Sweetwater’s plans to open this year
Sweetwater’s Donut Mill could be open for business in Plainwell by December.
Ridgeview Franchise Ltd. announced its plans last fall for a location that would serve as one of the iconic, west Michigan donut shops and also as a corporate headquarters and franchise training center. It signed a purchase agreement with Plainwell in November for four parcels of land at the west end of the former Plainwell Paper Mill property.
Monday, July 24, council members approved the site plan for the 1.61-acre project, at 554 W. Allegan St., at the traffic light where Prince Street meets M-89.
Ridgeview vice president Rick Schell Jr. said the 4,125-square-foot building would employ 25 to 30 and be open 24 hours daily with drive-through service.
“The goal is to use this for franchise training,” Schell said. “It’s going to be a nice facility, it’s going to be upscale, and it meets all requirements. The goal is to be open November-December.”
City manager Erik Wilson said, “This is new construction on the mill site, which is great to see.”
Ridgeview president Chris Olsen said roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of the location’s business would be wholesale, mostly serving customers to the north.
Ridgeview will seek next to have the central business district zoning of the parcel switch to Commercial-2 to allow for a ground-mounted sign. Wilson said that was in line with the mill property’s master plan and matches the zoning across M-89 at the Wesco gas station.
Olsen said they expect to break ground in August after the rezoning and closing on the land sale. By the end of September, significant construction could be underway.
“The building will be very familiar with what people are used to,” Olsen said, referring to the other Sweetwater’s locations, two in Kalamazoo and one in Battle Creek. “This will, though, be double if not triple the size of a normal store because it accommodates a conference room and offices for franchising but also a kitchen that is over double the normal size for training. This is all in addition to the normal Sweetwater’s experience with the retail store in front with a refreshed look and fee.”
“It’ll serve as the template for franchise expansion across the country.” He said there were already 15 parties interested in opening franchises.
“We’re very confident. We’re projecting anywhere from 10 to 12 in Michigan,” Olsen said. “We’re focusing on Michigan. One of the important reasons of why we ended up in Plainwell was because of the partnership approach the city took to really differentiate themselves over other municipalities.”
He said they want to repeat the experience their customers are used to.
“We’ll still have 50-plus donut varieties, really giving people that choice, that event, to go fill up a box of donuts,” Olsen said.
Olsen and Schell are two of the four principals of Ridgeview Franchise Ltd.; the other two partners are Kalamazoo attorney Steve Hessen and Greg Garner.
Garner and his wife Trish currently run the three current Sweetwater locations, having taken over from the business’s founders, John and Kathy Garner. The first location opened in 1983 on Stadium Drive with, according to its Facebook page, “the idea of a rustic, hometown donut shop which made big, gooey donuts, good coffee and provided a relaxed atmosphere.”
Olsen said the new site would have some technology advances to make for a better experience.
“Trying to integrate the drive-through, as an example,” he said. “We’re going to have a menu board and ordering system to expedite the process—so that someone in the morning on their way to 131 is going to be able to get their donut and coffee in 30 seconds or less.”
He said the months between last fall and now were spent negotiating with the city on the best agreement.
“We worked together to make sure that the sale of the property was done in a way that was good for the city and Sweetwater’s because of its previous status as a Superfund site,” Olsen said. That involved obtaining what is known as a “comfort letter” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that essentially acknowledges the land’s previous use, the EPA’s actions on the site and the fact that it will now be used commercially.
That is separate, Olsen said, from the usual testing and compaction studies that were performed on the property leading up the sale.
Wilson said, “Like every other development on the mill site, this was complicated. But it’s good, it’s new construction and its activity and Sweetwater’s is a great name.”
Wilson also said the city had won a $65,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to cover some of the cost of constructing 320 feet of Prince Street north of the traffic light, which will be modified to account for four directions of traffic.
Contact Ryan Lewis at email@example.com or (269) 673-5534.