Time is an essential ingredient in making fine distilled spirits, but for an entrepreneur eager to get his business up and running, time can be a vexing foe. That's why Dave Harkness turned to the Gannon University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) when he decided to make his dream of producing fine spirits a reality.
Because distilleries are heavily regulated at the state and federal level, SBDC consultant John Fee helped Harkness navigate the filings and requirements that had to be in place before Erie Distillery would be licensed to produce its first products. SBDC also helped with projections, market and location research, product mix, advice on financing and even labelling requirements.
A $150,000 capital infusion and owner injection propelled Erie Distillery to what Harkness hopes will be a summer 2018 opening of his Prohibition-themed tasting room at the gateway to Presque Isle State Park, which draws more visitors annually than Yellowstone.
Harkness hatched the idea for Erie Distillery in a Trade Readjustment Allowances program.
"It was June 2017 when we got serious," Harkness recalls. "We had to fill out paperwork with federal government and the LCB. My wife said, 'Why don't we just do this.' She's the driving force."
A toolmaker by trade, Harkness fabricated his own stills and tubing. He is also building the black walnut bar at his retail location in Erie's busy Peninsula Drive corridor."When you grow up in Erie you hear it called the Mistake on the Lake, but it's got such history," Harkness said. "I want to make a distilled spirit that Erie can be proud of."