Businessman blends office, cheese, whiskey
MIDDLEBURY — Lars Hubbard has made his living in a multitude of ways throughout the years, including as a chef, executive, entrepreneur and software designer.
He chalks up his diverse career choices to a credo he lives by: “I hate to be boring.”
And no one can accuse him of being boring with his latest plan: Acquiring (out of foreclosure) the 6,000-square-foot office building at 88 Mainelli Road in Middlebury and turning it into a distillery, cheese-making facility and headquarters for his small firm, known as The Friday Group LLC.
The Friday Group LLC is currently based in Vergennes. The company provides architectural specification services and related software to clients throughout the world who are designing large and complex buildings.
The Friday Group is currently working with a client called Vinaconex Corp. that is planning the biggest building ever to be erected in Vietnam, in the capital city of Hanoi.
“We are doing the specs for it,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard has also worked with clients in Australia, South Africa, the Middle East, and throughout the United States.
It’s work that Hubbard and a handful of associates have been conducting out of a small office at 72 Main St. in Vergennes for more than five years. He’s been thinking about moving the business into a place of its own for quite a while.
“I was getting tired of paying rent, to be honest,” Hubbard said. He was also looking for larger quarters that would not only accommodate potential growth for the Friday Group, but also host a novel side venture — a whiskey distillery.
Turns out that Hubbard — a former chef — has a very refined palate. He and his business partner Charles Burkins recently took an artisanal distilling class in Geneva, N.Y. The pair had already collaborated on some small-scale beer brewing and thought it would be fun to delve into spirits.
“There’s a certain satisfaction of being able to hand something to someone — be it food or beverage — and say, ‘I made that,’” Hubbard said. “We decided that beer wasn’t the way to go, because there are more breweries now than there were before Prohibition. But there aren’t a lot of craft distilleries. They are happening very quickly, but there aren’t a lot of them.”
Among the relatively few is Whistlepig Straight Rye Whiskey, based in Shoreham. Hubbard and Burkins want to make malt and corn whiskeys, under the name “Appalachian Gap Distillery.” They plan on buying the corn, grain and other whiskey ingredients from Addison County farms.
Their goal: To start production at a rate of around 20 cases of whiskey per month and then ramp up, based on demand. Barrel racks will be installed within the building to allow the whiskey to age properly.
It is a venture that will carry some substantial start-up costs ($75,000 to $100,000) and will require ample space, Hubbard noted. With that in mind, he scanned the county for a spot that could accommodate the Friday Group and a small distillery.
Hubbard had an immediate idea of where to look. He had been on the Gailer School board around three years ago when it had considered relocating the school to 88 Mainelli Road, the building off Exchange Street that has previously housed Bread Loaf Corp., the National Bank of Middlebury and law offices, among others.
That plan didn’t work out for Gailer, but Hubbard recently noted the building was still on the market. He eventually purchased the property out of foreclosure. It has been gutted and will be refurbished for not only the distillery and Friday Group, but also for a basement tenant: The Champlain Valley Creamery.
The creamery is currently based in 1,250 square feet of rented space in the Kennedy Brothers Factory Marketplace in Vergennes. Owner/cheesemaker Carleton Yoder had been looking for bigger, more accessible space in which to make the small, 8-year-old company’s award-winning organic cream cheese made from milk sourced from Bridport.
“We have been running out of room,” said Yoder, who runs the business with his wife, Moira Cook. “We are bursting at the seams.”
Yoder believes the creamery will find a good new home in the 2,000-square-foot lower level of Hubbard’s property. The space, he explained, has a better layout to meet the business’s needs — including two areas in which to age the cheese. That capability will allow the creamery to launch additional cheese varieties in the future — such as a soon-to-be-released queso fresco,Yoder explained.
The creamery made 18,000 pounds of cheese last year. He hopes to increase production to 75,000 pounds annually during the next few years.
Hubbard is excited to welcome his new tenants, pending the necessary permitting. He’d like the Friday Group to be settled in within a few months, and the distillery putting out product by next spring.
“We kind of have the same approach to life, food and fun, so they seemed like the perfect tenants for us,” Hubbard said of the creamery. “Carleton and I have even talked about possibly making a whey whiskey, which would be pretty cool.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.
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