Alum brothers from Notre Dame open new micro-brewery in Oxford.
Notre Dame alums Jeff (’04) and Joe (’00) Powers recently were putting the finishing touches on HomeGrown Brewing Company, a new family-owned microbrewery that opened April 12 in downtown Oxford. They’ve been working day and night since early fall of last year when it was first announced that the brothers along with their mom and dad and sister, Katie, were planning to transform the former Veterans Memorial Civic Center in downtown Oxford into the HomeGrown Brewing Company.
How the brothers got to his point, however, was on decidedly different roads — two roads that ultimately came together nicely to complement north-Oakland County’s newest showcase of craft beers and house-made food.
Joe’s road. . .
After graduating from Notre Dame in 2000, Joe Powers headed north to the Upper Peninsula to study engineering.
“After ND, I went to Michigan Tech and loved every minute of it, including exploring the U.P.,” he said. “Keeping up with the engineering program there was a bit intense, so I was glad I had paid attention in math and physics class at Notre Dame, for sure. I also think ND gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and to apply my skills to a range of career paths.”
After graduating from MTU, Joe worked as an environmental engineer for more than 10 years in Florida as well as in the U.P., then it was to New Zealand and Australia for more engineering work.
“I loved the work, but I was also always really passionate about home-brewing and beer craft,” he said. “When my family decided that the time was right to open a brewery in Oxford, coming back to Michigan and branching into brewery management was a very easy choice to make.”
Jeff’s road. . .
Jeff Powers, on the other hand, in a prime left-brain/right brain example of how two members of the same family can take completely different career paths, went south after graduating from Notre Dame and enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Yes, I went in the other direction, figuratively and literally, and went south to college,” said Jeff, who studied illustration at SCAD. “Georgia has a completely different culture to Michigan. But like, Joe, Notre Dame gave me the confidence to branch out, follow a different career choice than the rest of my family, and make the most of living in a very different part of the States.”
After school, Jeff went into digital/graphic design work.
“The work I did was pretty fast-paced and kept me on my toes,” Jeff said. “I also spent some time in L.A. focusing on the advertising/film side of things before I moved back to Michigan to go into a project management position in the automotive industry. But I’ve always kept up some casual work in the music and hospitality industry. I never really loved 9-5 desk jobs, so stepping in to manage the front of house at the brewery made perfect sense to me.”
John and Marie Powers, Joe and Jeff’s parents, also think it made perfect sense to get the family involved. John is the brewmaster at HomeGrown and Marie has been responsible for its interior design. Joe is brewer and production manager at HBC; Joe’s wife, Kate, assists as media liaison; and Jeff oversees brand design and is general manager. Their sister, Katie, takes care of social media promotion.
“Between engineers, designers, artists, managers and journalists, we feel very lucky to have so much collective knowledge in the family,” mom Marie said. “It’s been great to see all of that translate into such a wonderful business.”
When it opens today at 4 p.m., the brewery will showcase six flagship beers as well as two seasonal batches on rotation, according to brewmaster John. The permanent beer menu includes a cream ale, a Belgian wheat, an Australian-hopped IPA, a nutty brown, a rich stout, and an original style John is calling a “whamber,” a combination of amber ale and wheat styles.
For Joe, who admits he’s more than a bit of a math and science geek, brewing beer may not seem like the logical step. “But,” he said, “there’s actually a lot more science involved than people often realize.”
“Crafting great beer requires things like calculating malt-sugar content and water chemistry, using microbiology to cultivate yeast and using ‘counter-pressure’ kegging systems,” Joe said. “It’s an engineer’s dream. I also get to feel like a mad scientist with all the shiny brewing equipment!”
“Our logo says so much about what our brewery stands for,” he added. “For me, getting to do digital mock-ups of the brewery, and designing all the artwork – murals, logos, merchandise – has been like having a blank canvas. It’s awesome to be putting my design skills into something I really believe in. And now that we are opening the brewery, managing people is now a huge part of my job, so developing interpersonal skills throughout high school, college and during my previous career has also definitely paid off for me.”
Notre Dame memories
Jeff has fond memories of his time at Notre Dame. “Art was definitely my forté at school, and I was lucky to have Mr. Smith as my art teacher,” he said. “He believed in my work and I think I was the only kid allowed to take four art electives! Unlike some other prep schools, ND recognized that it was something I could — and should — make a career out of, and gave me the space to do that.”
For Joe, to no one’s surprise, he enjoyed the heck out of math at Notre Dame. “My favorite teacher was Mr. Borton, my math teacher,” he said. “I learned a lot from him, and he managed to make learning fun. I also actually miss the sports element of ND. Jeff and I were both big into the school’s athletic programs and I still catch up with some of the guys I played football with.”
Joe also said he and his brother appreciated the sense of community and family they both experienced at Notre Dame.
“Starting a business like this has made us realize just how important community is,” he said. “Family and friends have been our biggest champions in this venture, and the wider Notre Dame community continues to be an essential part of that.”
HomeGrown’s grand opening is Wednesday, April 12, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
HomeGrown Brewing Co.
28 N. Washington
Oxford, MI 48371
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Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.