Monday, August 13, 2012
Small Business Series 1: Lefty's Brewing Company
Anheuser-Busch, once an iconic American company producing and shipping its signature Budweiser brand globally, has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Belgian-Brazilian brewing conglomerate InBev since 2008. Earlier that year, InBev had announced that the purchase of Anheuser-Busch would not result in any U.S. brewery closures. Within months of completing the acquisition, InBev went on a cost-cutting spree, laying off 1,400 American employees and 415 contractors, ending company contributions to employee pension plans and retiree life insurance and reducing employee tuition reimbursement. Sales of Budweiser have dropped 30% in this time; nonetheless, someone is drinking the swill: one barrel of Budweiser is sold every other second in the United States, every hour, every day, all year. InBev may be firing and bleeding American workers, but Americans seem to be happy going on their merry way patronizing the company.
Why? To spend a few cents less on substandard, mass-produced crap that lines the pockets of capital-gains-chasers while placing honest workers on an increasingly steep treadmill?
Each year I take a dozen or so college students from western Massachusetts to New York City to expose them to the wider business world and future possibilities. Less than half a dozen years ago, one of those students, Bill “Lefty” Goldfarb, asked if we could visit the Brooklyn Brewery. One visit, a little capital planning, and a few years later, Bill is now the founder, owner, brewmaster, and chief-cook-and-bottle washer for "Lefty's Brewing Company " in Greenfield Massachusetts.
With product in more than three dozen bars, restaurants, and retail locations, “Lefty” is positioned to become the largest craft brewer in western Massachusetts.
Lefty washes his own bottles. Fills and caps his own bottles. Designed his own walk-in refrigerator and filling system. Delivers his own products. Grinds his own barley in a flour grinder rigged up to a motor that he designed himself. He and his girlfriend Melissa put in 60 - 80 hours a week each.
He teams up with local restaurants for food-beer taste pairings and charity events. He attends and sponsors Town events. He gives back to the community by volunteering as a workshop speaker at local student entrepreneurship conferences, and by speaking with entrepreneurs-in-training in classrooms.
Lefty is the American Dream, realized at a time when Americans are being thrust into an economic nightmare.
And he brews some damned good product: Irish Stout, Coffee Porter, India Pale Ale, Scotch Ale, Maple Ale, Golden Ale – a dozen brews in all (including special limited editions). He and Melissa have just expanded to the point where he has hired another full-time employee.
Lefty also recently contracted with a local graphic designer, Jeff Grader, to redesign some of his labels. Jeff, another small business owner ("Warped Whimsy"), is also a bartender at a local restaurant/bar, The Blue Rock, located about three blocks from my house. We met Jeff and the staff of the Blue Rock as they were installing a new keg of Lefty’s . . . .and entered into a conversation that would eventually take us on a quest to a tiny business in Chinatown in New York City.
But that is all for the next installment.
My point in writing this post, and the series of posts that will follow?
To encourage you to start buying local. Patronizing small businesses. Circulating your money locally instead of lining the pockets of Romneyesque “investors” who stash it away offshore. Building small American businesses again instead of outsourcing American work and investment to sweatshops and intimidated farm workers and tax havens around the globe.
Going to the local restaurant or pub? Ask for local. Ask for craft-brewed. See what REAL beer tastes like.
I promise, you’ll never go back to Clydesdale piss.
[This is the first in a series of posts on Small Business in America]