Tonya and Rich Lockwood’s Motor City Gas whiskey distillery and tasting room in Royal Oak was served another bracing shot of recognition this week.
Motor City Gas was just named one of the top 50 Michigan businesses to watch in 2021 by Michigan Celebrates Small Business (MCSB). Headquartered in Lansing, the group has reviewed and hosted awards of small businesses statewide for more than 15 years.
The husband-and-wife team, who live in Royal Oak, have come a long way from when they first opened their distillery on Fourth Street east of Troy Street six years ago.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Rich Lockwood said. “When we opened in 2015 it was just the two of us and a buddy who quit his corporate job to help us out … It’s been a difficult journey, but the recognitions that we’ve been blessed with over the past couple of years make it all worth it and keep us going.”
Motor City Gas was among the top 10 Whiskey Bars in the U.S. by Yelp a few years ago, and was named a Top 10 Distillery in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine. The Lockwoods’ distillery then snagged another honor as Michigan Whiskey Distillery of the Year from US Business News.
Tonya Lockwood, 40, is a Sri-Lankan American, and Motor City Gas is the only minority woman-owned distillery in the state, and one of just four among the nation’s more than 2,050 distilleries.
She said seeing her family’s homegrown whiskey distillery get its latest recognition this week is “pretty surreal.”
“I hope this encourages more minority women-owned businesses to chase the American Dream,” Tonya Lockwood said.
The couple recently bought a farm in Ann Arbor to grow a variety of organic heirloom grains for whiskey production. Having a farm-to-bottle distillery has been the Lockwoods’ dream since they went into business, Rich Lockwood said.
“Motor City Gas Farms now makes that possible,” he said. “Now the new goal is to someday make 100 percent of our whiskey from our own organic, non-GMO, heirloom-style grain.
The couple’s farm allows them to control the quality of raw ingredients and grow exotic heirloom grains that are seldom found in the Midwest, Lockwood said.
As the Lockwoods chase their spirited dreams, they have plans this year to double the size of their existing manufacturing facility and start statewide retail distribution of their whiskey products.
The Lockwoods are also moving this year to break ground on a new expanded tasting room with food service.
“Designs for an expanded tasting room, as well as a second offsite tasting room are currently in the works,” Lockwood said. “We are not sure at this point which one will come first , but we hope to reveal our next step by this fall.”