business matters
North Country Brewing Co. owner Bob McCafferty raises a glass of the brewery's Buck Snort Stout.

McCafferty a master at his craft, brewing that is

Bob McCafferty enjoyed an archeology career filled with discovery for more than 10 years before he made a decision that planted the seed for craft breweries to grow in Butler County.

After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in environmental geoscience, McCafferty, of Portersville, spent 12 years digging up history at places including Gettysburg National Military Park.

He always liked the food industry and worked in restaurants while attending high school and college. In 1998, the midst of his archeology career, he bought a “falling- down” building that was once a furniture shop on Main Street in Slippery Rock with an idea of a career change in mind.

It was getting to the time, he said, when he had to decide if he wanted to pursue a doctoral degree to continue his career in archeology.

Then in 2001, Slippery Rock Township residents passed a referendum allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol for the first time since the community was founded in 1789, and McCafferty quit his archeology job.

To earn an income while renovating the falling-down building into what would become North Country Brew Pub in 2005, he got a job tending bar at the Harmony Inn.

Tourism ambassador

Jon Barnes, who owned the Harmony Inn and hired McCafferty, is now the head brewer at North Country Brewing Co., which McCafferty opened in 2012.

In 2013, McCafferty bought the Harmony Inn. He met his wife Jodi, whom he married three years ago, in 1995 when he was a customer and she was an employee.

“That bar needed to be kept in Harmony. Sometimes we grow without looking or trying. We've been lucky over the years. Timing seems to work out,” McCafferty said.

Between the three businesses, they have 180 employees.

At the Brewing Company, employees produce and can 13 kinds of craft beer and hard seltzer. They also work with Slippery Rock University students with disabilities in its Rock Life program to grow vegetables and microgreens using aquaponics in Growing Together Aquaponics.

The aquaponics system utilizes waste water from tanks of tilapia and koi to grow the produce and greens that are used at the McCafferty's restaurants and other restaurants.

All of his endeavors led the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau to name McCafferty this year's Tourism Ambassador.

Most events the ambassador would normally attend were canceled this year because of public gathering restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most were events canceled. Actually I have it pretty easy,” McCafferty said.

Donating to a good cause

McCafferty is a former board member of the tourism bureau and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA).

He and Jodi in 2017 received the PRLA Eco-Hero Award. McCafferty goes to great lengths to ensure the hospitality industry is represented on a state and federal level.

This year, he worked with the PRLA to look for ways restaurants to operate safely during the pandemic.

He holds an annual Brewfest that has so far raised $50,000 for Slippery Rock Development, which helps maintain the borough's appearance and upkeep.

He donates 50% of the profits from a selection of his beers to restaurant workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

McCafferty said archeology was interesting and he considered it as a career. He said he paid off his college debt just before he bought the building in Slippery Rock and didn't want to go back into debt to pursue a doctoral degree.

Working in archeology afforded him the opportunity to spend time doing one f his favorite pastimes — backpacking.

“That lifestyle made me think of what I wanted to do with my life. The goal was to back pack and pay bills. Used to spend two weeks in woods at time,” McCafferty said.

However, the downside outweighed the upside.

“The old job was salary and a lot of traveling, living out of vans and hotels. I lived in the area for a while and got transferred. I love the hospitality industry. I didn't expect to come back at it like this,” McCafferty said.

In between opening restaurants, the McCaffertys opened the North Country Cattle Company in 2008. Although he enjoyed farming, he and Jodi sold the business in January.

“Lucky we did that. It gave us capital to weather COVID,” McCafferty said.

The Growing Together program produces a variety of lettuces, vegetables and microgreens such as alfalfa, mustard and radish sprouts year around, and has led students to get full-time jobs in restaurants, he said. One employee who started out in the student program has been working at North County Brewing Company trains students and is learning to work in the kitchen.

“The goal is to get students to learn and join the workforce,” McCafferty.