Throughout Oxford’s history this well-known downtown building had been a place where avid readers borrowed books, military veterans gathered, residents voted, public officials conducted government business and senior citizens played bingo and socialized.
Now, 28 N. Washington St., formerly known as the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center, is poised to start a new chapter as a craft brewery and restaurant.
On Friday night, HomeGrown Brewing Company held an open house to give folks an opportunity to sample its craft beers and food while touring the renovated two-story, 5,318-square-foot building. The structure served as Oxford’s public library from the 1920s through 1930s and had been owned by the township government, which used it for civic and community purposes from 1980 until its August 2015 sale for $450,000.
Nearly 300 people attended the event and approximately 1,300 beer samples (5 ounces each) were served, according to General Manager Jeff Powers.
HomeGrown Brewing Company is the very first craft brewery to open its doors in Oxford.
“We wish them luck. Welcome to the neighborhood,” said Oxford resident Abbey Moss, who attended with her fiance Curtis Caetano.
Owned and operated by Addison Township residents John and Marie Powers, HomeGrown Brewing is scheduled to have its much-anticipated grand opening on Wednesday, April 12 from 4 to 10 p.m.
Since the coming of HomeGrown Brewing was announced on the front-page of the Leader in August 2015, people have been waiting and wondering when it was going to open.
“We’ve been following it for the last year or so,” said Brandon Township resident Stephanie Boroniec, who attended the open house with Chad Goffar, also of Brandon.
“We usually stop at the bar across the street and we’re always peeking out the window to see if it’s open yet,” Goffar said.
HomeGrown was originally supposed to be up and running sometime last year, but the couple didn’t want to cut corners or settle for anything less than their hearts’ desire.
“The reason it took so long is because we wanted to get it right,” John said. “I think we’ve hit it right on the head.”
“We’re really happy with how it turned out,” Marie said. “It’s pretty much exactly as we had envisioned it.”
During the open house, folks were able to sample five of HomeGrown Brewing’s six flagship beers – the ones that will be on tap year-round. They are Oxford Ale (American cream ale), Pollyann Witbier (Belgian wheat beer), Whamber Ale (amber ale), Avery Brown (English brown ale), Ruck-A-Chuck IPA (India Pale Ale) and Steamboat Stout (American stout).
The two most popular beers at the open house were Ruck-A-Chuck IPA followed by Oxford Ale, according to Jeff Powers.
All of them are brewed on-site.
HomeGrown has six fermentation tanks, each capable of making five barrels of beer. One barrel equals 31 gallons.
HomeGrown tries to use as many Michigan-based ingredients as possible. Some of the malts come from MotorCity MaltHouse in Shelby Township. The yeast is from Craft Cultures in Hancock, the northernmost city in Michigan. And the hops are from MI Local Hops, located in Williamsburg, near Traverse City.
John noted they are looking to get hops from Top Hops Farm in Goodrich as well.
HomeGrown’s suds drew rave reviews at the open house.
“Fabulous beer,” said Bekka Seelbach, of Ferndale, who came with her father, Jerry Seelbach, of Brandon Township. “It’s just good, quality beer. They’re not doing anything overly fancy with it.”
Compared to other craft brews, Goffar said, “I think it’s right up there. I’d be back for the beer alone.”
Because man cannot live by beer alone – although there are those who try – HomeGrown Brewing offers a full menu featuring salads, small plates, pasta, sandwiches and desserts.
“We’re a scratch kitchen.” Marie said. “Everything’s made in house – the bacon, the bread, the sauces.”
“The menu is basically elevated comfort food,” explained Head Chef Clifton Booth. “It’s just stuff that makes us feel good.”
During the open house, folks were able to sample five items. They included:
• Pulled pork sandwich with apple mostarda (a sweet and tangy Northern Italian condiment) on housemade focaccia bread with arugula.
• “Greens and Grains,” a warm salad with cooked mushrooms, kale, barley and feta cheese.
• Smoked chicken salad sandwich.
• Beet and goat cheese crostini.
• Housemade pretzel bites with a beer cheese that’s made using Oxford Ale.
“I try to use the beer that we have in as many dishes as I possibly can,” Booth noted.
The food was very well-received.
“We’ve had about three helpings of the pretzels,” Bekka Seelbach said.
Cardi and Janet Demonaco, of Eastpointe, loved the “Greens and Grains” salad. It should be noted they might be a little biased because their son, Adam, is one of the cooks.
Those attending the open house also found HomeGrown Brewing’s decor and atmosphere quite appealing.
“It’s got that hometown, casual atmosphere,” said Bekka Seelbach. “A lot of the places down by me (in Ferndale) tend to have a very trendy, modern-type of atmosphere. This is definitely more laid-back.”
Her father, Jerry Seelbach, agreed.
“It’s homey,” he said.
The two enjoyed relaxing on the second floor in comfortable, vintage chairs as they sipped beer by the fireplace and chatted away.
“We haven’t moved from this spot in about 20 minutes,” Bekka said. “It’s like being in your own living room.”
“We’re sitting here by the fire, drinking a beer – it doesn’t get much better than that,” Jerry said.
Other special touches include dart boards and oversized versions of checkers and tic-tac-toe mounted on the walls near the front entrance.
Sitting at the bar on the main floor, Moss said, “I like that it’s light and open. You don’t feel like you’re in a dark dungeon. Some of the craft breweries are really dark and closed in. I like that you can see what’s happening and check it all out.”
Looking at the vintage Edison lightbulbs hanging overhead, Caetano said, “It’s got a really cool industrial vibe.”
“They’ve done a great job updating (the building) – very good design, very inviting, comfortable,” said Oxford resident Jim O’Connor, who was there with his wife, Tammy. “We’ll be back.”