Keith Berardi threw the best parties in high school. He even hosted one bash at which he popped the screens out of the kitchen windows to sell margaritas to partygoers outside. While his parents may not have rejoiced over this dubious distinction, Berardi, owner of the Peekskill Brewery, sees his status as king of high-school parties as a prequel to his current occupation.
“While, at the time, it was just about having fun, I see now that there was a deeper meaning; I wanted to be the facilitator of people’s social lives,” Berardi, 32, says. “And, there is nothing more intimate than feeding people—the product literally goes from your hands to their mouth, and we take that very seriously at the Brewery.”
While not condoning his illicit activities, his favorite high-school teacher, Vic Messick, was crucial in getting Berardi to believe that he could one day be a success. With a Mohawk hairdo and a self-described “devil-may-care” attitude, Berardi frustrated many of his other teachers as a classic case of wasted potential. But Messick delivered a different formula that resonated with Berardi: “Vic taught me that there are many different paths to success and happiness, and that it was okay if I didn’t take the conventional path as long as I was true to myself,” Berardi explains.
“One of Vic’s favorite quotes is, ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination.’ I think about that all the time.”
Valuing that journey was an integral part of Messick’s educational philosophy, and that of Walkabout, the alternative senior-year program that Berardi, a student at Lakeland, attended at Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES’ Yorktown campus. Run by PNW BOCES, Walkabout offers seniors from local high schools a unique educational environment that includes a lot of “out-of-the-classroom” learning.
Messick and Berardi both fondly remember the opportunity that Walkabout gave them to go beyond the traditional teacher-student relationship. “We had conversations about life, and we talked about personal growth, Keith’s goals, aspirations, and uncertainties—all kinds of things where I could serve as a sounding board,” Messick says.
And Berardi’s journey to the helm of the award-winning brewpub is one that makes sense to Messick, who spent 29 years at Walkabout and taught Berardi in North American studies and time-management classes. “Keith was someone who cared, and was going to make a difference in one form or another,” he says. Indeed, Berardi pointedly involves the Brewery in a variety of community outreach and charity events, seeing it as more than just a business.
When Messick visited Berardi, at the Brewery, a few years back, “I saw a self-assured adult, a contributor and active participant in his community, an independent businessman, and a beaming father, amidst the hustle-and-bustle of the pub,” Messick recalls. “It reminded me of his journey during Walkabout. He came in tentative at first, unsure of himself and his capabilities, but he pushed to take risks and go beyond his self-perceived limits. And by the end of the year, he had acquired a quiet confidence and self-assurance. I’m humbled to think I might have had something to do with that.”