2014 Businesspeople of the Year: Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.

“If you build it, they will come.”

Considering it worked for Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. co-owners Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey figure it can work for them as well. In fact, it already has. 

Since opening the doors to their second brewery in Peconic in July, business has been “better than we could have expected,” Mr. Vandenburgh said.

The owners have always had a vision of what the craft beer business could be on the North Fork. There were no breweries when the doors of Greenport Harbor’s first tasting room opened in summer 2009, but once it did, an emerging market for Long Island craft beers quickly developed. There are now four breweries from Riverhead to Greenport — and the industry is growing.

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-owners John Liegey (left) and Rich Vandenburgh at their booth during the beer festival this summer. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-owners John Liegey (left) and Rich Vandenburgh at their booth during the beer festival this summer. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

In the six months the new tasting room has been open, it has quickly become a destination for craft beer drinkers.

In recognition of their dedication to exceptional vision — creating a beer destination amid dozens of wineries — Mr. Vandenburgh and Mr. Liegey are The Suffolk Times’ 2014 Business People of the Year.

Mr. Vandenburgh and Mr. Liegey had sought a space to grow their operation since about a year after opening their first tasting in the former Star Hose Company firehouse on Carpenter Street in Greenport. In June 2012, the dream took shape when construction began on the 13,000-square-foot facility on Main Road in Peconic.

After two years of working through financial hang-ups and the town’s site approval process, the duo succeeded in opening the $4 million facility at the former Lucas Ford dealership.

“The journey was challenging. But like most journeys that you take, once you get to where you hope to be, the road behind you is something you don’t necessarily focus on,” Mr. Vandenburgh said in December, reflecting on the year.

The Peconic operation is capable of producing 18 times more beer than Greenport Harbor’s original location.

Now that the brewery is up and running, Mr. Vandenburgh said they will continue their efforts to establish the region as a destination for craft beer in 2015.

“What the North Fork has done with the wine, we want to be one of the forerunners that makes the beer experience here equally attractive,” he said.

With that in mind, Greenport Harbor hopes to open a 150-seat restaurant at the new tasting room later this year — another first for the craft beer business on the North Fork. Greenport Harbor is also leading the way on the agricultural aspect of the industry, being the first brewery in the area to plant its own local grains for its beer.

Before it was purchased by Greenport Harbor, the long vacant three-acre Peconic property was considered an eyesore by many in the community. However, with the brewers’ investment, the facility has become a bright spot in the small hamlet, especially in the eyes of neighboring business owners.

“[The Greenport Harbor brewery] has definitely improved the area,” said Sarah Nappa, owner of Provisions Ingredients and The Winemaker Studio, both located on Peconic Lane. “Obviously the more things, the better. It is better to have stores full than to have things empty — especially when they were dilapidated like that dealership was.”

And the new location is not just a meeting place for beer lovers to grab a drink. The brewery also serves as a gathering place for community organizations.

“I really love the fact that we are getting inquiries from people who want to hold a meeting or function there because it to me it is a cool space and it is consistent with the idea of keeping it a public house where one night we have a Cub Scout meeting and another night we can have a Whitebread organizational meeting,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “We are totally invested in the community.”

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Previous Winners

2013 — Charlie Manwaring

2012 —Jill Schroeder

2011 — Shelley Scoggin

2010 — Peconic Landing

2009 — Rocky DiVello

2008 — John Romanello

2007 — North Fork Press/Academy Printing

2006 — Soundview Restaurant and Inn

2005 — Joe Frohnhiefer

2004 — Dan Damianos

2003 — The Arcade

2002 — Kate McDowell

2001 — Mattituck Chamber of Commerce

2000 — The Harbes Family

1999 — Sue Rempe

1998 — Bob Scott

1997 — Jackie Copas

1996 — Richard Mullen

1995 — The Claudios

1994 — Jeff Strong

1993 — The Hargraves

1992 — The Rowsoms

1991 — Mark Middleton

1990 — John Wickham

1989 — Ray Terry

1988 — Dave LeFreniere

1987 — Linda Livni