In the early days of the restaurant closures in mid-March, Pipe Dream Brewing co-owner Jon Young said it was the eerie silence of the front end that scared him the most.
“I thought everything I built the last four years was about to come crumbling around us,” Young said.
Still, he was determined to keep the Londonderry brewery moving forward, and now it seems his initial fears were unfounded as patrons have turned out to support them by buying a lot of canned beer.
Young said he kept eight of his 21 employees busy with odd jobs, scrubbing down and painting the building’s interior, and other maintenance and beautification projects.
Sales are down overall, but while Young did not want to say how badly the business was impacted by the shutdowns and social distancing, he said he usually gets about 75 percent of his business from taproom sales, while cans and kegs make up about 20 percent, and to-go sales out the front end were about 5 percent.
During the shutdown, increased wholesale can sales to about 30 percent, and front-end pickup and deliveries to about 70 percent.
“We had to totally change our business model and plan,” Young said.
While many breweries adapted in a similar way, Young said Pipe Dream took the unique approach of brewing a bunch of different varieties. They came out with four different IPAs, various hefeweizens, Belgians, stouts and experimental batches made with Fruity Pebbles.
“I think what really set us apart from a lot of the other places is that we have so much variety in the cans,” Young said.
And because they have their own canning line, they had the agility needed to pull that off.
“Having our own personal canner saved our business,” Young said.
He said they have been brewing about 1,700 gallons a week, and canning about 1,500 gallons. But the profit margins are lower for cans, and Young looks forward to seeing the pint sales return.
“I never got into the game to be the major distro guy, I came into the game to be the local watering hole,” Young said.
At first, Young thought he would have to make less beer, but he said the solution was actually the opposite.
“We’re very, very lucky to have so much support and love out there,” Young said. “So production’s actually ramped up. We’re brewing now more than we probably brewed all winter.”
Front end sales are split evenly between pick-up and delivery. While they expanded the reach of their delivery service in the first few weeks, there are still a lot of people eager enough to get out of the house, Young suspects, that they would rather drive to the brewery for pick-up.
On May 18, the day restaurants began offering outdoor service, Pipe Dream released Straight Outta Quarantine NEIPA (6.5 percent). Young said it’s very popular so far and he expects to sell out soon.
He said Pipe Dream has seating for 138 people outside the brewery.
Meanwhile, Young said they made a Straight Outta Quarantine hoodie, and raised over $4,000 in donations for Parkland Medical Center in Derry.
Young said the company decided not to apply for any of the Small Business Administration loan programs.
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