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Brooklyn, N.Y., transplants Mike Dell'Aquila and Sarah Real appear before the Community Development Board last week. They will be opening Hot Plate Brewing Co. in the Onota building at the corner of North and School Street.

Pittsfield Board OKs Brewery for $140K in Economic Development Funds

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Downtown will become "hoppier" by next summer.

The Community and Economic Development subcommittee approved a $140,000 allocation of the city's economic development funds for a new brewery on North Street.

Brooklyn, N.Y., transplants Mike Dell'Aquila and Sarah Real will be opening Hot Plate Brewing Co. in the Onota building at the corner of North and School Street.

The name speaks to a challenging time when the couple was inspired to make their own craft brews on a hot plate after their gas was shut off. The venue will be a "microbrewery" that is characterized by producing 15,000 barrels or less per year.

The panel unanimously supported the funding, which will come out of the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund also referred to as the GE Fund.  The balance of the fund is currently around $1.5 million.

The monies will be used for purchasing equipment.  

Real has been a lover of craft beer for about 20 years and decided to start marking her own at home in 2017. She dove headfirst into New York City's brewer community, took classes, and joined a national society for women in fermented beverages called the Pink Boots Society.

"I'm an award-winning homebrewer, I got one of five scholarships through Pink Boots Society this summer to do an immersive week at the Yakima Valley in Washington, which is the largest hops producer in the world," she said. "And right now I'm part of the Brewers Association fall cohort."

Dell'Aquila says her chamomile blonde ale is one of the best beers he has ever had.

Real has worked in consumer insights for over 15 years and Dell'Aquila has 16 years in content creation, creative development, and recent experience in product management.

Their business model is based on three common themes: craft, community, and conservation.

Community is the most important aspect that was given a great deal of consideration. As a Latina, Real had not felt represented in the industry and said there is a general lack of representation in craft brewing.

"This summer, there were a few exposés that came out, so there was a lot of discussions about the lack of [diversity, equity, and inclusion] in the craft beer world, whether it's the BIPOC community, the LGBTQ community, there's not enough representation and inclusivity," Dell'Aquila added.  

"Unfortunately, it's white and male-dominated, guys that look like me, and not enough people that look like Sarah, and so for us, inclusivity is really the core to who we are."

The brewers also hope to add to the revitalization efforts in the downtown and add density to it. They can see customers hopping from Hot Plate brew house to Thistle and Mirth or District and then catching a movie at the Beacon Theater.

Upon opening, the seven-barrel brewhouse will have four full-time employees including Real and additional part-time staff. They have the intention of adding two more full-time employees by year two and, in the future, to expand with a team that is focused on growing the business.

The couple is eyeing a spring 2022 soft opening and a full opening in the summer. The design has a maximum capacity of 106 people and will likely close between 8 and 9 p.m. on the weekdays and 10 or 11 p.m. on the weekend.

Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said the entrepreneurs have demonstrated their understanding of the sector, have been creating local relationships, and have shown savviness in marketing and in the business community.

The two have also presented numbers that the city feels are conservative and realistic enough for a startup business.

She added that though the city does not judge businesses on ownership structures, the city is glad to see a woman-owned business coming in.

Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon asked how the couple sees gentrification, emphasizing the importance of not pushing the existing community out while expanding.

"Part of it is that we are coming to Pittsfield we are kind of bringing back what was already here, the smaller pubs that were always open for the various shifts many decades ago," Real said.

"And for us, it is about bringing people together, we are not planting a flag and saying only this type of person can, either only that type of person can be there. What we have heard in speaking with many community members is that they want a meeting place and they don't have that right now, so we feel like we're providing that service as a meeting place."

The price for a brew will range from $5 to $8, which they said is comparable to other eateries on North Street such as Mission and the Lantern Bar and Grill.

Moon found those prices a bit high and voiced concern with affordability for the people who live in the vicinity of downtown.

"I definitely hear you on what we're offering downtown," she said. "I would make the argument that the offerings that we have downtown don't necessarily cater to the people who live in the vicinity of downtown and more to people who are attracted to what we have to offer downtown which is not a bad thing, obviously, but again, how do we balance the two?" 

Moon queried Ruffer on the four full-time positions that the brewery will create, speculating that Real will occupy one of those positions and Dell'Aquila may in the future.

Ruffer clarified that he would be considered a founder and therefore, would be an employee and not an owner.

"Because we only looked at those four and we have never penalized a company for its owner or owners being included in the job count, those four count under our process," she said about the positions.

"What that allows them is for us not to then have to pull back any of the money until they create the other jobs, the part-time jobs, and part-time jobs do count."

Moon later said she supports the project regardless of her inquiries. These questions just needed to be asked, she explained.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo asked the brewers how they envision coming into a crowded market. While there are not an overwhelming amount of breweries in Berkshire County, some parts of the state are said to be saturated in them and the same can be said across the country.

Dell'Aquila pointed out that a lot of the craft beer movement is about people drinking locally.  He highlighted the success of Bright Ideas Brewing in North Adams and Shire Brew Haus in Dalton and said he can see them being a part of that mix.

"This is a modest investment for only net positives for downtown development," Caccamo said. "So it's like a no-brainer in that situation, I hope it goes really well."

Tags: new business,   brewery,   GE fund,   

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