After my conversation with Abby Gruppuso,
I am reminded of this saying, or rather sentiment that I love. Basically it's the notion that every person you meet, gets to know a different version of you - and no two people in your life know the same you. Some people know you for one season and wouldn't recognize you in the next. The reason this strikes me walking away from The Betterman Distillery on a sunny Tuesday in June, is because Abby who is 26 and partial owner of the establishment, has seemed to live many lives. Not in the feline sense of always having another chance to live, but her personal philosophy to never miss an opportunity and to always take a chance. The distillery is the most current chapter for her, as her Father Anthony (who introduced himself to me as Tony which is what I assume he more naturally goes by) put his dream of it into motion a few years back. Abby moved to Tiwan after graduating Wesleyan University to teach English. After a year of that she moved to Mexico to work on a language learning app which was an idea that fizzled with a poor business partnership. Then, she landed back at home with a baking business which she brought to local farmer's markets and delis. So, when Tony was retiring as a Photographer (self taught, worked for USA Today) he wanted the distillery dream to become a reality. Abby, signed on, and on this Tuesday morning we are sitting inside the perfectly designed tasting room in Patchogue like the place has been there all along.
"We don't really Fit Into a Box"
Abby says while describing Betterman Distillery. She's right, Betterman is hard to pinpoint since it is a unique setting with a refreshing atmosphere. I was honestly shocked knowing that opening day was in January 2019 since this place feels like an already much established institution to Patchogue. The Tasting Room which we are in for this conversation only opened up months prior to shutdown. When COVID hit, Abby really came into her own. Her creative thinking came to her quick when she designed Patchogue's Virtual Bar Crawl. The ingenuity inspired the established restaurants and bars that were their new neighbors to follow suit which forged a new network for Betterman and also kept them busy during some really tough times. When they were able to open their patio again, they filled the outdoor space with live music and cocktails that eased people's minds and attracted such an eclectic group of people. The crowd at the Betterman Distillery is a diverse one that breeds a sense of community. It's almost as if you're all family when you visit - probably because it is a family business.
With her parents Tony & Laurie Gruppuso as original full owners, Abby signed on recently as part-owner, her brother Stephen works behind the bar, and her Aunt Julia is a chemist that works in the distillery and is responsible for the formula that became their now famous Elysian Fields Lavender Gin. The staff is made up of old friends, trusted connections, and new pals all in one. Abby does not take this for granted, she knows having a job like this with all of the creative freedom it gives her should not be taken lightly. Especially since, it hasn't been an easy feat. Betterman lost their original property and their original name in what felt like one big stroke of bad luck. That lead to polling the audience they had for a new name. Their new property had a small tasting room up and running and acquired regulars off the bat. One of which, suggested the name Betterman since in all of these situations, they had to be better. And so the Mission Statement and name of Betterman Distillery became one, always doing better than before, because "it isn't a business model" Tony explained to me at the photoshoot, "it is truly a mission statement, and it is a part of every single thing we do."
It comes as no surprise to me that there are big plans for Summer at Betterman. Winter brought thematic igloos that you could rent out for 2 hour blocks with your crew. Each of them had their own special decor and cocktail menu, and they will be returning next winter. The kitchen at Betterman is cranking out small plates and events - with new cocktails to try monthly crafted by their excellent staff of bartenders. There is not one person who is staffed at Betterman who doesn't make you feel welcome. In my short time of taking their photos, I caught the happy vibe they give off. They do adore each other, our conversation happened the morning after a staff picnic that involved corn-hole and Abby laughed while she said this chat was a welcomed delay of her workday. Betterman started a book club, hosts local musicians, and hopes to have more events in the near future. "The Book Club started as a joke after we saw a meme" Abby smiles, "And then 200 people signed up and we went for it." Abby wants to see poetry slams and more special events on Betterman's calendar - her education and background can be seen in the nuances of some of their special menus, features, and the space.
I find the entire visit refreshing
Learning about Abby, her family, and the staff of this place really explains what attracted me to it. My friend, Jon Wibben, who plays live music all over Long Island told me that I would love it here - and I do. I share such a strong connection with any place that thrives on the premises of community. This is the type of place where the clientele sings along with their musicians, cocktail menus change to keep things interesting, and that you will fit in, no matter what. After their original misfortunes in starting up, they kept themselves going, and in the face of the global Pandemic they continued to be better. Distillery tours are in the works, and now you can even rent their space for private events. If you're looking for a unique Wedding Venue - here's your spot. There are so many options you can choose from to enjoy The Betterman Distillery, which also includes buying their products from your local liquor store, Betterman bottles can be found all over Long Island. When discussing how she handled shut down, Abby says "I would just want the party to come to me," and in 2021, you can experience The Betterman Distillery in so many forms with that exact thinking.
The Gruppuso family is proof that if you're brave enough to follow your bliss, wonderful things can come of it. In life a lot of times we feel stuck within whatever we choose as our path, yet with this Distillery there's proof that where there is a will, there can always be a way. When I took my own branding photos for Fireside Sparrow last winter, I am so happy I chose Betterman as the setting - now knowing their story and what they're all about, it aligns with everything I personally believe about small business and community. Integrity is everything to me, Abby, her family, and their crew, are overflowing with it. I will forever be grateful for Abby and this staff for giving me the gift of their time and their story for me to write about - I cannot wait to see what is next for this place and these wonderful people.
The Betterman Distillery is located at 161 River Ave in Patchogue NY. They are open Thursday through Sunday afternoons and you can find more information about products and events at www.thebettermandistillingco.com and on their Instagram @thebettermandistillingco