“They both have been great to work with. I wish the DDA had two buildings to give,” DDA Director Michael Burns said. “They are solid people with solid reputations and very good backgrounds. I think both would be successful.”