Victory Brewing Co. eager for another win

Bill Covaleski (right), who started Victory Brewing Company with Ron Barchet, his "best friend and business partner," chats with guests at a press meet-and-greet at the company's new brewpub in Kennett Square.

What a difference nearly two decades can make. Nineteen years ago, two friends who shared a passion for brewing beer debuted the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown.

Patrons overwhelmed by the vast selection of beers can order a sampler.

Patrons overwhelmed by the vast selection of beers can order a sampler.

The opening followed a struggle so intense that partners Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet concluded it would be a “victory” if the venture succeeded, inspiring the name.

On Monday, April 20, Victory, now the nation’s 26th largest craft brewery, opened its newest brewpub, Victory at Magnolia, in Kennett Square. Its debut was so anticipated that crowds packed the 8,000-square-foot facility the first night, despite a lack of advertising or publicity.

Covaleski shook his head when asked at a press meet-and-greet on Monday, May 11, to compare the two experiences. He and Barchet both said that the welcoming reception they received in Kennett Square bore no resemblance to their earlier launch and exceeded their expectations. “Overwhelmingly so,” said Barchet. “We’re very grateful.”

Located in Magnolia Place, a residential development taking shape at the corner of West Cypress Street and Mill Road, Victory rents the entire bottom floor of a four-story red brick building that is also home to 33 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Co-founders of Victory Brewing Company, Bill Covaleski (left) and Ron Barchet , listen to feedback on their new Kennett Square brewpub.

Co-founders of Victory Brewing Company, Bill Covaleski (left) and Ron Barchet , listen to feedback on their new Kennett Square brewpub.

Covaleski said they knew when they teamed up with the Pia family, well-known as the fourth-generation operators of Kaolin Mushroom Farm, that they had found partners who were similarly civic-minded. He said both companies believe strongly in community outreach.

“We want to be a fixture in the community,” Covaleski said. He said the process was a lengthy one in Downingtown, where they started as unknowns and had to navigate some rancorous zoning meetings. Residents raised concerns that ranged from an increase in litter to a spike in teen pregnancy. “It took years to develop a positive relationship” with some, Covaleski said.

By the time Victory was searching for a new brewpub location, it enjoyed a reputation as a successful, eco-friendly company, and Kennett Square was already renowned for its well-attended beer festivals and pro-business climate.

“It was really wonderful to have the community support right away,” Covaleski said.

The brewery is already scheduled to have a presence at Longwood Gardens when “Nightscape,” a light extravaganza, opens in July. The nighttime exhibit will include a Victory beer garden, where visitors will be able to purchase a Longwood signature beer brewed by Victory with ingredients grown in the gardens.

Victory at Magnolia occupies the bottom floor of an apartment building in Magnolia Place, a new development on Cypress Street in Kennett Square.

Victory at Magnolia occupies the bottom floor of an apartment building in Magnolia Place, a new development on Cypress Street in Kennett Square.

Covaleski said Victory was also attracted to the fact that the Kennett project would bring new residents into the borough so that it wouldn’t simply be competing with existing businesses for customers.

Although Victory at Magnolia will have beer and menu items exclusive to Kennett Square, the overall philosophy mirrors the Downingtown location, Covaleski said.  The menu is dominated by fresh, locally-sourced ingredients; in fact, the kitchen has no freezer. A small unit near the main entrance contains Victory’s ice cream, but the restaurant won’t be serving anything else that’s frozen – an intentional decision, Covaleski said.

In keeping with the company’s recycling initiatives, over 800 reclaimed mushroom boards were used as wainscoting in the building’s industrial-style interior. Reflecting its anti-waste philosophy, spent grain from beer production supplements feed for local farmers, and organic waste is turned into mulch, Covaleski said.

Like Downingtown, Covaleski said Victory plans to give back by supporting nonprofits in the Kennett area. “Our commitment and support of our local economy have created a dedicated following of fans we hope to have for generations to come,” he said.

Although the Kennett Square menu features new offerings, some of the bar fare, such as a hand-tossed pretzel with Dusseldorf mustard and HopDevil cheese, originated at the company's first location in Downingtown.

Although the Kennett Square menu features new offerings, some of the bar fare, such as a hand-tossed pretzel with Dusseldorf mustard and HopDevil cheese, originated at the company's first location in Downingtown.

Brad Maule, an artist and writer from Philadelphia who attended Monday’s event, learned firsthand recently that Victory’s ecological inclinations dovetailed nicely with his own. The revelation occurred as Maule was about to debut his "One Man's Trash" project at the Fairmount Water Works this past Earth Day.

Maule said the project came about because he was appalled by the amount of litter he found during hikes in Fairmount Park. He decided to collect it for a year and turn it into an artistic display to raise awareness. Another local brewer had offered its suds for the event. “But I really liked Victory’s beer,” Maule said.

So Maule, founder of PhillySkyline.com, made an overture to Victory, a contact that was well-received by a company committed to creative recycling. As proof of his loyalty, Maule sported a Victory shirt. He predicted that residents of Kennett Square would soon share his view. “It’s a great company,” he said.

It’s not an outcome that its owners could have anticipated when they met in 1973 on the school bus in Collegeville as fifth-graders. They became friends – as did their families – and kept in touch when they went separate ways to college: Barchet to UCLA to pursue a political-science degree and Covaleski to Temple’s Tyler School of Art.

Covaleski said his father piqued his interest in home brewing, and in 1985, he gave Barchet a beer kit for Christmas. Both got hooked, and less than a decade later, were making plans to launch the business.

Alex Waegel (from left) and Cassie Hepler, publisher of ExplorePhilly.com, enjoy a beer with Bill Covaleski.

Alex Waegel (from left) and Cassie Hepler, publisher of Explore-Philly.com, enjoy a beer with Bill Covaleski.

Victory at Magnolia seats up to 220 and will add outdoor dining in late May. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The retail store features a bevy of Victory beers for takeout as well as merchandise and beer-infused food products, such as Belgian Brulee Ice Cream.

In addition to the original Downingtown brewery and brewpub, Victory recently opened a second brewery in Parkesburg to expand production, which now includes distribution to 35 states. To learn more about the company, visit www.victorybeer.com.

 

 

 

 

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About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

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