Good Beer Hunting

Wage Claims Filed Against the Recently Resurrected Speakeasy Ales & Lagers

Five wage claims have been filed against Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, the embattled San Francisco brewery that shut down earlier this month over financial woes before resuming operations a week later. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, hearing dates have been scheduled for early May, by which point the company is expected to be under new ownership. Although the brewery resurrected operations, a trim crew of eight is currently running things. The wage claims pertain to final pay, which “typically come from employees who have not received final paychecks,” according to the Chronicle.

It’s been a tumultuous time of late for Speakeasy, which set up shop in 1997 and has been a staple of the city’s beer scene ever since. To recap, the brewery shut down and ceased all operations in early March over its inability to pay off debts following a large expansion. Then, a mere week later, the business entered a state of receivership, in which a Los Angeles court gave control of the company to Jigsaw Advisories, a west coast turnaround firm. From there, Jigsaw kick started operations to better attract buyers (the company is expected to be under new ownership, as chosen by Jigsaw, by April 20). And now, the wage claims.

According the Chronicle, the claims could potentially pose a problem for the company in the eyes of buyers, particularly on the smaller end of the spectrum. This, the Chronicle reports, has led “many to speculate whether a larger company, on the scale of, say, Anheuser-Busch InBev, might bite.” 

A source that spoke with GBH on the condition of anonymity, however, says there’s “extensive interest” from prospective buyers both in (other breweries) and out (venture capitalists) of the beverage alcohol space, though would not specify more than that.

So for now, the AB invocation, that’s purely speculative. The thought of it, though, does raise some interesting questions from the sidelines. For instance, would craft drinkers still begrudge a company for joining up with the likes of a big national brewery when faced with the alternative of death, even knowing that decision is being made by an independent third party appointed by a Los Angeles court?

For now, it’s rhetorical. But Speakeasy was doing well (before it wasn’t), expanding capacity and enjoying 38% sales growth as recently as 2014. Which could certainly serve as a wake up call for others. If it can happen to an established player in a mature craft beer market, it can likely happen to most anyone.

For now, Jigsaw has until April 20 to choose a new owner. We’ll see what happens from there.

—Dave Eisenberg

Speakeasy brewery resumes operations as workers seek pay [San Francisco Chronicle]