Eastern Kille anticipates December opening for new distillery, restaurant near Rockford
by Abby Poirier
Originally Published in Crain’s Grand Rapids Business
October 16, 2023
Almost a year after breaking ground on a new $4.2 million distillery and restaurant, Eastern Kille is anticipating opening the doors to its relocated home by the end of 2023.
The project, which will include a restaurant, an approximately 8,000-square-foot distillery and production space and an outdoor cocktail garden, broke ground in January. According to co-owner Brandon Voorhees, the restaurant and distillery are nearing completion, and crews recently installed new signage for the project at 7755 Childsdale Ave. NE in Plainfield Township, near Rockford.
“It’s been a long process and it feels a little surreal to now walk into a building that looks very much like a finished product,” Voorhees said. “We’re getting close.”
While the distillery has not yet set an opening date, Voorhees said the company hopes to open the doors in December.
The restaurant, which will include approximately 4,000 square feet of dining space, marks a new venture for Eastern Kille. Guests will be treated to a variety of small plates and appetizers, while pizza takes the bulk of the main menu.
The philosophy for Eastern Kille is simple but polished, said Voorhees, who co-founded the company with Steve Vander Pol.
“One thing that really drew us to pizza is very similar to what drew us to spirits: the right ingredients, and you don’t need many of them,” Voorhees said. “Whiskey is corn, rye, barley, water and yeast, and you can transform a spirit into something awesome. That’s what we loved about pizza. Pizza dough is a few ingredients, and we want to use the best toppings and ingredients that we can to turn something simple into something delicious.”
The dining space will feature soaring ceilings and a 32-foot wall of windows overlooking Eastern Kille’s 16-acre plot of field and forest. Voorhees said the space was designed with high ceilings for both functionality, creating more storage space in production, and to offer a unique view for customers.
“You feel like you’re in the woods even though you’re indoors,” he added.
Eastern Kille worked with Mathison | Mathison Architects to design the project, while Wolverine Building Group served as general contractor.
“I think they nailed it,” Voorhees said. “We’re super proud of the way that it’s turned out and we hope that patrons enjoy it when they get to step foot in as well.”
The atmosphere will be “upscale, but casual,” offering a dining experience that the company hopes will be unlike any other in West Michigan.
“Pizza is casual, but pizza done well can be mind-blowing, and we really want to make the best pizza that we possibly can and pair that with what we think is a really great cocktail program,” Voorhees said.
The kitchen at Eastern Kille will be led by Stephen Kolavo, formerly the head chef at Tex-Mex restaurant Anemel in Benton Harbor. Kolavo, who Voorhees said was looking to move back to the Grand Rapids area, comes with a “wealth of knowledge and a passion for kitchens” that makes him a great choice to lead Eastern Kille into its next chapter.
Altogether, the restaurant will seat approximately 100 customers when it opens this winter. Eastern Kille will add outdoor dining options as the weather warms, seating an estimated 100 more.
The restaurant will serve cocktails made with Eastern Kille’s spirits, but eventually, the company plans to apply for additional licenses to serve a range of wine, beers and ciders.
The new Eastern Kille facility, which adjoins White Pine Trail, will also feature fire pits and space for diners to explore and enjoy the outdoor space. The location also may eventually host weddings and events on the property’s open field.
Located directly next door to Third Nature Brewing Company, Eastern Kille will offer a space for hikers, joggers and bikers on White Pine Trail to enjoy a cocktail and a meal.
“We’re hoping to create a really cool destination on Childsdale,” Voorhees said. “I think people are really going to love (the space.) It’s unique, it feels a little bit different and being there in the woods, you can have an indoor/outdoor experience surrounded by nature. People have really gravitated toward that style of restaurant and that style of service.”
More booze ahead
In addition to a new suite of guest experiences, the move also allows Eastern Kille to increase its spirits production. With a new 1,000-gallon stripping still and a larger kettle, Voorhees said he anticipates producing three to four times more spirits annually.
The owners believe the future of Eastern Kille lies in its whiskey portfolio. As such, the company plans to lean into whiskey production at the new facility, introducing new items and starting a barrel finishing program while increasing production of staple spirits.
“Right now, we’re just a little tight with it when it comes to inventory and it doesn’t provide a whole lot of flexibility when we go to enter a new market, or if at some point we want to expand outside of Michigan,” Voorhees said. “This is just going to give us flexibility.
“Whiskey takes a while, so even though we’ll be scaling up production next year, that product won’t be available for another four or five years, so we’ve got some time to figure out where the market trends are (and) see if we’re going to add a completely new product line, or if we want to expand into other markets, or just grow the market that we have here in our home state.”
Production at the new location is slated to begin by early next year, contingent on the transfer of Easter Kille’s production license from its distillery at 700 Ottawa Ave. NW.
Eastern Kille’s Ottawa Avenue cocktail bar remains open through the end of the year, but the company has moved the distilling equipment to the new location.
The property sold to Corewell Health in June 2021 for $3.75 million, more than 10 times the amount of the distillery’s initial property investment, and is slated for demolition to create parking spaces for the health system’s new campus in Grand Rapids’ Monroe North neighborhood.
The distillery also operates a tasting room at 634 Wealthy Street, which is unaffected by these changes.
“We’re really excited,” Voorhees said. “We think (this is) going to be something pretty cool for the area and we hope a lot of our customers from Grand Rapids are willing to make that drive north to come find us up here.”