Labor for renovations was provided largely by volunteers: fans of Voodoo who trekked from Meadville as well as nearby residents who wanted to help transform the vacant building into a community hub.
“I still get goosebumps talking about it,” says Voelker. “We had 100 people outside of our door on the first Saturday [of construction]. We helped to create a community of people excited to see the neighborhood they grew up in revitalized.”
Voodoo is the mecca of Homestead’s growing craft beer scene, and others are taking note. Trios Brewing will open a 15-barrel brewhouse, restaurant and adjacent beer garden in the former Levine Brothers hardware building this winter on E. 8th Ave.
Manager David Rodriguez spent the last six years opening brewpubs in Spain, one of which was named one of the 10 best brewpubs in Europe by The Guardian.
“The other craft beer destinations in the borough helped support our idea to bring business to Homestead,” says Trios marketing manager Lavinia Oancea. “These places give people more reason to come. We are all helping to renovate the area and attract people to visit so they will recognize the potential.”
Another brewery, Rogan Brewery, is planning to open a taproom on W. 8th Ave. in West Homestead by the end of the year. (The brewery itself, which will be closed to the public, will be located in Duquesne; like Voodoo, the Homestead taproom will technically be a satellite brewpub.)
Owner and brewer Rick Morgan cites the proliferation of craft beer destinations in Homestead, including Dorothy 6, Duke’s and Blue Dust in addition to the breweries, as a key reason he decided to move to the area. And he’s bullish on the neighborhood’s future prospects:
“I literally look to Homestead as the next Lawrenceville,” says Morgan. “South Side was the place to be 25 years ago. Lawrenceville, five to 10 years ago, was the next hot place. Homestead, I think, can be the next place that can take off similarly.”
“It’s one of the pieces of putting people on the map here,” says Borough Manager Matt Staniszewski. “Young people visit [the breweries] and see other opportunities, whether it’s opening a business here or even moving here.”
Voodoo owner Voelker, a former Army platoon leader with two tours of duty under his belt, also serves as vice president of the Steel Valley Avenues Group, a nonprofit economic redevelopment group he helped to create that is comprised of area small business owners surrounding the 8th Ave. business district.
When NEXTpittsburgh first met with Voelker for this story he was putting the bar together at the future site of Steel City Roasters, a coffee shop scheduled to open at 207 E. 8th Ave. this August, one block down from the four-story, 30-unit affordable apartment building complex that’s part of the ONE Homestead development.
The Avenues Group hosts a regular food truck rally under the Homestead Grays Bridge with proceeds going back toward outreach efforts for the business district. (Homestead Borough also throws a pair of annual craft beer events under the bridge: Pumpkinfest and Oysterfest.)
This spring, with the support of the borough and elected officials at the state level, Voodoo applied for a $500,000 PA Gaming Economic Development Fund grant to launch a “farm to fork” education fellowship for local youth: the Steel Valley Food Project.
If awarded, the grant would go to renovate the now-vacant second and third floors of the old borough building and provide a space for local students to learn about the restaurant industry from the ground up: they could raise vegetables and seafood on solar-powered hydroponic systems, then sell them to local restaurant purveyors and learn the business along the way.
It’s a big idea from a brewery that insists on doing things differently, at the tap and in the community.
“We by no means laid the kindling,” says Voelker. “There was a group of passionate individuals who helped run this town for years who said we want you guys for this, we need a brewery to help us get going, and all that kindling that had been laid for so many years helped to ignite a fire of economic redevelopment in Homestead.”