Erie Distillery Launches with Help from Gannon SBDC

Published: 15-Apr-2019

Karen and Dave Harkness
Karen and Dave Harkness of Erie Distillery 

The production of distilled spirits has a long and colorful history in Pennsylvania. Recent changes to the laws governing this industry have encouraged a new generation of distillers who are bringing an innovative approach to the production of small-batch handcrafted spirits.

One of them is Dave Harkness, a Gannon Small Business Development Center (SBDC) client whose Erie Distillery recently opened and looking forward to a grand opening celebration.

"I have a passion for quality vodka," Harkness said, explaining his choice of a business.  What he did not have a passion for was the paperwork and financial preparation necessary to start his business.

That's where SBDC came in.  "I went for a small loan and the bank told me that they needed a business plan. I was taking a business class and I had a beautiful plan with three-year, five-year and 10-year projections, but when I presented it to the bank, they said 'You need to go to SBDC,'" Harkness said with a laugh.

SBDC not only assisted with the business plan and financial projections, but also provided assistance in navigating the licensing filings and regulations, market and location research, product mix, and labelling requirements. 

Harkness was successful in obtaining the funding after presenting the revised plan and projections. It helped that, as a longtime toolmaker, he was able to fabricate much of the distillery's fixtures himself; from the tubes feeding the stills to the black walnut bar at his Peninsula Drive location.

Erie Distillery will serve apple pie moonshine, limoncello and Harkness’ signature drink, a vodka that he describes as, "the perfect cleanest distilled spirit, one that makes the hangover a thing of the past."

Harkness has included Erie history into his Prohibition-themed bar. "We incorporated the Niagara into the label design, and I want to use the Harkness crest from Scotland, too," he said.

More than that, Harkness is looking to make a little history of his own with Erie Distillery. "It’s the perfect time in our life to do what we want to do and make a distilled spirit that Erie can be proud of," Harkness said.