BUFFALO, N.Y. -- New York State is home to more than 70 distilleries. That’s the second highest number in the country. While many are based in Brooklyn, Buffalo is home to several that have popped up in recent years.
In this week's City Shapers, we are profiling a man whose career path took an unexpected turn into the distillery business.
Tommyrotter Distillery was the first tenant to move into the 500 Seneca building in Larkinville in 2015.
Bobby Finan didn't set out to become a distiller.
"How did you get interested in his field? Is this what you thought you were going to end up doing when you were in high school?" asked Dudzik.
"No, I thought I was going to be a lawyer in high school. I probably thought I was going to do something with banking in college," said Finan.
During a college internship in New York City, Finan checked out some distilleries in Brooklyn and never looked back.
"Visited them and said that's way cooler than sitting in a cubicle all day and pretty naively decided that I was going to start a distillery," says Finan.
"What did your family and friends think about that when you told them?" asked Dudzik.
"My mother was very upset," says Finan.
Finan’s parents were more comfortable with his change of plans after he got a job at a distillery in Central New York. In 2013, the East Aurora native moved back to Buffalo to build his own business.
He found a space in the 500 Seneca building, found a business partner, came up with a plan, and 18 months later, launched Tommyrotter Distillery -- a nod to his East Aurora roots.
"How did you come up with the name?" asked Dudzik.
"The name comes from the WNY arts and craft movement out of East Aurora, New York. They were a group of artisans who would sneak off during the work day, drink a little bit, get into trouble, look for mischief, but were really kind of purists. Wanted to create for creation's sake. And they called themselves the Tommyrotter's Club," says Finan.
Tommyrotter makes vodka, gin and a bourbon barrel gin -- which has already won awards -- and Finan plans on adding to his sales staff to expand into cities like Boston, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
"You moved back here and thought maybe you weren't going to move back to Buffalo. So how does it feel to be part of that whole movement of young people of leaving Buffalo coming back?" asked Dudzik.
“It feels very comforting in that you have a true sense of place. A real community. These mega cities that are so attractive to young people, can actually be kind of cold and lonely once you're there because it's tough to be somebody there. Here, you've got a, in Buffalo, a vibrant community of young entrepreneurs and an older generation that's extraordinarily supportive of all this growth and there kind of to extend wisdom and any advice they can. And, yeah, it's a really wonderful place to live and start a business," says Finan.
Finan says they'll start doing tastings at the distillery again this spring. His next spirit involves an aging process in French oak barrels that were used to make wine in the Napa Valley.
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