What is next for Batch Brewing? Stephen Roginson’s answer might surprise you. Hint: It might have to do with community.
The street names and directions are familiar: follow signs for Rosa Parks Blvd, merge onto W. Fischer Service, and turn right on Trumbull. Like a ghost, Ernie Harwell’s voice popped into my head as we passed the park where the Tiger’s stadium once stood, the voice I most associate with Detroit and long, hot summer evenings.
Chuck’s voice filled the car, “Man, has this area changed.”
“Turn left on Porter,” Google said before I could ask Chuck to share why he was feeling that way. We were in the heart of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood. We parked near an enormous Mike Han mural. I wanted to run across the mural, following a thick white line, and pretend I was in a maze. Sprinkled across the mural are tables and umbrellas inviting you to sit and have a beer at Batch Brewing.
We were here to chat with Stephen Roginson, the owner of Batch Brewing. He’d posted on Social Media, “…and so it begins. Pardon the dust as we replace the dumpster enclosure with a stage! Live music. Community meetings. Film. All sorts of stuff that’s better than that stupid dumpster. If the stars align, we should be done in mid-July.”
We sat with Stephen in the beer garden. You may remember it as the pavilion once affectionately called Fauci’s Fieldhouse. The vibe reminded me of a Spanish public square. A volunteer was collecting signatures for a ballot initiative. Bark Nation, a non-profit organization, was kicking off its Summer Beer Tour fundraiser. Happy dogs played between the tables. A family sat near us; a mom was nursing a tiny baby, and a toddler was eating lunch. Grandma and dad were handing out napkins.
Batch Brewing Facelift
During the pandemic, the brewery and restaurant got a facelift of sorts. “I wanted to lighten the colors and the air. I wanted it to feel less cluttered, a little more minimal,” Roginson said. “There’s still a lot of communal dining, but there are a few small tables. It just feels a little bit more, like a refined experience. We can do all the ridiculous nonsense out here, now that I want the stage.”
“Tell us about the stage,” I asked. Stephen nodded his head towards the shipping container at the end of the pavilion.
“When I build a stage over here, I can have shows with 500 people outdoors. The stage will be on the other side of the shipping container. It is going to be the same general footprint as the pavilion. As wide as high, and it will be 16 feet deep. It’s going to be a legit stage. It’s a six-inch concrete riser, a step up. We can put in a riser for a bigger show and do a hip-high thing. There’ll be a 15 to 20-foot moat between the pavilion and the stage. Standing room if it’s a band that people want to be closer to. There will still be seating back here, more congregation space. I’m going to cut a hole through the train car. There will be a service window out to the beer garden.”
Stephen’s Hobby Land
With a laugh, Stephen says, “I keep bringing my hobbies to work. I brought my home brew hobby. And then my barbecue. And now my music hobby. So here we are, Stephen’s hobby land.” LOL. And I thought my puzzle hobby was out of control.
“What is it you want? Beyond your hobby land?” I asked him.
“I don’t have any desire to become the next big distributing brewery that has all the headaches of a 15-state territory. I just don’t want that. It’s not a priority. So what is it that I want? What I want to do is have a place that is the place that you have to go. When you come to Detroit, you have to check this place. There’s art there. Beer is amazing. The food is killer. They have live music. If you go to Detroit and you don’t go to this place. You missed the thing. Yeah. That’s what I want. I also want to make sure that while we’re doing that, it’s the most welcoming place for the locals.
It’s important to do that deliberately, especially in one of the blackest towns in the United States.
What am I doing deliberately to make sure every resident in the city of Detroit, if they were to walk in here, would feel loved? It starts with music. And art. And the menu.
You can’t make somebody excited about craft beer, but you can open the door. If we want to be deliberate about being a member of the community, we need to make sure that the community knows where the door is in the first place.”
I recognize our next question is self-serving, but we need an excellent brewery to open in our neighborhood (hint: Pittsfield Township just south of I-94 off Ann Arbor-Saline). It is like a brewery desert here on the south end of Ann Arbor (yes, more self-serving hints). Stephen’s response wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Do you think you could do this anywhere else?
Stephen said, “I know for a fact that I could not do this anywhere else. Most importantly, because I couldn’t afford to do this anywhere else. Matter of fact, not only could I not do this anywhere else; I couldn’t do this here now. Oh, doing this here now would be so much more expensive, not as expensive as trying to do it in Chicago.
There was something, some confluence of synchronous, that allowed me, inspired me, brought me to, you know, this place in time to do this thing. I’m incredibly grateful.
Detroit energy is real. Also, Detroit knows if you’re faking it or not. If you’re going to open a business here, you really need to be aware of where you’re opening your business, or who you think your business is for, but who your business could be for.”
Porter Street Night Market
It was 90 degrees that day, but I shivered when Stephen started telling us about another project he was working on with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. “I just did a soft launch for something we’re calling the Porter Street Night Market. This year it’s once a month as we test it out. But next year, the plan is every Friday night. We’re going to shut down Porter Street from Trumbull down to Eighth. And we’re going to have about 150 10X10 tents of vendors: exile jewelry, art, wearable or not, food. It’s to help incubate and launch the most nascent of small businesses. We are specifically trying to create a low barrier of entry for Black and Latinx owned businesses.
I want to make deliberate choices about my business’s impact on the community. That’s always been part of the ethos here.”
I couldn’t help thinking we should have bought a condo in Corktown.
Charivari Worldwide Music Festival
“Are there any other festivals cooking?” I asked. Stephen had an answer, “We do the Octoberfest every year. It’s one of our big things that will probably grow. We are announcing on Tuesday a partnership between a group of independent breweries in Detroit and the Charivari Worldwide Music Festival. It is in August and is the second biggest electronic music festival in Detroit.
They came to me about sponsorship, and I absolutely wanted to do it, but as I thought about it, it’s like I can find some money. I can put my brand on it. But you know there is something that would be a lot more fun. I went to my colleagues, and they’re now six breweries participating, and we’re doing this Detroit Brewery Garden. Also, it is more fun to do it with your friends. It’s Batch, Brew Detroit, Faison, Eastern Market, Motor City, and Tenacity. All of the independents. A cool cross-promotion for the next six weeks until the festival launches. This is what I’m talking about, reaching out to communities that might not know who you are. They never felt like there was a reason for them to visit.”
Take Care of your Neighbors
The answer to the question, what is next for Batch Brewing is really very simple. It is community. I think Stephen said it best when we were talking about the impact of the pandemic. “The big takeaway from COVID, you need to take care of your backyard, take care of your neighbor, neighborhood.”
There are more pictures in our gallery. Drop-in and check them out.
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