Breweries Above and Below the Bridge—Dick Gray, plus Cathy and Shawn Smalley share their knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, January 31 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new with time after for Q&A (heavy on the Q&A)! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.
What are you doing for supper this Monday night 1/31 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Dick Gray ’82, co-owner of the Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, Michigan (located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, above the Mackinac Bridge)—plus Cathy ’88 and Shawn Smalley ’89, owners of Big Buck Brewery in Gaylord, Michigan (located below the Mighty Mac).
Near the Michigan Tech campus in downtown Houghton, the Keweenaw Brewing Company (KBC) features finely crafted ales for the everyday consumer. About 300 miles away, in Gaylord, Michigan, Big Buck’s mission is to simply do things the right way. Both are small, independent microbreweries owned by Michigan Tech alums who brew and sell world-class ales and host guests (safely during the pandemic) in unique, inviting taprooms.
What makes a good beer? And what’s their advice to those who want to follow in their footsteps? Find out during Husky Bites. Joining in will be Michigan Tech alumna Jennifer (Jung) Lucas ’09, craft beer fan and assistant vice president of Alumni Engagement at Michigan Tech
While working toward his bachelor’s degree in geological engineering at Michigan Tech, Dick Gray, owner of Keweenaw Brewing Company, spent one summer as a roughneck on the north slope of Alaska. He must have liked it, because he spent most of his career in the oil and gas business (but not as a roughneck).
After graduating from Michigan Tech with a BS in Geological Engineering, Gray took a job with Amoco Production Company, which led him from Hobbs, New Mexico, to Casper, Wyoming, to their Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma (twice), before ending up as exploration manager in their Denver regional office.
After more than 16 years, Gray left Amoco and became the president of a privately held oil and gas company called Presco Western, LLC. He held this position from 1998 to 2005, when the company was sold. “It was a turning point,” he says. “I had seen the revitalization of downtown Denver through the creation and success of comfortable brewpubs there,” he recalls.
Together with his family, he figured a brewpub was just what the city of Houghton needed, as well–especially when two of his three children started attending Michigan Tech.
Gray and a colleague from Denver started the Keweenaw Brewing Company (KBC) brewing just enough beer to feed the pub. Now, with annual production of about 13,000 barrels and distribution across Michigan, northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, Keweenaw Brewery has grown to one of the 50th largest microbreweries in the United States, the eighth largest in Michigan.
Ironically, Gray’s wife, Stasi doesn’t drink beer, but she supports all of the KBC functions behind the scenes (including the design and purchasing of the iconic KBC t-shirts). In addition to the 200-plus students they have employed over the past seventeen years, the Gray’s have become tremendously involved with the Houghton business community.
The Grays have hosted countless Michigan Tech events and have supported various student and alumni activities. The KBC has become a vital community resource, meeting place, and place to relax, especially for Michigan Tech students, faculty, and staff.
The Big Buck journey for Cathy and Shawn Smalley, owners of Big Buck Brewery, began about five years ago, in 2017, when a simple inquiry into a business that was in receivership became a reality. From that point, their transition away from corporate America began. The two officially opened Big Buck on October 1, 2018.
“From the beginning, our focus was to restore the ‘Big Buck’ name and reputation instead of rebranding,” said Cathy. “We made updates to the logo and beer label designs, yet we still embrace the original Big Buck brand and decor.”
“Our passion is to brew and distribute beer, although we also acquired a restaurant with a
seating capacity of 327 guests that we are operating,” she adds. “All of this is made possible with two brewers, a head chef and many supportive team members!” The Smalleys currently brew about 800 barrels a year, but plan to grow.
The Smalleys’ Michigan Tech story dates back to the late 80’s. Shawn graduated from Kalamazoo College with a degree in chemistry and transferred to Tech to pursue Chemical Engineering (’89). Shawn worked at Marathon Oil for several years and transitioned to a career in automotive. Cathy attended a Women in Engineering workshop during high school and followed her older sister to MTU. She graduated with a degree in Biological Sciences (’88) and furthered her education at Wayne State University.
“I also worked in the auto industry and retired once Shawn’s job took our family on two expat assignments,” she says. Together they have three children: Collin (ME), Emma (ME) and Elyse (Exercise Science). “Our kids have all graduated. Collin went to U of M and Kettering. Emma and Elyse both went to Hope College.
“As for Shawn, he started his ‘career’ in brewing in our kitchen in 1990! Though he isn’t involved in brewing at Big Buck, he is actively involved in the process and has mastered the taste testing!” In their free time, the Smalleys enjoy boating, biking, skiing and family time.
As a student at Michigan Tech, Jen Lucas played on the volleyball team, earning Michigan Tech’s Raymond L. Smith Award for outstanding female senior student-athlete. She got her start in Michigan Tech’s Advancement office, working as a student caller for the Michigan Tech Telefund, eventually moving into the call center manager role upon graduation in 2009. From there, Lucas went on to work in alumni engagement and annual giving roles at several other educational institutions, and spent two years in industry relations at 3M. She started her new position at Michigan Tech last November 2021.
Jen, how did you first decide to attend Michigan Tech? What sparked your interest?
In high school, I was recruited to play collegiate volleyball by a variety of Division 1 and 2 programs, Michigan Tech being one of them. While volleyball was a passion of mine, opening the door to a future I would have never had in my grasp without it, it also had an expiration date. After college, volleyball would no longer be a dominating factor in my life. I would need to be prepared to enter the real world as a professional. I considered which University would set me up for the best success after graduation, and Michigan Tech clearly was the top choice. I also loved the Michigan Tech community and culture on campus, so as a 17 year old, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I am still thanking “younger me” for being so smart!
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but spent most of my life in Minnesota. I have a twin sister (who also played on the volleyball team with me at Michigan Tech) and we have 3 younger siblings. I met my husband, Stephen, a couple years after graduation. We lived in Minneapolis for a few years and then also in Salt Lake City until we moved to Houghton for my current role as assistant vice president of Alumni Engagement here at Michigan Tech. Though Stephen didn’t attend Michigan Tech, he is very excited to call the UP home now with me.
Any hobbies, pets?
No pets (besides our robot vacuum we call “Richard”) but a lot of hobbies. Stephen and I like to stay active outdoors in all seasons—hiking, biking, and snowshoeing. We also hope to pick up cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. I enjoy watching and discussing all sports, but especially volleyball, football, and hockey. I also enjoy a good book, good beer, good food, and good company.