Former Mayor of Fleischmanns Todd Pascarella is embarking upon a new effort to keep us all in good spirits. Union Grove Distillery in Arkville is due to open this year, producing vodka to start and eventually offering aged rye whiskey and aged rye bourbon.
When did you move to the Catskills?
I moved to the Catskills in Spring 2001. I was drawn here partly because of my experience of going to college down in Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up in Long Island and it was quite a contrast from the life in Long Island to the way things were down there: the natural beauty and the niceness of the people down there. I decided to try and move up here by myself as a yearlong experiment and I moved to MT Tremper. And I started meeting a lot of people who I was fascinated by, so I decided to buy a fixer-upper house in Highmount. I lived in that for a couple of years and that’s when I met Jeanine.
What do you do for a living?
I run a home energy efficiency business. The two things that we do principally are home energy audits in which we evaluate the energy efficiency of a home and suggest improvements. Then we actually make many of the improvements ourselves like insulation and things like that.
What made you go into that?
I studied environmental science in college so I had a general interest in energy and the environment. I have always worked on houses in construction for money since I was thirteen, so I had a lot of experience and knowledge of old houses and buildings. After graduating college and moving upstate and realizing that I was going to have to scramble to make a living, I decided I was going to put together my energy knowledge with my construction knowledge. I found that NYSERTA was trying to get contractors trained. So I did the training and got myself certified to be an Energy Star Contractor, so that people could find me in the NYS website.
You were also the Mayor of Fleischmanns.
I was Mayor for 3 years: a term and a half. I was Deputy Mayor before that for a term and a half.
What did you learn from that?
It started out as more of an attempt to increase our involvement in the community and work on enhancing the park and beautifying things and making the park a little more of a resource and asset for the village. Our hope was to attract more young families to the village and younger people. The park is a spectacular resource. Then two years into the term, Hurricane Irene happened and our focus had to shift towards recovering from that. In the past year, we finally started to look at how we would transition away from flood recovery and back into some other projects. What I learned was that, when you come into a job like that, you don’t necessarily know what you’ll be doing. You do whatever comes at you. You go in with ideas of what you want to accomplish, but you’re there to handle the needs at hand.
I’m surprised that politicians are able to get anything done. It’s seems like it takes so much time and effort to get small things accomplished in politics.
It’s true. You only have so many hours in the day. You only have so much attention and time to work. A lot the things you have to do are more mundane or they don’t appeal to people. Running the sewer system well is not something that you can brag about but it’s one of our responsibilities. The village government is only one avenue to try and make progress with things. In starting the distillery, I hope to help contribute to growth and progress in the area in a lot of ways.
You’ll be more loved by producing booze. You’ll gain 300 new friends overnight. What gave you the idea for the distillery?
I’ve always had a mad science streak going back to when I was a kid and I’ve always liked beer. I became more and more fond of whiskey as time went on. Going back many years, I always liked the idea of eventually getting involved in some sort of brewery operation, but I knew it was a reach. It was not something I was totally focused on until a few years ago, Brian Mulder and I were talking about having the same interest in distilleries. We thought it would be incredible to open up something like that one day. While we were driving home one night after a horrific day of work, we decided that we were going to start the process of putting a business together. We wrote a business plan and looked at property. It took about two years. We closed on the building this past January.
There’s nothing like making food and drink for people, feeding people and showing people a good time: hospitality.
I think a lot of what interests us is what ties in with what’s becoming more appreciated now which is knowing about the things that you’re consuming, exactly where they come from, how they’re made and what goes into that process. Decades ago, people wouldn’t have necessarily cared. Why go to this little store, when I can just go buy a cheap bottle of something made in a factory? The timing is really fortunate for us in that there’s a lot of interest in this. We have a lot of interest in helping people experience that and explore where things come from. It’s a learning experience to visit a distillery.
What inspires you most about the Catskills?
The thing that inspires me most are the people here: how resourceful, hardy and generous people are. That’s really what got me to want to stay here. I moved here on my own as a loner, not really knowing if I was just passing through to try and find something else, or what. Even to this day, I’m still meeting new, interesting characters all around. Everybody’s got a story, everyone’s at work on something interesting and they go out of their way to help each other.
A lot of people say that.
Is there such a thing as a day off in country life?
We try to have a day off on Sunday. We go to church in the morning. We try to make Sunday the day that we spend with family, even though we end up doing a bit of work in the afternoon, but that’s the best we can do at this point. Though, in the summer working is not unpleasant. It’s almost like it’s a permanent staycation that we’re on.
I’m asking everyone this lately: what is work?
I remember a quote that I heard not too long ago from Confucius where he says that if you take a job doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s kind of how I’ve tried to pursue things over the years. Although I’ve done work that’s not gratifying or enjoyable at all, I’ve tried to get to the point where eventually all the work I do is gratifying in that I’m able to offer people things that they enjoy.
Like whiskey cocktails.
Touching people and make their lives better. Work is different for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be grueling if you can put the best of all those worlds together. I think that’s the end goal that people try to work towards: they identify their strengths and identify things that are challenging and interesting. Then, if they are fortunate, can combine those things and produce at a maximum level with the most benefit to everyone around them.