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March 27, 2014

Chamber honorees to receive awards

By Cathy Nardi Contributing Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — On Friday, area residents will celebrate an up-and-coming business and an experienced lawyer at the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet. 

The chamber will honor Brewery Ommegang with its NBT Bank Distinguished Business of the Year Award, and John Scarzafava of Oneonta with its Eugene A. Bettiol Distinguished Citizen Award, at the 28th annual NBT Distinguished Dinner and Celebration of Business in the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUNY Oneonta on March 28.

According to Otsego County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barbara Ann Heegan, the Distinguished Business Award sponsored by NBT Bank is given annually to a business in Otsego County that has made a sustained and substantial impact on the community. 

“The community identifies with Brewery Ommegang as a business that adds value to the region,” said Heegan.

The decision to name Brewery Ommegang Distinguished Business of the Year was made by both the public and the chamber board, Heegan said.

“We opened up the nominations to the public — the response was pretty clear,” Heegan said. “We met and it was agreed that Ommegang fit out mission of being pro-business, of adding value to the region and as being an advocate for our membership and helping make the area business-friendly.”

“We are truly honored to be recognized by our community as the distinguished business of the year,” said Simon Thorpe, CEO of Brewery Ommegang. “Ommegang would not be as successful as we are without the support of our community, and to be honored by the people that we hold in such high esteem is really special. The magic we have in this area somehow makes its way into our beers and we’re proud to share that magic and to share a bit of upstate New York with beer fans across the country.” 

The brewery sit upon a picturesque knoll on a former hops farm in the town of Middlefield. The land as well as the pure upstate New York water defines Brewery Ommegang according to Thorpe.

“The brewery was founded on a former hop farm in 1997 to embrace the rich brewing history of Otsego County and because of the perfect water supply beneath the brewery grounds,” Thorpe said. “We are very well supported by our community and enjoy seeing local faces at the café and at our many events we host throughout the year. Local friends bringing their out-of-town friends to lunch or a concert really helps spread the magic of Ommegang around the country and the world. This area is not just good for Ommegang, it is Ommegang.”

Deb Taylor, director of Tourism for Otsego County, said the chamber made a good choice in its pick of Distinguished Business of the Year. She touted the brewery’s community involvement as an asset in several ways.

“They are so innovative,” Taylor said. “They do so much — from brewing specialty beers that reflect different aspects of the area to the ‘Game of Thrones’ beers —bringing out elements of something unique and making it accessible. I have been to their VIP tent tastings and they are very plush. But they also do things like the Snommegang event on Main Street in Oneonta.”

Ommegang has steadily made a name for itself as craft beer with imagination. The community involvement, including the recent Snommegang and annual “Hop Chef” competition, has added an interactive element to an industry that has been traditionally two-dimensional.

The “Hop Chef” competition draws aspiring chefs from around the country who create two dishes to be pared with Ommegang beer. The paring is judged by professional chefs and a consumer audience. The winners are invited to compete in Cooperstown during the brewery’s annual “Belgium Comes to Cooperstown” festival in August. (Tickets for this year’s event go on sale April 1.)

“As far as an American Belgium-style craft beer, Ommegang is at the top of the game,” said Paul Leone, executive director of New York State Brewer’s Association. “They have really cornered the market in pairing food and beer. They are really great at marketing too.”

In addition to individual events, Ommegang serves several dishes cooked with Ommegang beer in the brewery café. A recent special featured corned beef and cabbage in homage to St. Patrick’s Day.

“We are here touring the area and definitely wanted to come to Ommegang,” said Spenser Swaczyk of Salem Mass., who was at the café Monday. “We really like their beer.”

Swaczyk and Mackenzie Campbell, who was visiting from Salem, Mass., as well, became fans of Ommegang while they attended Tulane University in Louisiana.

“We have visitors from all over the world,” said Allison Capozza, publicity manager for Brewery Ommegang — and she’s got proof. 

A map full of pushpins on display at the brewery marks the thousands of places around the country that visitors to the brewery call home. 

In addition, there are many small pieces of paper stuck to the board with the names of hometowns from many countries. 

The brewery offers tours to visitors, who are able to observe the process of making Ommegang beer.

“Our employees take a great deal of pride in our beer, the brewery and the region,” Thorpe said. “They love to serve as ambassadors for all three to the many people they come into contact with visiting the brewery or when we are working all across the country selling and promoting the beers. As much as we are selling the beer, we are in many ways selling Cooperstown and the region — it is such an ingrained part of who we are and what we stand for. It truly is a special place to call home.”

While Ommegang is a company on the rise, Oneonta lawyer John Scarzafava has a long list of achievements under his belt. 

The 66-year-old Oneonta High School graduate said he knew from the time he was in elementary school that he wanted to be a trial lawyer. Watching television shows such as “Perry Mason,” he said, showed him that the practice of law could be “an exciting profession.”

Scarzafava drew the national spotlight when he represented a Binghamton woman in a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company. Nancy Denny’s case was the first in the nation to go to trial regarding roll-overs associated with the Ford Bronco II. Denny was awarded $1.2 million after a jury determined the vehicle was unsafe. 

That case was one among many in which the firm of Scarzafava and Basdekis represented people who were “injured by bad products,” as the firm’s website says. 

“We have the opportunity to be the voice of the people who otherwise would have no one else to speak for them,” Scarzafava explained. “It’s something you don’t walk away from,” he said. 

The 1965 Oneonta High School graduate said receiving the Chamber’s Distinguished Citizen award is a distinct honor that serves as just another confirmation of the wisdom of his decision to establish his practice in Oneonta. 

“I know the important role the Chamber plays in the community,” he said. 

To be considered in the same company as such past recipients of the award as Judge Robert Harlem was something he never expected, he said. 

While his age might suggest retirement plans, Scarzafava said he has no intention of leaving the field. With a partner and an associate, “I can afford to be more selective about the cases I take on.”

Law firm partner Theo Basdekis said the award is a nice recognition of Scarzafava’s tireless efforts, not only in representing the injured and disabled in this community, but also in stepping up to the plate through donations of time and money to assist the community, including the United Way of Delaware and Otsego Counties and Family Service Agency.

Scarzafava said he did his undergraduate work at Saint Bonaventure University, where he graduated from in 1973 after serving four years in the Air Force. It was while he was a law student at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, that he found his niche. He graduated from there in 1975, having studied under one of the country’s leading authorities on defective product and injury law. He started on the ground floor of what was then a new field. “It allowed me to practice in one of the most exciting areas of the law,” he said. He partnered there for a while, but returned here full-time in 1981.

“It was always my intention to come back,” he said. Not only does he have family here, but “it’s a place I really like.” That opinion was confirmed when he returned. “The people of Oneonta embraced my practice and continue to do so. It was an excellent decision.” 

Daily Star reporter Mark Boshnack contributed to this story.