FuzeHub sits down with Dan Voce from FX Matt Brewery to talk about his experience as Packaging Manager. Dan also shares the brewery’s storied history and how they have supported and impacted the community around the brewery.
Steve Melito: So welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and we are here from F. X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica with Dan Voce. Dan, welcome to the podcast.
Dan Voce: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Steve Melito: Fantastic. So Dan, F. X. Matt is over 21 and much, much older than anybody who’s listening to our podcast. What would you like people to know about the story of F. X. Matt?
Dan Voce: The story, I probably can’t do it enough justice as deserved as it is, but we have been around since 1888, which I believe we are one of the oldest breweries in the United States, the only second or third behind a couple handful of craft brewers as far as family owned organizations go. The history has been tremendous. Lock, stock and barrel owned by the Matt family, which has been an absolute privilege to work with the last going on seven years here. We have done everything from surviving prohibition as a brewery, which is something to be said for that, and then to a fire more recently within the last decade. So there’s nothing that we have not survived, have not seen, and we continue to evolve and grow every day. So the story has been phenomenal. Generational oversight and compassion for not only what we do but for the people that work here has been nothing short of just a tremendous opportunity.
Steve Melito: And I guess we should tell people where we’re located. We’re in the tap room here at F. X. Matt.
Dan Voce: We are. Enjoying a beer as we speak, so that’s always fun and exciting.
Steve Melito: I got to tell you, this is one of the best factory tours I’ve ever had, so thank you for having us here for this. So Dan, what is your role within the company?
Dan Voce: My role is the packaging manager, which has oversight basically from everything, what we call refer to as bright beer, which is beer ready to be packaged to the final customer. So everything from scheduling, maintenance and equipment, the actual operation of the line, shipping, receiving, procurement, packaging materials, falls under my area of responsibility.
Steve Melito: And Dan, I first heard you speak last year, it was in Herkimer FuzeHub, and Herkimer College had an event in the Mohawk Valley. It was a B2B event and you were the keynote speaker and I was struck by your story, your journey to F. X. Matt, that it’s an interesting one. Can you share some highlights of that story?
Dan Voce: Yeah, my journey very much like the brewery here itself has taken some twist, turns, and some growth opportunities. I was actually born and raised in Utica, went to school out in the valley at Mohawk, had an opportunity to join the military fresh out of high school, which was a phenomenal experience. From there kind of circumstance brought me back to the area, which was in my mind at the time, a temporary transfer, but it’s worked out so we’re still working on temporary 20 years later. I tell everybody I’ve done everything from baby food to beer, which is a pretty eclectic mix, but hit all sides of the family.
Steve Melito: Sure, sure.
Dan Voce: We get take care of the kids and take care of the adults taking care of the kids. But we have had the opportunity now, it’s been going on 20 years in food manufacturing. I was not your stereotypical, I’m going to go to college and take the collegiate path and come out of college, get a degree and enter the workforce. I said I went through the military route. After the military, I kind of bit my teeth in a manufacturing as a maintenance mechanic. I did that for four and a half years prior to having the opportunity to take over a supervisory role. And since that time I’ve been in supervisory capacity to different levels in different organizations for the last 16 years now in a managerial supervisory capacity. So it’s been a fun road. I went back and got my degree, two degrees, electrical engineering back in early 2000s at MVCC and then more recently, about eight years ago, got my bachelor’s business management through SUNY.
Steve Melito: That’s great. So if you think back to when you came out of the service and went into the workforce, was it a tough transition? Was there anything about that that’s notable?
Dan Voce: I think it’s different. I don’t know if it’s difficult. I think the expectation and what you’re exposed to and what you do on a day- to- day basis in the military, there’s a lot of synergies to private manufacturing, but as a whole, I mean it’s a different structure. So in the military it’s definitely more rigid, which has, there’s pros and cons to it. So the, there’s not a lot of gray area, there’s no question, there’s an expectation and you meet it. Whereas in the manufacturing world, there’s a little bit more of an ability to impact your day- to- day operation or your day- to- day environment. So that’s been a great, great time, great exposure to go through it. So not difficult, but just different.
Steve Melito: So I asked that question because obviously, and it’s no secret that many manufacturers are having a challenge finding workforce talent and veterans are obviously a great pool of talent. How do you find the labor force that you need here at F. X. Matt?
Dan Voce: One of the great things about the F. X. Matt Brewery is our workforce. So our workforce has been generational not only from an ownership perspective, but the workforce in itself. So we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate with the team here. The people here make all the difference. We’re very fortunate to have our staff that we have here and as we grow and as we continue to adapt and change, I will say that we’re no different than any other manufacturer. We’ve had the same challenges of finding different talent and different people to join the team as technology has improved or changed. We work a lot with different organizations to help fulfill those voids in that employment gap. But we are, I will say first and foremost, the team we have here is absolutely outstanding.
Steve Melito: So is it easier to get younger people to come and work here because the end product is cool compared to a widget or something they don’t understand?
Dan Voce: Yeah, I think there’s a fallacy when you join, when you first come on and you hear, Hey, I’m going to go work for a brewery. And that’s got a lot of excitement and novelty to it. What we try to be very upfront and candid with the people coming in though it’s still a manufacturing environment. So our end product can be a lot more fun. I mean at the end of the day we are making beer or soft drinks or ciders or whatever category beverage that we’re making. So the end product is fun, but the demands of the process don’t change. Whether it’s a widget or whether it’s beer, there’s still some things that you have to do that aren’t always great, but at the end of the day, we get to come here and enjoy the fruits of our labor in the tavern. So that’s always a fun opportunity.
Steve Melito: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful end product, end result. So it is a manufacturing operation and with manufacturing things need to be repeatable and they need to be done reliably. And so that brings me to asking about automation and things that you’re doing to automate operations.
Dan Voce: We have recently pseudo completed phase one of a multi- phase expansion project. So if you look around and outside you’ll see some new structures and new facilities out there. We’ve continued to grow. My family continues to reinvest into the operation and organizations. We’ve recently added on a brewhouse expansion, which is going to do great things for us for the next generation as well. So I would say we are a very unique cross breed of older technology and state- of- the- art technology. So we have everything from 1940s technology and electrical control and mechanical action controlled type opportunities to MES and SCADA type manufacturing systems that capture data that we can use to evaluate and drive decisions for the process. So I would say we’re a very unique mix of both old and new technology.
Steve Melito: So that brings me to say mechatronics, and even more to the point, partners that you work with. Are there resources in the Mohawk Valley that have helped you?
Dan Voce: I think we are very fortunate in the Mohawk Valley to have different agencies, whether it’s the Edge or Advanced Institute for Manufacturing programs. These are all great organizations and resources, whether it be Workforce Development board, we partner and work with all sorts of different organizations. We’ve had a very good success of working with different organizations here and the mechatronics program is a little bit near and dear to my heart. So myself and Jim Kuhr, our director of operations, were very involved in the implementation of the mechatronics program, worked with Franca and the team over at MVCC and Corey to get the conceptual idea going and off the ground. And we worked with a lot of selection of equipment over there and MVCC has really taken the ball and continued to grow that program into something that was beyond what I thought it would be. So it’s pretty exciting.
Steve Melito: It sounds like MVCC and AIM, which is your local MEP center, work together very closely, very important. That’s where the MEP center is located. It seems to have worked out pretty well for F. X. Matt.
Dan Voce: Yeah, like I said, it’s been a great partnership and I don’t see any signs of that slowing down. There’s continued opportunities as we grow. They will continue to be a very vital part of our success and continued whether it be workforce training, workforce selection and development. So that’s been a good relationship that we continue to look forward to.
Steve Melito: Have you ever worked with the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at all?
Dan Voce: We have in 2014, 2012 to 2014, as we onboarded our anaerobic digester building, we have worked with different organizations from environmental to the New York State groups. It’s been an open door for us. We’ve done a lot of work with different organizations from recycling and environmental controls.
Steve Melito: Is there much waste when it comes to beer? I mean, do you attempt to use everything that you do?
Dan Voce: We are surprisingly, so if we look at our total waste, we are 96% fully recycled. So whether it’s cardboard, whether it’s glass, whether it’s hops, whether it’s spent grain, whether it’s the waste from the processed loss of manufacturing beer, there is really nothing that goes to landfill and there’s really nothing that goes to the affluent stream to wastewater or anything like that. So we’re pretty happy and we’re pretty excited about our recycling opportunities and we continue to challenge ourselves every day to do a little bit better with that. We actually have somebody on the team that is solely dedicated to recycling and sustainability efforts. So we’re very passionate about them.
Steve Melito: So environmentally responsible, are you also a major employer in Utica area?
Dan Voce: We are one of the major employers in the area. We are not as large as what people think by the sheer size of our building. So we have call it 130, 140 employees as it sits today, and that’s continuing to grow as we expand and as different opportunities and different markets come on board, we’re looking at adding another shift, potentially two shifts, growing in our maintenance departments. We are growing our workforce.
Steve Melito: And so as you grow, do you think you’ll work with your local MEP center, that’s the Advanced Institute of Manufacturing, that’s with Corey’s group?
Dan Voce: Absolutely. Like I said, it’s been a great relationship and they’ve been vital and always here for us. Sometimes Corey will call me once a month, Hey, just to check in. Do you need anything from us? Very much engaged in our overall success and looking forward to kind of growing to the next chapter.
Steve Melito: It’s outstanding. So let’s give you a chance to give a pitch here. What are some of the beers that you make here at F. X. Matt?
Dan Voce: So beer is one of the categories that not every beer appeals to every single person. So what I’ll say is as a brewery, I cannot think of a category of beer that we do not manufacture that somebody won’t have an opportunity to enjoy. My personal preference is pale ale, but again, that’s just me. So we make everything from a double IPA to the most sessionable Pilsner. Utica Club just won of bronze medal at the New York State Craft Brewers Conference. We make award- winning beers. I’m going to say there’s not a style or category out there that we don’t produce that somebody can’t try.
Steve Melito: Excellent. And I can vouch for that. I’m sitting here right now having a Utica Club and it’s fantastic.
Dan Voce: Excellent.
Steve Melito: So how do New York state companies become part of your supply chain? You’re a big player in the area, I’m sure you have a lot of companies that would like to work with you, whether they make seals for the equipment or maybe sheet metal work or welding. How do they become part of your supply chain?
Dan Voce: Just like anything else when you’ve been around since 1888, we have established relationships with our vendors. We are very sincere and passionate about supporting local. So if there’s something that we can source locally, we do. We have contracts with, and we have our supplies come from Europe when it comes to some ingredient to right next door at a local hardware store. So we hit all facets of it. We do a New York State collaboration with some other breweries. So we’re very sincere on keeping it local where we can and what makes sense for the organization. But we are always open to somebody, if somebody has something that is of use or like to approach us, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we’ll see if it works for everybody.
Steve Melito: So anything I didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about F. X. Matt and what you do and what it’s like to be a manufacturer here in Mohawk Valley?
Dan Voce: I would say no. I think we’ve covered all topics, but what I will say is, again, I can’t tell you how great of an organization this is and how excited we are looking to the future as we get into other categories in different markets, whether it be beer, soda, cider, distilled spirits, we have the capability now to do them all. So I think what we look like two years from today will be interesting and exciting and we look forward to what the future holds for us.
Steve Melito: I’m excited for it with you. So we’re here with Dan Voce from F. X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica. Dan, thanks for being on the podcast. This is New York State Manufacturing Now. I’m your host, Steve Melito, signing off. Wait. Before we sign off, I got to remind anyone who’s out there listening. If you’re a manufacturer and you need business or technical assistance, you can come to the FuzeHub website 24- 7 day or night and you can tell us what you need. There’s a form on the website and from that point you’ll probably end up talking to me. I’ll give you a call, we’ll talk about what you need to get going and then we’ll put you in touch with a resource that can help. If you’re in the Mohawk Valley, you should know, as you’ve heard in this podcast, there are some fantastic resources. AIM is your local MEP Center, Mohawk Valley Community College, works closely with AIM and has some great workforce training programs. And I’d love to hear from you.