CINCINNATI - Bad Tom Smith Brewing is cooking up a regional expansion plan that could yield a half dozen new locations and $10 million in annual sales within three years, all of it built around the story of an Eastern Kentucky killer hanged in front of thousands in 1895.
“We’re going to develop a concept,” said owner John Vojtush. “Then, we’re going to take that concept to communities where it fits.”
Vojtush is a Cleveland-based software consultant and serial entrepreneur who came to Cincinnati to work for Toyota Motor Corp. Once here, he re-connected with a high school friend, Sean Smith, founder of the seven-employee craft brewery Eastern Ave. in Linwood.
Smith is a fifth-generation descendant of a Breathitt County outlaw who was executed for six murders 121 years ago. Smith incorporated Bad Tom Brewing LLC in 2011. The company was on its last legs when, impressed by its branding potential, Vojtush and his fiance' Sheryl Gittins bought the brewery in April 2015.
Its product lineup includes American Outlaw Session IPA and Coal Hearted Killer Russian Imperial Stout. Its tagline, “Badass in a Glass,” evokes the hard-drinking womanizer dubbed “the terror of Eastern Kentucky” by the Louisville Courier Journal.
“You can identify your beers very quickly with this personality,” Vojtush said. “It kind of gives you a little bit of an edge, something that separated us from the other brands that are out there.”
Craft beer boom
Ohio’s brewing industry is booming thanks to light regulation and a 2012 law that lets craft breweries operate tap rooms without purchasing an additional license. The number of Ohio craft breweries increased 148 percent since 2012 to 156 facilities that occupy 1.7 million square feet, said a recent report by the commercial real estate firm, CBRE.
Southwest Ohio leads the state in retail and industrial space devoted to craft beers, with 658,290 square feet in 23 locations. The trend has revived long-dormant industrial properties, like Over-the-Rhine’s Rhinegeist building and MadTree Brewing’s $18 million expansion in Oakley. That’s making breweries a hot commodity for developers and local governments.
“It’s simple economic development,” said CBRE Research Analyst Demetri Sampanas. “It brings people to the area, acts as a potential catalyst, helps bolster the street corner and the area.”
Bad Tom Business Plan
Vojtush said he is talking to multiple groups about establishing Bad Tom Smith taprooms in Louisville, Dayton, Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio – not to mention Eastern Kentucky.
“The hometown of Bad Tom Smith, down in Breathitt County, they just passed a vote in July to become a wet county after 93 years of prohibition,” Vojtush said. “The county itself is saying, ‘What can you do to bring jobs into our area?’ The distributor that we have down there is a huge champion of ours. They’re doing everything they can to increase our brand.”
Vojtush is pursuing corporate-owned deals and franchise developments. He’s also talking to a Louisville-based restaurant company that wants to incorporate Bad Tom Smith taprooms into a new restaurant concept.
He said each new location would cost up to $750,000 to develop and generate annual revenue up to $1.5 million. Each facility would have its own brewing capacity, supplemented by beer exported from Linwood, where the company is installing a new brewing system with a capacity of at least 7,500 barrels.
Vojtush is working with his Pittsburgh-based fiancée, Bad Tom Brewing Co. President Sheryl Gittins, to develop marketing plans and taproom concepts that can be deployed at multiple sites.
“Our next location really has to be conceptually what the Bad Tom Smith concept is,” he said. “It’s not going to be an over-the-top saloon. It’s just a nice comfortable location where you enjoy your time talking to the person that’s brewing your beer.”