A footwear exec walks into a bar…
Former Wolverine division president Ted Gedra opts for a brewery during ‘retirement.’
After retiring from footwear, Ted Gedra felt the next natural step would be beer.
Gedra, retired group president at Wolverine Footwear Group, opened Ludington Bay Brewery earlier this month, with more than a month’s worth of beer already brewed.
He had worked at Wolverine for more than 30 years, and when he hung up his shoes, he didn’t want to just golf or fish.
“I enjoy those things, but I’m not one to sit around,” Gedra said. “I need something to keep me active and busy.”
He had always loved discovering beer while traveling the globe, especially beers with stronger, fuller flavors. In 2012, Gedra began to dive into the beer world and explore various business opportunities. In 2015, he jumped all the way in and purchased the property on which he would later build the 8,200-square-foot brewery in Ludington.
“I enjoy the industry, especially the more I found out about it,” Gedra said. “It’s such a collaborative industry as opposed to footwear. It’s a breath of fresh air after years of that. The more I’m into it, the more fun I’m having.”
While essentially a retirement project, the scale of investment means Gedra will take it seriously. As he was preparing for his business, he met Tom Buchanan, a brewer with Jamesport Brewing Co., which is across the street from Ludington Bay Brewing.
As they discussed the business of beer, Gedra asked Buchanan to join him in opening the brewery, which he did as the ground was broken on the building.
Buchanan, along with Cory Wentworth, will lead the brewery’s 20-barrel brewing system, with hopes of having 20 beers on tap by midsummer.
To start, Ludington Bay Brewing has a variety of beers, including an American Wheat, Blonde Ale, English IPA, Stout, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Imperial ESB, Brown Ale and West Coast Style IPA.
“If you want to be in this industry, it’s all about the beer,” Gedra said. “We don’t want to be one of those places that’s just a nice place. It may not be a place to like all our beers, but we want to say that it was a good beer and we’ll always have something they’ll enjoy.”
The brewery also has a menu with small plates, burgers, wraps and pizzas.
With several Michigan breweries going out of business in the past year, beer sales slowing and an uncertain market for some dedicated craft beer fans, Gedra acknowledged he could have an uphill road.
Despite the industry speed bump after years of explosive growth for the craft segment, it still holds just a 12 percent share of the total beer industry market. Gedra said there are plenty of consumers to attract.
Outside of Grand Rapids, Gedra believes there’s a gap in the awareness and consumption of craft beer. Compared to Grand Rapids, Ludington’s per capita beer consumption is extremely low, he said.
“There’s a whole group of beer drinkers that have dipped their toes in, maybe, and haven’t quite found what they’re looking for,” he said. “There is plenty of growth left, people bouncing back between national and traditional lagers to craft. The popularity and sophistication is starting to really get growing.”
With plenty of business experience from his previous career, Gedra said he is confident about the growth potential for Ludington Bay Brewery.
“We want to grow here,” he said. “We have room for expansion in the brewery, and we want to distribute and be a brand that people really enjoy. We think we can grow nicely and not just stay stagnant.
“You always want to grow and not fall by the wayside. We want to be aggressive and make really great beer and win customers.”