Maumee Bay Brewing Company - A Toledo Tradition
If a building could share its story, the Oliver House would captivate audiences. Fortunately for us, Neal Kovacik General Manager of the Oliver House and Maumee Bay Brewing Company, is a history buff and shared as much as he knew about the rich heritage of the space.
Home to the Maumee Bay Brewing Company, the Oliver House is nestled on a quiet cobble stone street in downtown Toledo. The building is 155 years old and first opened as a fancy hotel that was commissioned by Major Oliver, a major in the Northern Federal Army of the United States. He fought at the War of 1812 in Perrysburg and was given the property due to his war efforts as a thank you from area officials. The Oliver House was Toledo's first big hotel and took seven years to build by hand (no power tools.) The original 70,000 sq. ft. Building opened in 1859 right before the Civil War broke out.
A true testament to craftsmanship, the building is thought to be the only still standing example of the work of Isaiah Rogers, the "Father of the Modern Hotel." It is also the oldest commercial building in Toledo still in use. Over the years the spaces and uses of the building have adapted with the times, from a hotel, to a boarding house, a manufacturing plant and a warehouse. Eventually the space was used as an infirmary for soldiers during the Spanish American War, a fact that contributes to the tales of spirits and apparitions on the grounds of the property.
Located in the Middlegrounds of Toledo, the Oliver House was anticipated to stand in the middle of the city. We know today that the city actually began to grow east toward the mouth of the river, but that didn't stop residents from using the space to its full potential.
20 years ago the Appold family bought the building and renovated it to showcase its historical grandeur. They opened the Maumee Bay Brewing Company, which, Neal shared, “There is a lot of history with that as well.”
In 1838 Buckeye Beer was founded in Toledo. In 1971, Miller bought Meister Brau and Buckeye Beer, and ceased to produce Buckeye Beer. According to Neal, the Toledo Blade reported that the Buckeye Beer recipe became the basis of the recipe for Miller Lite, which is why they bought it. For seven years Buckeye was not produced. When Jim Appold opened the Maumee Bay Brewing Company, he bought the label back from Miller and started producing Buckeye again. Today the beers are well known throughout the Ohio market and they produce 30-35 different beers each year.
The Oliver House is now home to several restaurants, each with its own personality. From the more casual brewpub to the upscale Rockwell's Steak House, incredible food, drinks, and experiences wait around every corner. The entire operation actually spreads across three buildings, one which houses the majority of the brewing and distribution business, and another that is a warehouse/catering venue that can accommodate approximately 300 people.
What makes it all work? The employees. Says Neal, "We've put together a good team, and it's a team effort…I enjoy the employees that we have, the camaraderie and the team that we've put together." The great food is a huge highlight of Neal's job. He works to pair the food and beer together for the ultimate dining experience. "These days, it's about a collaboration between the chef and brewer. It's all really intertwined in a unique way." They'll make IPA pickles, a stout steak sauce, or use the wood fire pizza oven to develop pumpkin ale. There is very little separation between the brewing and the cooking aspects.
Neal is from Toledo and it is evident through the quality of his leadership that he loves his role at the Oliver House. When asked about his favorite aspect of his job, he hesitated, “Its really hard to say, I think, the big old building is unique. I’m from Toledo, and I really appreciate all of the history that’s involved in the building. And having the restaurants in the historic space is a big plus.” People come from all over the country and want to tour the space. The Appold family has made a tremendous investment and commitment to Toledo.
Another commitment of the Appold family and the staff, is to source ingredients locally. "We use local wherever we possibly can in the beer and in the food." The beautiful vines adorning the fence around the property - not just decoration, they are actually hops for use in the brewing process. While they don't have a large enough crop to support the entire operation, they use local as much as possible. They also use local honey and coffee in the beer. On any given Saturday you can head to the Farmers Market and you will find Neal buying local spices, herbs, and vegetables. They also use several local farms to fuel the restaurants. "We always try to source things as close to Toledo as possible.
Neal finds the business atmosphere in Toledo very supportive and genuine. "I think Toledo is unique. I think it’s a very good, old-time city meaning it has a lot of history with it. The people are very very nice and very supportive of things local like our restaurants here. People are working very hard on developing downtown Toledo into the city that we would all like it to be and I think we are headed there. People are moving downtown at a huge rate. If I had 100 apartments here I could rent them all without even advertising. Having come from Toledo, I think people tend to be very supportive of local ventures and they appreciate the history, the good beer, the good food and having it be part of the history. I think the camaraderie and the spirit really develops it in Toledo. When I speak of Toledo I don’t just mean downtown, I mean the entire NW Ohio region because I think it’s all intertwined. What’s good for the Region is good for Toledo and vice versa. I think people are starting to realize that and really appreciate what they have here. It’s very exciting for us to be downtown right now and to be a part of the development and the resurgence of respect for Toledo. I do believe there is a tremendous interest in downtown and I feel we are a small part of it because we are downtown. It’s very exciting!”