“When I saw the town as a guest in 1994, it felt like the downtowns where I was operating brewpubs in California. It had a great small-town feel with these great old buildings. It felt like a town that was up-and-coming. Was I right or what!” said Drew Ciora, founder and owner of the Royal Oak Brewery. Since that time, Ciora has become one of the kings of craft brewing in Michigan, having been an owner of Rochester Mills Brewing, and the Detroit Brewing Company. He got his start in Royal Oak.
“I was managing 3 brewpubs in Southern California and had the opportunity to own my own in Royal Oak. My wife and I were married in Michigan (while living in CA) and visited Royal Oak after our rehearsal dinner in 1994. I thought it was a great town and needed a brewpub!” said Ciora.
Many believed in Ciora’s idea and left California with him for Royal Oak. “I was 26 when I opened the ROB and there were 5 employees that worked for me in California that decided to follow me out here. One of them is still with me and is our Executive Chef.” When Ciora came to Royal Oak, there was hardly any competition. The Royal Oak Brewery is the oldest continuously operating brewery in Oakland County. Started in 1995, the brewery has become an anchor in downtown. “We are a brewpub that is dedicated to making the best craft beer and food,” said Ciora. “We (also) make all of our meals in-house and to order; soups, dressings, sauces, pizza dough, entrees and desserts are all made fresh in our kitchen.”
The Royal Oak Brewery started with that small-town feel in mind. Since that time, it continues to serve as a hub for regulars in the heart of Downtown on Fourth Street, next to Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle. Ciora really values his customers and realizes that his business is an integral part of the community. “They are awesome! Most of our guests are regulars and live within 4 miles of Royal Oak. They range in ages from 24-65. We have a lot of young families that enjoy our place as well. We are very kid friendly.”
Ciora realizes that Royal Oak is a competitive place for restaurants and bars, which need to constantly innovate and be on the cutting edge. “Since we are twenty-three years old, one of the challenges is trying to stay relevant. We often discuss this and always come back to focusing on our core strengths: great food, great beer and great service. We always strive to create an environment that people can feel comfortable being at with their friends and families,” said Ciora. He also embraces new strategies to stay ahead of the curve. “We do three things: 1. Web based marketing with social media. 2. Donate all we can to almost every Royal Oak school, church and organization. We believe in being involved as much as we can in our community; and 3. Promote great beer by being at festivals and events where we can showcase our great craft beer. We offer events that promote the camaraderie and socialness that sharing a pint of great beer can create.” The brewery has a patio behind the building that is a major draw in the summer, and sometimes even the winter.
Ciora still has a fondness for Royal Oak after all these years and is optimistic about the future of the city. “I like that although downtown has so much to offer and is growing, that it still feels like a small town. And the location of RO is great. Everyone from St. Claire Shores to Novi to Auburn Hills to Detroit can easily meet here.”
The Royal Oak Brewery is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm, Friday through Saturday from 11:00 am to Midnight, and Sunday Noon to 11:00 pm