This is a developing story, check back for updates.
At a meeting last Wednesday at Anchor Brewing Co., executives told brewery employees that the historic San Francisco firm would be shut down after over a century and a half in business. One week later, employees have something to tell the executives: if you’ll sell us Anchor, we’ll figure out a way to buy it.
In a brief letter sent Wednesday evening and shared with VinePair, the business agent for Anchor Brewing Union advised Sapporo USA president Mike Minami “that workers of Anchor Brewing have met, discussed, and decided to launch an effort to purchase the brewery and run it as a worker co-op.”
“We are not asking for a handout or charity,” wrote Pedro de Sá, a business agent at International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6, which represents roughly 40 workers at the brewery. “All we want is a fair shot at being able to continue to do our jobs, make the beer we love, and keep this historic institution open. We do not want the brewery and brand we love to be sold off before we even had a chance.”
de Sá, speaking on behalf of union workers who voted earlier in the day to take this step, asked Minami to respond by the end of the day on Friday, July 21 indicating whether Sapporo USA was open to working “cooperatively and transparently through this process” with the union, specifically with regards to “creat[ing] the framework and rais[ing] the funds necessary for this purchase.”
Patrick Machel, a production worker at the brewery and a shop steward for the Anchor Brewing Union, says that the vast majority of the union’s rank-and-file workers, as well as an unspecified number of managers, support the longshot effort. “Most of us that work here were born and raised here. We work here because we love it, we grew up with Steam Beer,” he tells VinePair. Now, they’ll try to save Anchor from the scrap heap.
VinePair first reported that Sapporo USA was on the verge of selling or shuttering Anchor on the evening of July 11. Less than 12 hours after our initial report, Sam Singer, a representative for Anchor and Sapporo USA, issued a press release announcing the brewery would “cease operations and liquidate the business following a combination of challenging economic factors and declining sales.” (The release did not mention Sapporo USA, but current and former workers were quick to tell VinePair’s Hop Take column that the parent company mismanaged the brewery into dysfunction.)
As word spread of Anchor’s imminent closure last week, San Franciscans flocked to the unmistakable Art Deco plant on Potrero Hill to pay their respects to the brewery that has kept the City by The Bay stocked with steam beer since 1871. Lines at the neighboring Anchor Public Taps stretched around the block as people clamored to buy whatever beer was left in the tanks.
What would happen to Anchor? In a year of searching, the company’s release claims, no buyer had emerged to acquire it whole, as a going concern. (The release does not state the price Sapporo USA was asking for the firm; it acquired Anchor six years ago in a provisional $85 million deal.) Last week, Narragansett Beer circulated a petition to drum up support for rescuing the brewery, and several private-equity investors, perhaps impressed by the outpouring of local love for the august old brand, expressed interest to this reporter about acquiring it.
This past weekend, a handful of San Francisco entrepreneur types described to the hometown paper their plans for resurrecting Anchor; the ideas included a website to tease future crowdfunding opportunities, and a reality show about bringing the idiosyncratic brewery back to life working-titled “How hard could it be.” But the plan outlined last week in the release still stands: to turn Anchor over to an assignee for the benefit of creditors (A.B.C.), a third-party manager tasked with the orderly wind-down and sale of the business and its assets to whoever would buy them, and for whatever purpose.
Workers want to preempt Anchor’s real estate, equipment, and intellectual property being sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders by acquiring it from Sapporo USA and running it as a co-op, says Machel.
“We couldn’t go down without some way of fighting for ourselves and the community we love.”