Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale Returns to REO Town

Jeremy Sprague needed a new home for his microbrewery. Ryan Wert needed a tenant for the building he wished to buy. And REO Town-goers needed more options for a night cap. Solutions came, as they sometimes do, via lunch.

“Jeremy and I are friends. I see him probably weekly, at least,” said Wert, who is executive director of the REO Town Commercial Association. “I hounded him every time we had lunch, until he said, ‘I’ll look at REO Town.’’’

The result will be the relaunch of Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale, a microbrewery that is expected to open in the summer of 2017 at its new location at 1101 S. Washington Ave. The brewery was started in 2014 at the Allen Market Place building on Kalamazoo Street but went on hiatus last year after a partnership split.

“It’s an exciting time for REO Town,” said Sprague, Sleepwalker’s president, head brewer and founding partner. “I used to live not far from there. I know the area quite well. I used to go to (the original) Ramon’s (restaurant on Washington) all the time with my dad when I was a kid.”

Sprague said the timing of his need and that of Wert was fortunate. “Timing is everything. The fact that they were doing this (building purchase) while I was looking for a place was kind of remarkable,” Sprague said.

Even without a physical presence, Sleepwalker was already a familiar brand in REO Town. “As Sleepwalker was in its early stages, we started using their stuff for a lot of our REO Town events,” Wert said. “They were our exclusive beer at our events.”

To Wert, Sleepwalker is a key part of the next phase of rejuvenation for REO Town. It is one of two bars (along with the Rusty Nail) scheduled to open along that stretch of Washington this year, joining REO Town Pub.

“Obviously, REO Town has had a good five years. Especially the last year or two have been very strong,” Wert said. “We’ve had a lot of restaurants move in the last two years, but not many bars.”

“One of the economic development buzzwords is to create an 18-hour district, so there’s stuff to do 18 hours a day,” Wert said. While REO Town’s eating options and roster of events have been growing, “it was just REO Town Pub after six o’clock.”

“There are so many more bodies in the evening now, with few options,” Wert said. “It’ll be a really good thing in extending the daily life of the neighborhood.”

Sprague welcomes the competition as something that will bring in more people, in turn benefiting all.

“I’m really praying REO Town gets a few more eateries and even a couple more watering holes,” Sprague said. “I think in the next 12-18 months, it’ll be a really desirable place to go.”
Sprague said customers should expect the same lineup of beers as in the old location: “They’ll be able to come back for everything we had … everything we’ve done, I want to preserve all of it. We were on the right track.”

The new 1,650 sq. ft. facility is expected to have 14 taps and an occupancy of up to 60 people. Sleepwalker will be “serving everything from grinders to pizzas, even some cold sandwiches,” Sprague said, in addition to a bar side deli case that will include cheeses, meats and pickles to go.

“I’m a huge Zingerman’s fan,” Sprague said of the legendary Ann Arbor delicatessen. “I don’t know why we can’t have something like that in Lansing.”

But, “the mission will be the same as ever,” Sprague said. “We want people to be able to come in, turn off their waking minds and relax.”

“Aesthetically speaking, what we’re going to be looking at is a good reflection of Lansing and of REO Town … it definitely will have some of the grittiness that you’d expect, being in that incredible industrial area,” Sprague said.

REO Town was considered for the original Sleepwalker back in 2014.

“At that time, REO Town wasn’t looking so hot,” Sprague said. But the opening of a new Board of Water & Light facility in the neighborhood proved to be a catalyst for nearby development.

“Once that happened, things started looking more appealing,” Sprague said. “Some new businesses started moving in.”

Sprague appreciates the Allen neighborhood’s help in getting his business launched.

“The east side is a wonderful part of town. I was excited being a part of changing that part of Kalamazoo (Street),” Sprague said. “Being the sole survivor of Sleepwalker at Allen Market Place, I had to think, where could I get the same support?”

“I needed a place that felt like home and felt like family,” Sprague said.

While the original Sleepwalker relied on a pool of 57 investors, the relaunch will involve one or two partners, Sprague said. “I believe, I’m hoping they’re already lined up. We have a lot of interest, let me put it that way.”
Sprague hopes to eventually reintroduce spirits to his product lineup and open an adjacent second location offering specialty coffees and light fare. “It’ll basically be a tasting room, but it’s going to be petite,” he said.

But rapid expansion beyond that isn’t planned.

“Our goal was never to become a Founders [Brewing Co., a popular Grand Rapids-based brewer],” Sprague said. “I would much rather start much smaller to make sure we are treating our customers and employees the right way.”

Regardless of size, the goal is getting it right, Sprague said.

“We’re not going to exist without REO Town. We won’t exist without good employees. We won’t exist without a good product.

To keep up with Sleepwalker’s reopening, check its website at drinksleepwalker.com.

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Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija is an adjunct journalism instructor at Michigan State University. Prior to that, he was a columnist and reporter at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Review-Journal, where he covered the development and launch of that city's Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) bus rapid transit system and the Las Vegas Monorail.

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