We've all heard the old saying: Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes circumstance compels action, as it did for Todd Gillespie of Stampede Stills.
“Where I’m from originally in New Hampshire, fruit seems to fall from the sky. Apples and fruit trees are really abundant and almost a nuisance in many places.”
Todd began picking fruit from his neighbors yards, just being a nice guy, first making apple wines and ciders that he'd share with friends and family. But after he ended up with too many gallons of fruity fun, he hatched a new plan: distillation.
“We purchased a small still and we liked what that did but I didn’t quite like how it worked. I thought I could make a better mouse trap.”
Distillation happens when you take a liquid and, through either heating or cooling, distill it, or break it down, into its essential elements.
Frustrations with inefficiencies in his home setup led Todd to start Stampede Stills, a copper shop now based in Hewitt that produces custom distilling equipment for companies and home enthusiasts alike.
"Home distilling is 6th grade science at the most. It’s basically making beer or wine and then using methods of making soup or tea and then condensing it. I mean, that’s very simplified, but if you can make beer, wine or cider, you are 85% of the way there."
But any states still have prohibition-era laws on the books that ban the distillation of spirits.
”You can get permits to do these things. It’s just like you can get a driver’s license. Anybody can get a car, but not anybody can drive a car until you get the proper licensing. But it is a great, very easy hobby to get into.”
At Stampede Stills, Todd bends the copper and welds by hand to make the round barrels, which have broad applications outside of alcohol.
"We also make those out of copper for people that want to distill essential oils. Again, that’s a big industry here in Waco. People make soap, essences, perfumes, lavender farms."
After seeing his work online, a number of clients asked Todd to produce custom furniture. He has now made watering cans, lighting fixtures, even a new candlestick holder in a partnership with locally-based Harp Design Company.
“Most of what we do is custom. Everybody’s order is treated as a one-of-a-kind project. It’s a special item to them, it’s a special item to us. We’re proud of it and they’re proud to show it off so we have to make it as best we can because our name is on it. Basically, we’re proud to do what we do and we really enjoy it.”
While he misses the abundance of apples in his front yard every fall, Todd's business has boomed since moving to Texas. And maybe it's the state's sense of independence, a bootlegger mentality, that has allowed him to feel at home.
“The people are great. Everyone is friendly and supportive of what we do. As we continue to grow, we hope that we make new products and people tell us what they’re looking for so that we can achieve the goals that we want and make great things that they’re looking for.”
The Small Business Spotlight is presented by American Bank with three locations in town including an expanded branch at Franklin and 4th.