A little more than two years ago, two men walked unannounced into the West Sadsbury Township building. Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet had a question: How would the small, semi-rural Chester County community feel about hosting Victory Brewing Company’s latest venture. “I just about jumped across the table and kissed the two of them,” recalls Frank Haas, chairman of the township’s board of supervisors.
Friends since fifth grade, Covaleski and Barchet have overseen the Downingtown microbrewery’s unlikely success story. Back in 1985, just out of college, Covaleski began tinkering with his dad’s home-brewing equipment. That same year, he gave Barchet his own kit for Christmas, and things snowballed from there. Ditching their corporate jobs, they dove into the suds industry, working for Baltimore Brewing Company and Virginia’s Old Dominion before officially opening Victory on Feb. 15, 1996.
Eighteen years later to the month, they begin full-scale production at their newest brewery. On a national level, the awards continue to pile up, including 2013 Grand Champion honors in the United States Beer Tasting Championship for Victory’s Headwaters Pale Ale and Prima Pils.
Rest assured, attracting Victory wasn’t on the minds of the township when it set aside land for an industrial zone, but the results certainly paid off. “It’s a unique place. You have industrial land interspersed with preserved farms,” Haas says. “I intend to promote Victory to the best of my ability, because it will be a tremendous draw.”
The decision to expand wasn’t a hasty one for Victory, even if the need to do so did come relatively quickly. “In 2011, we had off-the-charts growth,” says Covaleski, brewmaster and president. “In 2011, rather than being at 22 percent growth, we had 41 percent.”
Late that year, Covaleski and Barchet— fellow brewmaster and Victory’s CEO— began thinking about all that expansion would involve. “We conducted interviews with our beer wholesalers to determine what the market for craft beer would be,” Covaleski says. “At the time, it had a five percent market share of all beer sales in the United States.”
The upshot of these interviews: “Craft beer would have a 10 percent national share within five years,” says Covaleski.
“And wholesale distributors said it probably had a future at 15 percent.”
So, if Victory wanted to keep up with demand, the company needed to make more beer—a lot more. Now, that shouldn’t be a problem. The final projection on pro- duction from the new 212,000-square-foot plant is 225,000 barrels a year. That obvi- ously means many more bottles of Prima, Headwaters, Hop Devil IPA, Golden Monkey and other signature brews for its growing consumer base.
All bottling and distribution operations have moved from the crowded Downingtown location to the new site, and space adjacent to the working brewery is being prepped for another Victory brewpub. Meanwhile, a third brewpub is scheduled to open in Kennett Square by summer.
It’s a big deal, certainly, for Victory. But for West Sadsbury, it’s like hitting the jackpot. Sitting at the far western edge of Chester County, the township maintains a small industrial base but is mostly agricul- tural. The proximity to Lancaster results in a substantial Mennonite and Amish population, as well as a geographic connection to the nearby borough of Parkesburg.
A combination of factors made the site ideal. First, there was an existing vacant industrial structure to renovate. Second was the proximity to a reservoir fed by the headwaters of the west branch of Brandy- wine Creek (water for the Downingtown brewery comes from the east branch). Third, a mix of demographic indicators suggested Parkesburg and the surround- ing area were due for growth. One of the biggest indicators: a new Walmart 10 miles away in Oxford, along with an exist- ing store nearby. “That’s a company that’s generally got its demographic data but toned down,” Covaleski says. “If Walmart sees a future out here, that’s a good sign,” Covaliski says. “The company has its demographics buttoned down.”
For now, though, it’s an undistinguished stretch of highway just after the Route 30 Bypass rejoins Lincoln Highway and just before the Lancaster County village of Gap. For those headed along this well-traveled route, there aren’t many reasons to stop.
With the arrival of Victory, Haas expects that perception to change. Aside from dining and events, he envisions a steady stream of suds lovers making pilgrimages to their favorite beer’s point of origin. Haas foresees folks driving from Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia. Others could arrive at the Parkesburg railroad station via Amtrak and take a shuttle to visit the brew- ery. “Once they get past the construction part of things, we can start working on the marketing part of things,” he says.
While not the official home of the brewery, Parkesburg would see benefits, as well. “Getting strangers to drive through your town is an opportunity,” says Haas. “Nobody out here is viewing Victory as a competitor. They’re looking at them as shining a bright light on the area and highlighting what’s here.”
In the right hands, craft beer can be the fuel for economic development. The spark for West Chester’s late-’90s resurgence was Iron Hill Brewery’s decision to locate its second restaurant in the borough’s vacant Woolworth building. Suddenly, people had a reason to return to its downtown shopping district, and those diners ended up spending money nearby. In Kennett Square, Half Moon Restaurant and Saloon has been a bastion of craft brews for years, serving Victory’s Hop Devil, among many others, from its 27 taps.
So now that Victory is opening a new location in Kennett Square later this year, the area is already primed for its arrival. It also doesn’t hurt that Victory’s restaurant arm will make its debut as part of the borough’s largest in-town residential development in more than a decade. Developed by the Pia family (of local mushroom-farming fame), Magnolia Place features 78 townhomes and 33 luxury apartments, with Victory the sole tenant on the ground floor of the three-story apartment building.
But as with the new brewery in West Sadsbury, it was important for Victory’s Covaleski and Barchet to be sure they were a good fit for Kennett. “When we first talked to them, the community was very interested in us and it seemed like a very symbiotic relationship,” says Barchet.
“We thought we’d do well there, and that we’d do well for the area as a destination.”
The steady stream of Kennett customers frequenting Victory’s Downingtown location didn’t hurt, either. “And that’s not an easy trek to make,” Barchet says. “So we thought, ‘Maybe we should move a little closer and help them out.’”
But there is a potential downside: Victory is coming to an area where there is no craft-brew vacuum for them to fill. In addition to downtown stalwart Half Moon, Delaware-based Two Stones Pub opened a location just outside the borough this past fall. In addition, Kennett Brewing Company is planning its debut in early 2014.
But Covaleski notes that Victory’s Kennett Square brewpub is part of a resi- dential project, so it will have a built-in customer base. “There’s a whole lot of community structure to this,” he says. “It’s not just us coming in and swinging elbows to make room.”
It’s hard to argue with the contention that more business is better, especially in uncertain economic times. And the borough is doing what it can to make itself even more attractive to visitors and new residents alike. Grant money has been secured to begin sidewalk improvements and install traffic-calming measures throughout town. “To have a strong restaurant base and strong restaurant scene helps support retail,” says Mary Hutchins, executive director of the Historic Kennett Square downtown development organization. “It’s necessary to pull people into town in the evenings and on the weekends. To have Victory put its stake in the ground in Kennett is huge. It gives confidence to our town.”
The way Covaleski, sees it, the presence of internationally renowned Talula’s Table has set a ridiculously high bar for dining in Kennett Square, spawning a foodie culture in the area. Half Moon gets the credit for establishing a “culture of appreciation” for craft brews.
Hutchins couldn’t agree more. “Half Moon started the craft brew movement in Kennett Square,” she says. “They’ve been here day in and day out, helping us set the stage for the next act. And this is the next act.”
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