BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — A Northfield company is opening the state’s first craft distillery in the Richland section of the township.

Axios & Sons LLC plans to open the Lazy Eye Distillery this summer, with distribution to bars, restaurants and liquor stores across South Jersey. Like craft breweries, Lazy Eye will make and sell its products on the premises, owners Nick and Carol Kafkalas said.

“We’ll be making vodka, Greek Grappa and moonshine,” Nick Kafkalas said. “It’s important to note we’ll be distilling the product ourselves, not just recycling alcohol and flavoring it.”

The distillery will open this summer in a former restaurant, Giacomo’s Country Inn, which has been closed for several years.

The building on Route 40 here has served as a restaurant or bar since the 1930s, coinciding with the national repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

The couple said they expect the distillery to become a tourist attraction, much in the way wineries and craft breweries have in South Jersey.

“It’s good to attract local people and tourists as well. We’ll be offering tours and tastings,” Nick Kafkalas said. “We’re hoping to be the state’s first craft distillery. This is a specialty spirit that we’re making. The recipe is something that dates from generation to generation passed down in my family.”

There are 350 craft distilleries operating in the United States. But that number is expected to top 500 by 2015 as more states permit such operations, according to the American Craft Distillers Association.

The couple and their sons, Nicholas and Anthony, will operate the distillery, at least initially, using five small stills to make and bottle the recipes, which the couple have perfected over the years.

“You have your stereotypical moonshine and some of your Grappas that are really hard to swallow,” he said. “Our products are very smooth and very comforting to the tastebuds.”

The couple tweaked the family recipes with blind tastings that gave them confidence in their finished products.

“We have weddings and engagement parties and baptisms. The bartender pours the shots and people tell us what they think,” he said. “We’ve been experimenting on our friends for years and they haven’t known it.”

Nick Kafkalas said he thinks a local distillery will appeal to residents and visitors who try to buy locally.

Buena Vista Township Mayor Chuck Chiarello said the distillery could be a boon for Richland, which has businesses including antiques, toy collecting and vintage clothing stores that draw people from far outside the county.

“They’re making vodka, Grappa and moonshine,” Chia-rello said. “The only thing missing is Al Capone, right? I think this could be an asset to our community.”

It is fitting that the distillery is opening in a 1930s-era building that has a long tradition in the township. Richland has many of these older and historic buildings, he said.

Carol Kafkalas said a lot of thought went into picking Richland for the distillery.

“We were looking at this property for some time. Nick and I have been entertaining the idea of opening up a distillery for a few years. We know with Route 40 traffic you get good exposure from other counties,” she said.

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Worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties before joining The Press many moons (and editors) ago as a business copy editor. Passionate about journalism, averse to serial commas.