By Keith Gushard
It’s a small downtown Meadville brewery that just keeps chugging along toward a bigger operation.
Voodoo Brewery’s craft beer operation has been growing steadily — from just a brewery about six years ago to then adding a restaurant and now opening a second-floor lounge with a stage area for touring bands to perform.
Voodoo Lounge, at 215 Arch St., opened Saturday on the second floor of the brewery with three bands — Shinobi Ninja out of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Kaleido from Detroit, Mich.; and One If by Land of Meadville as the opening act.
“We’re so fortunate to be in Meadville and found it to be so well-received,” said Matt Rachocki, Voodoo’s director of operations. “The business is growing.”
Founded in 2005 by Matt Allyn, the company has been brewing locally since 2007 and added its restaurant in June 2012.
Rachocki credits chef Peter Zimmer for the success of the restaurant which is open four days per week.
“The menu gets revamped every week,” Rachocki said. “It’s fresh, locally sourced, organic foods made from scratch. That’s really been refreshing for a lot of folks in Meadville. That’s a big contribution to the success of our restaurant.”
However, the restaurant’s success has created a Catch-22 situation with regard to brewing and getting product out to beer distributors and taverns, Rachocki said.
“With the restaurant, there’s lot of liquid going through here — and we want to keep it there as well as in the network,” he said. “It’s a give-and-take kind of thing.”
The brewery’s output is distributed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, with New York City itself a newly tapped market for the brewery, he said.
“We can’t keep up,” Rachocki said of production demands.
Right now, Allyn is working toward guiding the company into an expansion of its operations within western Pennsylvania that could triple its output, Rachocki said. Voodoo hopes to do the expansion in 2014.
“The business is growing and we’re busy with our day-to-day, typical business up-keep,” he said. “Matt’s doing sales and working on the expansion to grow the company. There are always different challenges to get our beer out there.”
In addition to Allyn, Rachocki and Zimmer being involved in the company, Rachocki’s younger brother, Curt, is the director of brewing operations while Zach Ross serves as a jack-of-all-trades for the firm.
The brewery’s building on Arch Street has been expanding, too, in the last 18 months.
First was the addition of the pub/restaurant on the first floor in June 2012.
About a quarter of the second floor was renovated in March. The stage area for Voodoo Lounge, about another quarter of the second floor, was recently completed following about three weeks of construction that was done in-house.
“It’s been hard to donate a lot of time to a project like this with everything else going on,” Rachocki said.
“Most of the work has been cosmetic,” he said, noting the building dates from 1900.
“We took it down to the original flooring,” he said of the lounge. “It was covered with tile. We removed it and conditioned it to give it that ‘shabby chic’ kind of look.”
The second floor also had water damage underneath areas where the roof had fallen in.
“The roof had to be repaired and we put some patches in the floor, but that just gave it more character,” he said. “That’s just another challenge working with an old building.”
Once home to Meadville’s Charles N. Stafford Post 111 of The American Legion on the second floor, the building has housed a variety of businesses in its 113-year history, from furniture stores to even a small-engine repair shop.
The building itself is scheduled to undergo even further expansion if the business continues to grow, Rachocki said, with potential plans calling for renovating the remaining portion of the second floor and expanding its dining options.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.