Yesterday, the Gazette put out an article claiming that the minimum wage increase had claimed its first victim. While that’s an issue that small businesses will have to deal with in the coming months and years, it was nowhere near the whole truth about why Triple S announced their closing on Monday.
If you read the comments on the Gazette’s Facebook post about the closing, one thing is for certain: a brewery that was nearing its second anniversary could not have been more invisible given its location.
Many people hadn’t heard about it, and furthermore, some people who liked the brewery couldn’t stand Steve Stowell’s attitude when it came down to visiting the brewery. I decided to talk to a few former employees of Triple S to find out what actually happened behind the scenes, when the lights were off, and no patrons were around…which we found out was more often than we expected.
From what we heard from old employees, Triple S Brewing’s marketing targeted higher income homes with direct mail coupons promoting the brewpub as a high end “craft food and craft beer destination.” Inquiring customers would come in and state “I feel like I’m in the wrong place.” While I personally enjoyed many a time there, Triple S was not a high end brewpub. The food was prepared by the same person who poured my beer, and much of the time they were the only employee working.
That leads to the first thing the employees identified as a downfall for Triple S: the lack of a consistent theme, vibe or feeling. Heck even the logo didn’t scream “brewery” to anyone. If you’re going to push a “coffee shops of America and the pubs of England” vibe, then own it. Instead of hosting tons of events that ultimately cost the brewery money, invest in an espresso machine your employees can use to make you money. From what I heard from the employees, suggestions fell on deaf ears.
“It was no f****** fun. It was no fun in there”
The next thing that reared its head as a problem for Triple S was to the employees, the owners had quit on the business long before a sale was even on the table.
“Steve and Sarah had checked out.”
Take the “infamous” ProBrewer posting, where a minority stake in the brewery was up for sale, but the prospective partner would be in charge of everything front of house as well as the back of house. Basically running the place but not owning the place. That in itself should have been seen as a cry for help. Then, even in their own admission in the Gazette article, they shopped their brewery out to someone who was in the market. Here’s a listing from BizBuySell, a popular business selling tool online. From what we’ve heard from brewers around town, the business sold for way less than this asking price.
“I can’t work on the business if I’m IN the business”
Those words were commonly said to employees who asked why the owners weren’t there toiling in the trenches along with them. The beer release videos that the public saw every week were the lone exception. The owners would come in, film the video, and then the employees wouldn’t see them there until the next video—the next week. While they did say that was a slight exaggeration, Triple S Brewing’s owners didn’t think it was a good look for them to be working in their own business.
“He thought he could open the place up, hire a bunch of peons to run the place, and he could go off and watch his balance from a ski lift in Breckenridge.”
For me, that’s why I go to many breweries—to see the owners. If you’re going to insist on being the face of the brewery in videos and touting your Cicerone credentials, back it up by pouring some pints or talking shop with your customers. It sounds like a common sense business practice, but at Triple S, it wasn’t in the cards. Head into any brewery in town and you’ll see the owners working their tails off to make things work. Washing dishes, pouring beer, prepping food—you name it, they do it.
“I can find anyone to do your job [at minimum wage]”
This was a common theme for many employees at Triple S. They weren’t valued for their skills, they were just low-wage workers who were dispensable—replaceable at the drop of a hat. For a business where the customer facing side was run wholly by employees and not owners, that’s a tough pill to swallow. They were brewing the beer, talking to customers, making the food, pouring the beer, booking live music and events—running the business.
If you remember when Triple S was starting up, they were only looking for bartenders and servers who had or would pass the Cicerone test in a certain time period. Some of his employees came with BJCP and Cicerone credentials, but they got the same minimum wage treatment as someone who had no experience whatsoever. If you’re going to expect for people to have higher credentials, pay them for it. It only got worse when the Colorado voters passed a wage increase. Steve told his employees that he “had” to give them a raise, not that they had earned one or even were worthy of one. The culture wasn’t one where they were valued.
“The reason we closed is we took on too much debt”
Employees were told that as they helped clean out the kitchen and brewery on the last day, but you didn’t read that in the Gazette article. Triple S was the victim of wage increases and construction, which is bullshit because there are other businesses in that same complex who are still up and running, not to mention a cash-only taco shop and a bar around the corner who have dealt with the same issues with parking and construction. The reason Triple S closed (and they didn’t even have to announce that they closed…they could have just announced a sale) is that they did not run the business side of the brewery in such a way to be successful. We heard countless other stories of things that were done poorly or incorrectly, but we’ll save them for another time.
The owners of Triple S seemed like they didn’t want to be a part of the brewery other than reaping its benefits. That has nothing to do with wage increases, beer quality or customer service. It ultimately comes down to having a solid business plan.
It seems that Triple S did not.