WOODCOCK TOWNSHIP — It was an emotional moment when Matteo Rachocki unexpectedly had to step up to the podium Thursday night to accept the Winslow Award for Voodoo Brewing Co. of Meadville.
"This means a lot. We love our community and all the support we've had over the years," Rachocki said, wiping away a tear.
Voodoo Brewing Co., the employee-owned Meadville-based craft brewing company, was named winner of this year’s Winslow Award during the 51st annual Greater Meadville Area Day dinner at The Country Club of Meadville.
Given by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, the Winslow Award honors an individual, group, business or industry that has made a significant contribution to economic growth in the greater Meadville area.
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The Winslow Award was started by a predecessor organization of the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, the Meadville Area Industrial Commission. The former MAIC initiated the award in 1969 to honor Dr. Harry C. Winslow, an area physician and business leader, on his 85th birthday that year.
While Voodoo's employee-ownership structure has helped the firm grow, it's also been the outstanding support of the community and local economic development officials in believing in the company, said Rachocki, who serves as its chief executive officer.
"We would not be here today if it wasn't for our community," he said. "It means a great deal to us."
Voodoo was on the verge of bankruptcy when he and his family and friends invested in the business in December 2010. When it opened its brewpub on Arch Street in 2012 it received a tremendous welcome from the community and the Economic Progress Alliance that has just kept growing, he said.
"We have something very, very special here and that's the basic reason why I get emotional about the business and growing our community because we have something special here," Rachocki said of the Meadville area.
"It's unique. It's an amazing incubator," Rachocki said. "I thank everyone here and beyond for your support and your continued work and involvement in what we're doing. I'm completely blown away. This is not what I expected today."
The tangible ownership of the business by the employees and their talents and involvement in always going the extra mile what has helped Voodoo expand, Rachocki told the Tribune following the award presentation.
"We have a very genuine group think mentality and it lends a lot to innovation and creativity," he said. "I'm a spokesperson (for the company)."
In presenting the Winslow Award, Bill Bragg, president of the Economic Progress Alliance, outlined how Voodoo is having a significant economic impact not only here but at other locations and how the company is a major community force.
Employee-owned and operated Voodoo Brewing currently has 68 people with growth starting in 2012, Bragg said.
"Over the past seven years, our recipient has had a tremendous amount of success," Bragg said. "Starting with a single location, they have now grown to eight separate locations, two mobile facilities, and have sold three franchise locations. They also ship to nine states and all of their product is made locally and then distributed across the country."
Bragg called the company's growth astronomical, citing that in the past three years, Voodoo has tripled its production to keep up with demand — going from 2,000 barrels of beer in 2016 to 7,000 barrels of beer now.
Voodoo locations transform blighted buildings into new brewpubs, Bragg said. Its main production facility in Meadville transformed an old 84 Lumber site into a vibrant hot spot, he said.
In 2017, Voodoo earned the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association Project of the Year Award for its production facility project.
"This has all had a huge impact on the surrounding community and plays a large role in economic and community development in the communities in which they are located, including Meadville," Bragg said.
Voodoo's brand and name recognition outside of the Meadville community "is extraordinary and drives tourism to our region," Bragg said.
He pointed out Voodoo's annual Good Vibes beer festival is a major draw with this year's festival attracting 700 people to Meadville.
"Many of these people were from all over the world and would have never came to Meadville if it weren’t for our recipient," Bragg said of Voodoo.
Voodoo is known for its creativity on multiple levels and has a patent on its revolutionary packaging, Bragg said.
"All of their locations also showcase their creative personalities. They do all of their marketing through guerrilla marketing, utilizing creative social media methods.
"They have had their product ranked No. 1 in the world and have been invited all over the world for festivals, which is a huge honor in their industry," Bragg said.
Among its many accolades, Voodoo has had its beers ranked the best product by Draft Magazine several years in a row and also has been ranked as the best brewery in Pennsylvania by Yahoo! Travel.
Voodoo is fighting the brain drain in the region, too, as the majority of its employee-owners are young people with young families who stay due to employee-ownership opportunities, Bragg said.
Voodoo is active with the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce and works with the ARC of Crawford County in employing individuals through on-the-job training.
Voodoo is a sponsor with hundreds of community events and organizations from the United Way, to Toys for Tots, the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum at Mount Hope and St. James Haven, the men’s homeless shelter, Bragg said.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.