On Friday, Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya announced that he’s purchased San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., which was closed by Sapporo USA in July 2023 after 127 years of business.

The billionaire told the Chronicle he discovered Anchor Brewing in August 2023 while reading an article about its closure. After looking further into the historic brewery, Ulukaya learned of its importance to San Francisco and found similarities between the brewery’s journey and Chobani’s. (Established in upstate New York in 2005, the Greek yogurt company got its start in a factory that was also on the brink of closure.)

“I realized how Anchor is really aligned with the city’s history,” he told the newspaper in an interview on Thursday night. “I thought, ‘Wow, what if? What if we can bring it back?’ And that excited me because I’ve been part of bringing back a factory back in upstate New York and building a brand.”

While the price of the deal was not disclosed, the acquisition includes all of the brewery’s assets including all its recipes, the Potrero Hill brewing facility, and the brewing equipment in all warehouses, which is allegedly still in good shape. Ulukaya’s plans for the brewery include modernizing Potrero Hill to get the iconic beer flowing once more throughout the Bay Area as soon as possible. Ulukaya disclosed that all he’s waiting for now is “permission from the city and alignment with the community and the people who worked there a long time.”

The city appears to be on board with the new ownership, with mayor Landon Breed calling the purchase not just an investment in the brewery, but in San Francisco itself.

“It’s a recognition of what makes our city truly special — our history, our institutions, and our people. Anchor Brewing has always been a beloved part of San Francisco and thanks to Hamdi Ulukaya, it will be a part of San Francisco for years to come.” she told the Chronicle. “I’m grateful for his commitment to being a part of the future of our city and for keeping the tradition of Anchor Steam beer being brewed right here where it belongs.”

Ulukaya shared that he has met with four previously long-term Anchor employees and communicated his desire to rehire as many former employees as possible, though he remains unsure if the previously formed union will be recognized. Once the brewery is made operational, Ulukaya plans to focus on distributing Anchor brews throughout the Bay Area first before, hopefully, opening plans to national markets.

It remains unclear exactly which specific Anchor beers will return, though Anchor Steam and the brewery’s beloved Christmas Ale are certain to make a comeback — perhaps sooner rather than later.

“Let’s get back to work. Let’s bring it back to life,” Ulukaya told the Chronicle. “I don’t want to sit around. Wouldn’t it be amazing to get it going in time to make the Christmas ale this year? That would be awesome.”

As for brews like the West Coast IPA, the Tropical Hazy IPA, Liberty Ale, and California Lager, Ulukaya will discuss with employees which are worth bringing back. “It’s a competitive landscape — a lot of beers out there. But who cares? From the other perspective you have the people behind it, the history, the recipe, the name, and the tradition aligned with this magical San Francisco,” he said. “There is no value you can put into that.”

VP Pro Take

“I admit, I didn’t expect it to end this way. When I first broke the news of Anchor’s closure last July, I argued that there was an opportunity for a ‘benevolent’ Bay Area billionaire to descend from on high and deus ex machina the original steam beer brewery out of its Sapporo USA-induced defunction, scooping up some public goodwill in the process. After some initial chatter (including more than one self-identified family-office manager emailing yours truly inquiring after the financial particulars of the firm), no serious suitors with that kind of cash emerged. I’ve been following up on leads about Anchor’s liquidation since before the auction even officially began late last year, and when none of them panned out, I figured the iconic brewery was headed for the scrap heap, both figuratively and literally.

The good news: that didn’t happen! A whole-enchilada sale was always the most attractive one from a cultural perspective (if not a business one) and that’s exactly what Hamdi Ulukaya appears to have pulled off here. Keeping the physical brewery coupled to its intellectual property is a more dignified outcome for San Francisco’s (and American brewing’s) “grand jewel,” as the foodstuff mogul called it in a video posted to social media this morning. It also sets Anchor up for a smoother restart — as far as I know, all the equipment is still in place on Potrero Hill, and former workers know their way around the plant like the back of their hands, so the runway should be short if Ulukaya intends to rehire ‘em. Watch closely to see if that happens.

‘We’re excited to hear that Mr. Ulukaya wants to bring back as many workers as possible,’ Patrick Machel, a former production worker, tells me by phone. ‘The people who have made Anchor for decades stand ready to return to work and start making the beer the city loves.’ He estimates that if Ulukaya is willing (and able) to rehire ‘a majority’ of the former staff, Anchor could be churning out beer a month later thanks to all the institutional knowledge of the place. The billionaire has not yet contacted the Anchor SF Cooperative, the worker-led effort to acquire Anchor that mothballed its bid earlier this year, and his comments to the Chronicle about Anchor Union, an International Longshore and Warehouse Local 6 affiliate that has represented workers at the plant since 2019, were brief and noncommittal.

Whether Ulukaya does right by Anchor’s former workers is an open question whose answer is a potential fly in the ointment, especially given San Francisco’s left-leaning politics and the country’s historically high pro-labor sentiment these days. Another potential bummer ahead: the billionaire has no experience in the brewing industry, and told the Chronicle he was keen to expand Anchor’s distribution footprint. That’s a tough row to hoe for a regional brewery that has a lot of work to do to recapture its home market, particularly with all those headwinds we keep talking about.

I’ll try not to be too cynical before Anchor’s Ulukaya chapter gets underway in earnest, though. Today, Steam Beer’s future is more secure than it has been for nearly a year, and that’s something to celebrate.” Dave Infante, VinePair columnist, podcast host, and contributing editor

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