Sarah Real and Mike Dell’Aquila, the owners of Pittsfield’s Hot Plate Brewing, started with a dream of opening a craft brewery that would be a gathering place for the community and where out-of-town visitors could feel at home. Their vision was to create a warm and inviting urban taproom where people could sit and hang out drinking great beer. It would be “as familiar as a good friend’s apartment.”
“We had originally thought about upstate New York just because we would go from our home in Brooklyn to the Catskills with friends for weekends,” Mike said. “But when we thought about living there full time, we thought, ‘This is a little too rural, and it’s a little too desolate.’ We just didn’t see that that matched our lifestyle.”
The couple knew of the Berkshires from previous visits and the creative writing workshops Mike attended each August given by a Williams College professor.
“When I was coming up here, I realized that the Berkshires have the same kind of geography and outdoor activities as upstate New York. But, wow, there are museums and concerts with music going on. The towns are closer together, and there is a lot of activity. We could see ourselves and our business here.”
In addition to being a rare Latina beer brewer, Sarah’s full-time job was as a market researcher for an international company. So, she gathered data and crunched the numbers. Could a brewery work in Pittsfield?
“The demographics of Berkshire County sit right on top of what the craft beer consumer looks like. And then when you look at who comes as a tourist, that adds even more consumers who are our kind of core customer,” Sarah said.
“And there is no doubt in my mind that Pittsfield is going to grow. General Dynamics is growing. Berkshire Medical Center is growing. VidMob is growing. These great middle-class jobs continue to grow in Pittsfield. And that will mean more customers for us,” Mike added.
They looked all over the Berkshires from Great Barrington to North Adams for the perfect spot. Pittsfield was it.
“We really fell in love with North Street. It has a Brooklyn feel with a great hotel and many fantastic restaurants. Putting a brewery on the corner there just seemed really awesome to us,” Mike explains.
“And it seemed like a place we would want to live in ourselves,” Sarah said, “We can get to a hiking trail, a lake, and out in nature in five minutes. Nature is not an hour and a half drive as it used to be for us. So, as we were thinking about making this life change, it worked both personally and professionally.”
Mike and Sarah’s banker suggested they contact Mike Coakley, the city’s full-time business development manager. Mike and Laurie Mick of PERC, the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation, worked with them every step of the way.
“I emailed Mike Coakley, and I think it was maybe five minutes later he called me back. We had a great conversation. Mike then started introducing us to people who could help,” Mike said.
“I think the really exciting thing was that the phone call launched a public-private partnership that allowed us to come here,” he added,
The city deployed its “Red Carpet Team” to work with Hot Plate Brewery. The team, headed by Coakley, works with companies looking to move to or expand in Pittsfield. The team includes the mayor, local and state economic development officials, workforce development experts, financial experts, and representatives from 1Berkshire and Berkshire Community College. They can also put together significant economic incentive packages using local, regional and state resources and reduce the time it takes for a business to open.
One of the benefits of working with the Red Carpet Team is that companies like Hot Plate Brewery can meet with key decision-makers and get their advice before any decision is made. Mike described working with the Red Carpet Team as “clearing the path” to eliminate any “downstream challenges” that one might not know about.
“The president of a local bank worked with us and saw our presentation. He helped ensure that our presentation would pass the stress test of a commercial loan, but in a cooperative and not aggressive way,” Mike said. “There were members of Mass Development and Mass Hire to talk about staffing and employment resources that would be available to us and make Hot Plate a generator for job growth locally.”
“Professionals who work for the city also helped us understand the permitting requirements and city ordinances. They made sure that we met with key personnel before we moved down any particular path,” Mike concluded.
Working with the Red Carpet Team, PERC and the City of Pittsfield put together a $140,000 incentive package from the City’s Economic Development Fund, a fund specifically intended to encourage business growth in Pittsfield. The fund cannot be found anywhere else in Massachusetts. The unique set of incentives will be used primarily to purchase new equipment.
“Without the support of the City of Pittsfield and its economic incentives, we wouldn’t have been able to start this brewery. We really want everyone to know about the great strategies the city has in place and the work that PERC is doing to put them into action. To me, this is a blueprint of how to bring other businesses to Pittsfield,” Mike said.
As a woman of color, Sarah always wanted to keep inclusivity at the forefront. Both Sarah and Mike describe their business as a “mission-driven organization.” They designed the taproom to exceed Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, offer nonalcoholic and gluten-free options, and create a comfortable gathering space for everyone.
“I am glad that Pittsfield believes that it is really important to invest in businesses that are owned by women and people of color. It’s not an overstatement to say without the involvement and investment of the city and PERC, none of this would have been possible,” Mike concludes.
– by Roger Matus