A kitchen job at Northfield Mount Hermon School gave Mariah Draper (now Calagione) a glimpse into her future—although she didn’t know it then. The Milford native worked alongside Sam Calagione, a day student at the Massachusetts boarding school.
The serendipitous meeting would lead to a personal and professional partnership. In 1996, the couple opened Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach, which led to a full-fledged brewery in Milton and a second restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine.
After Dogfish Head’s 2019 merger with Boston Beer Company, Mariah Calagione could have pulled the tab on a career in hospitality and brewing, but that hasn’t been the case. Today, she is a social impact leader for Boston Beer Company, a job that marries two passions: craft brewing and philanthropy.
The mother of two young adults has a seemingly endless amount of energy. “I am amazed at all she does with her time and how much she gives,” says friend and fellow entrepreneur Stephanie Boright, owner of Coastal Cottage Renovations. “She’s tireless.”
Her husband, another Energizer Bunny, agrees. “The two of us have always believed in the good karma that comes from giving back to the communities that sustain our business,” he says. “It’s Mariah who thinks about how to nourish that ideal every single day and execute it with our awesome co-workers and partners.”
“The two of us have always believed in the good karma that comes from giving back to the communities that sustain our business.”
Calagione’s interest in community involvement started long before she went to the New England prep school. Indeed, it was part of her upbringing in Sussex County. Her father was Tom Draper, who was just 26 when he bought the Milford radio station that led to the WBOC-TV operation. Her mother is Rachel Grier-Reynolds, a social worker and a founder of the downstate Delaware Music School.
“It was expected that you would be involved in your community,” says Calagione, the oldest of four children. Activities might include volunteering at school or, in her parents’ case, investing in infrastructure and programs to benefit the area.
At Brown University, she studied public policy. Her favorite classes focused on the creation and outcomes of government policies, the importance of creating a vision and the ability to work with diverse organizations to get results.
Calagione also has entrepreneurialism in her DNA, Sam says. And when he decided to become a brewer, she was along for the ride.
Calagione knew how to wait tables: Her first job was at Holiday House, a coastal restaurant once known for its seafood buffet. But in Dogfish Head’s early days, she handled insurance, compliance, payroll and accounting—with zero experience. The company struggled to make ends meet, and Calagione learned to disguise her voice when creditors called.
As Dogfish Head grew successful, Calagione spotted new opportunities. For instance, she saw the potential in the old Vesuvius Motel in Lewes, now Dogfish Inn. She also advocated for the creation of Chesapeake & Maine next to the brewpub in Rehoboth. C&M’s goal is to emphasize mixology and Dogfish spirits, a mission it’s met well. The year C&M opened, the bar program received a James Beard Foundation award nomination.
However, many people didn’t realize the two eateries were related, Calagione acknowledged. Branding has value, and the signage now includes the Dogfish logo. She now wants to emphasize that C&M only sources ingredients from the two regions. For instance, you won’t find jumbo shrimp. “We can lean into that because our vendors all have cool stories,” says the marketing maven.
The two restaurants are part of the 12 hospitality entities under the Boston Beer Company umbrella. The Calagiones often go to Boston to meet with colleagues, and this is the first time in decades that Mariah has had a boss and a peer group of leaders within the company. But she’s OK with it.
“I’m learning from them all the time,” she says. “They have different perspectives on motivating co-workers—Boston Beer is big on giving people opportunities. My current team is mentoring me daily.”
Long before the merger, Dogfish Head had the Beer & Benevolence program, which gives employees a Monday off for community service. “I’ll say, ‘What are you doing on this particular day?’” Boright says. “And she’ll say, ‘Oh, we’re building houses for Habitat for Humanity.’ Or, ‘Oh, we’re picking up trash on the side of the road.’”
Boston Beer Company also has nonprofit initiatives, one of which—Brewing the America Dream—supports entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. “We help folks get access to capital,” Calagione explains. “We also pull people from across our company for one-on-one coaching.” Participants may need help with marketing, securing supermarket shelf space or social media—Boston Beer runs food styling workshops.
The Calagiones were among the first to step up to the plate to support hospitality employees when the pandemic hit. “Mariah was out front and working with our relief fund for restaurant workers,” says Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association. “She was our initial contributor.”
Calagione doesn’t limit her good works to Dogfish Head or the hospitality industry. Like her father, she’s been a University of Delaware trustee, and she’s chair of the board of Northfield Mount Hermon. She helped start the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and the Canalfront Park in Lewes.
“Mariah was out front and working with our relief fund for restaurant workers. …She was our initial contributor.”
—Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association
Recently, she joined the Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory group for the Smithsonian Institution’s food history project. Dogfish Head contributed the vibrating vintage football game Sam first used to shake hops into his 60 Minute IPA. The brewery also donated the original boil kettle.
And that’s not all. The Calagiones started a family charity called the Red Wagon Foundation. So far, they’ve granted $3 million to various organizations locally. The foundation has also donated funds to communities in other areas with a connection, such as Massachusetts.
That’s not surprising. While some view board participation as a rung on a career ladder, Calagione is passionate about the organizations’ missions. “She’s got her hands in a million things,” Boright says, but her friend goes about it quietly.
Calagione says she is no glutton for punishment. “I learn different things than I do in my everyday world, and I meet different people,” she says of her nonprofit work. And that, she concludes in her usual low-key tone, is “cool.”