“He’s down there, that room...”
...points the friendly if not annoyed employee of the Grey Lodge, in some vague direction. He might have pointed down now that I think of it. I had interrupted a water break and a quick swipe or 3 of the cracked iPhone 5 in his hand. The year was 2013, and here I was, in the bowels of the most famous (to me) craft beer mecca in Philly and the surrounding areas. This, of course, could be argued, but it’s my blog, and my opinion, and I bet I could get a whole bunch of people to agree. The Grey Lodge was weirdly formidable as a craft bar, partly because of its location – the rough region of Mayfair – and partly because so many people were fierce gatekeepers to a bar run by such a soft-spoken and generally kind man. Or at least I thought so, once I figured out what dungeon door he was hiding in. Seriously – I opened a dusty closet, a room that appeared to be a gateway to hell, and finally, the small office. Greeted with a wave of a hand and a soft “howdy”, Mike “Scoats” Scotese welcomed me into his small hiding spot, and a quick clear of a well-worn office chair, I was sat, and settled and about to realize that this was not an ordinary bar owner.
“I paid my way through school (Accounting and MIS) by all sorts of bar and restaurant positions. Once I graduated, I got a Fortune 500 company job, which I planned to work, bouncing around jobs there, until retirement. After a few years, I realized that was unlikely to happen. Self employment seemed the best course for me, and after much consideration, I got myself into the bar business.
In 1994, several partners and I bought what would be called Mugsy’s Tavern. After 2 years, I was the only one left. Now free to do what I wanted so I renamed it the Grey Lodge Pub, and expanded the focus to include my interest in craft beer, which had just started happening in Philly then.”
By “happening”, he was talking about the small but obvious growth that would blossom into one of the strongest bastions for craft beer and brewing in the state of PA. And on the Mount Rushmore of catalysts was this small bar in the Mayfair section of Philly, with a simple food menu, a modest liquor rail and about 20 taps of what was then the cream of the crop in craft – Dogfish Head, Yards, Stoudts. A small-ish place with a light and friendly feel, some dart boards in the back, and of course, the small but growing tile art. What started in the bathroom became a hallmark of the quirky, every-busy mind of Scoats.
“In 1999, after 5 years of running the Grey Lodge, I finally had enough profit ($350) to tile the men’s room. At that time, a friend of mine had access to a kiln and was getting into making tiles. She wanted to make some for the men’s room, so I picked some beer quotes from an email that was going around then.”
Take this in folks – not Insta, not Facebook, not MySpace – he’s talking about one of those “quotes” emails that used to circulate -
“She made a LOT of tile quotes. I went to the tile store and spent all my money on square tiles to fill in the rest. Then she says ‘let’s smash them and do a mosaic’. So I took a deep breath and agreed to smash 5 years of retained earnings. She taught me how to tile the wall and grout. Even the grouchiest of the old guys liked it. The rest of the bar still looked like crap, but we had a really cool mens room. Things were starting to happen.”
"Fast forward to 2015. I was taking a group photo for a roller derby team when I realized we didn’t have a big Grey Lodge logo for them to stand in front of. I thought I should have one made, then I realized I might be able to do it in tile. It was a learning experience, and it turned out great. But a big tile mosaic by itself seemed out of place, so I created a bar scene near it. Over the next 4 years, I expanded the bar scene to cover the first floor. It was a very challenging and satisfying project. Sadly lockdown happened almost immediately after it was finished. And the world changed really fast. It was also sad that the number of customers continued to fall off during those years, so very few people saw it.”
Ahhh, there it is – COVID and the lockdown rears its head. But, truly, Scoats was already in a different headspace by the time the pandemic hit, one with a very keen understanding of where we WERE, and where we now ARE -
“It was a really small world. Everyone knew each other and we all went to each other’s events. It was a really exciting time. We were creating things that hadn’t been done yet. Besides great breweries and beer bars, Philadelphia was blessed with a really strong beer writing scene that held the community together. As craft beer became more and more ubiquitous, the community aspect pretty much disappeared. While sad, I wouldn’t call that going wrong, more a symptom of maturity.”
If there is one thing the crew here in Mutual Respect has come to learn about Scoats, it’s that he succinctly and strongly understands the situation around him, and you don’t run a super successful craft beer bar in Mayfair for almost 30 years without a good deal of awareness.
“Grey Lodge’s success came from being both an internationally renowned beer bar as well as a local neighborhood bar. Once every brewery started putting out dozens and dozens of beers every year, with all of them in package form and on supermarket shelves, standing out as a beer bar became impossible. Also the number of brewery taprooms exploded and nobody cared about beer bars anymore. No matter what you did, the only press a beer bar could get was when they finally closed up. Also during this time, the demand for a neighborhood bar evaporated. People were getting their social needs fulfilled through their phones. So all that was left was to double down on being a restaurant, but macro trends had been working to destroy the traditional restaurant model. I could see the writing on the wall. And running a restaurant was never my dream.”
And so, my dear friends, we see a chapter close – and one begins as well. Scoats, together with long time friend and beer industry alum Jason Macias, concoct “Lucky Cat Beer Company”, a boutique brewery concept with a rather old school philosophy, opines Scoats –
“I am very interested in re-introducing special beers and styles from the early days of craft beer that are now either hard to find or impossible to find. For example, an out of state brewery might still be making that seasonal blueberry stout you love, but with 10s of 1000s of beers available, your chance of finding it on a shelf at your local beer store is very low. Many beer drinkers] don’t yet know the magic that happens when those blueberries are combined with that stout. Modern styles are great, but they tend to crowd out everything else. Our beers will stand out, and they will all have a story.”
That backstory is good – the backstory on Scoats and Jay is better –
“Scoats lured me into his trap (as he likes to jokingly put it) while we were working on Philly Loves Beer activities a few years back when I asked him about his brewery project I had heard so much about. He certainly had a plan as far as transitioning out of the Grey Lodge day-to-day but the ‘how’ was a bit more ambiguous as we got to work creating plan A for Lucky Cat which eventually turned into plans b, c and d as we had the core idea and team in place but the functionality and final destination was still playing itself out. With the now-defunct Jenkintown location, I think everything happens for a reason and there was a reason it didn’t happen - I’m glad it’s once again a brewery and not sitting vacant or underutilized though but ultimately we were super close to closing on the Jenkintown property. Yet, as luck would have it the plans fell through and we were once again changing our game plan but still had a core team in place ready for next steps that turned out to be far more exciting than we could have ever imagined!”
Jason Macias, co-founder of Lucky Cat, is an old soul in his own right. He’ll probably punch me for saying that, btw. But, honestly, it’s true. His perception of the brand resonates in a way eerily similar to the more seasoned Scoats, and as Jay puts it -
“To me, Lucky Cat represents the bottle that captured the proverbial lightning from yesterday’s storm and we’re now using it to create our interpretations of how some of those beers tasted for today’s consumer. Lucky Cat creates memorable beers and moments for people that matter and by continuing with the decades old traditions that the Grey Lodge established and brewing top quality beers for today with reverence for yesterday we feel this is the experiential difference that separates Lucky Cat from other breweries.”
Speaking of stories, Jay Macias certainly has one to tell. A journeyman in the field, with sales, brewing, raw materials and management experience, he also was and continues to be influential in the ever-important community-building aspects that surround craft beer even if they do not directly influence it.
“As an avid homebrewer, I graduated with an MBAA in Finance from Drexel and soon after accepted a part-time role as an assistant brewer washing kegs at Vault working my way up to a lead brewer.I then got into self distributed sales leveraging my connections in and around the city, eventually landing anew role with NCBC. There I learned much more about the sales, distribution and marketing side of things while piquing my interest in their lab, sensory analysis and the sheer scale of their brewing and sales operations. As my recreational time and connections in bars dwindled, I knew my passion was in brewing but my skill set seemed to point me into sales and sensory, so a well-timed collaboration between NCBC & Proximity gave me an opportunity in malt sales. I thought I’d be there for the foreseeable future until this amazing chance with ZH came along. With Lucky Cat I felt confident combining these various foundational elements necessary to run a successful business in brewing and hope to continue learning from the industry around me, my friends, family and the team in and around Mutual Respect.”
As we’ve discussed, the whole “Mutual Respect” collaborative was not in the business plan for, well, any of us, and especially not in the business plan of the Lucky Cat boys. From the previous blog post – and you DID READ THAT POST, RIGHT??!?! – Jeremy and the LC gang had a history. As Mr. Macias tells it –
“Professionally I met Jeremy while working at Vault and would see him around at events and all over the Philly Beer Scene, but I most likely met him before at FDR or random home brew event or show or something. He looked out for me a lot over the years and has been a great mentor and friend in the industry to say the least. He’s always provided me with great guidance and support while introducing me to amazing opportunities throughout my beer career to which I’m thankful for. When he’s right, he’s right and he will let you know it and when you’re wrong he will definitely let you know that too but he’s usually spot on and definitely knows a lot about brewing and the inner workings of the industry around beer.”
So, now that we are starting to piece some things together – let’s, again, quickly summarize: BGob was at an inflection point with the live music, and was exploring an expansion to the abandoned spaces next to us. Meanwhile, Jeremy and Scoats and Jason Macias are about to finalize a mortgage on the Jenkintown location most recently owned and operated by NCBC before Human Robot, a deal that obviously never happened. Jeremy, Jay M and Scoats are now “homeless” and hungry in the business sense, and the idea begins to foment among the 7 of us – what if? What if we try something reasonably rare? Voltron in a brewing sense. Who’s the arm? Who’s the torso? Who cares?
“I’m excited to work with people I really like and respect,” says Scoats. “Mutual Respect sounds like a trendy buzz phrase, but for me it’s the reality I have experienced with everyone here so far. After 25+ years of being in the hospitality industry, I’m pretty burned out, so I’m really looking forward to being part of a team.”
Jay has a similar mind-set –
“Staying relevant and in front of consumer’s demands in an ever changing demographic world is a challenge for any new brand regardless of past relevance or status which is both exciting and concerning as my hope is to be free to brew the beers we want to brew because we chose beers and beer styles that people want to drink. I’m confident that if we focus on brewing great beers that are relevant to us and the people and activities that matter to us the rest will take care of itself. We’re building a mutually respectful boat and everyone’s invited to take this journey with us and I think consumers will appreciate what we’re trying to do with the beers that we brew and the way we brew them. I also can’t forget to mention that I hope our concept is embraced by the community most importantly as our goal is to include our community as partners in Mutual Respect and it’s with their support and involvement that we are able to build the brightest possible future together so I’m most excited to see how our model impacts consumers as they are the ultimate benefactors in this equation.”
I’ll close this chapter with a simple lesson from Scoats, one that is guiding us into our future here in Bensalem. Building a partnership is a lot like creating a tile mosaic. You start with these individual pieces. None of them actually fit together in the way you want them to, and it’s only by care, creativity and perseverance that the disparate pieces end up forming a bigger entity and actually make sense doing so.
“A great partner (or partners) can help you soar much higher than you can on your own.”
What’s left in this story happens soon – we finalize the new expansion and put our own individual creative touches on the space. However, there is one final piece of the story to tell, one that includes some transplants, some bacon, and (of all things), New Jersey.
Stay tuned for part 4 of this series – Bringing Home the Bacon