“It took us 18 hours to brew our first beer”, says Adam Delaura, co-founder of Labyrinth Brewing Company out of Manchester, CT. “Two years later we’ve got it down to a science, our routine has only gotten more efficient”. Labyrinth has been hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to their opening day back in August 2018, new systems have to be put in place and mastered in order to adapt.
The state of Connecticut ordered all breweries to shut down their taprooms. Adam said that “Most of our revenue comes from our taproom”. Telling breweries to shut down for several months without any future plan of return leaves everyone in the dark.
Breweries like Labyrinth during the pandemic are shifting to take out methods with a limited budget in order to do business with customers. Labyrinth is dependent on a loyal community that has their back. After years of generously giving back to the people and organizations around Manchester, “The Neighborhood Brewery” plans to come back stronger than ever.
Prior to Opening Day
The three co-founders Adam, Sean, and Chris turned a 130+ year old building into a home for Labyrinth doing most of the work on their own prior to opening day. They all grew up in Manchester together, so they already had an advantage knowing the area’s demographic.
After a few Youtube tutorials, the trio cut down trees with rented chainsaws to clear out the back parking lot. They even recycled the extra wood to build tables. The wonderful hand-crafted tables and glass bottle lights give an authentic feel inside. Not to mention, a wonderful art gallery occupies a third of the taproom, representing artists in the local community.
Labyrinth Gives Back
Serving the community means everything to Labyrinth. In one instance, Labyrinth understands the mutual benefit of collaborating with food trucks to serve customers in the parking lot, “Those trucks need all the money they can get to provide for their families”, said Adam. Labyrinth lets a variety of BBQ, taco, and pizza trucks operate free of charge. On the other hand, Adam said, “I don’t have to worry about food supplies and presentation”. It’s a win-win situation.
Labyrinth has helped a variety of charitable nonprofits such as Oak Hill, Food Share, Protectors of Animals, and Interval House. In 2019 they hosted 29 fundraising events in their tap room and attended 22 off-site fundraising events. they were able to support a total of 63 locally focused organizations.
Many breweries were scrambling to adapt when the shutdown happened. Plenty had never canned beer before and wanted to start, which caused disruption in the can supply chain. Labyrinth on multiple occasions would borrow from breweries, while also lending cans and growlers to others. “We were all just trying to help each other out and it’s a great example of how the brewing industry is a community”, Adam said.
Last October, Labyrinth participated in the third annual “Barktoberfest” dog festival in Manchester as a vendor. The festival brought people and their dogs together to celebrate canines and raise awareness for responsible dog ownership. Labyrinth even hosted an after party event and sold treats for the dogs using recycled grain from leftover products.
All of the proceeds were donated to the Manchester Dog Owners Group.
Challenges During the Pandemic
During tough times like the COVID-19 pandemic, Adam stated that, “If we did not have the local connection to organizations and charities as well as people in the neighborhood, we wouldn’t be alive”. Labyrinth has thrived since opening day in building relationships with the community rather than primarily focusing on profit. “People are making it a point to support local business”, Adam said.
Having no real business plan is just one of several challenges that Labyrinth faces during the pandemic. “Before this, we could estimate having x amount of sales, but how do you do that now?”, Adam asks as he explains the curbside pickup process. He wasn’t sure how to set new operating hours, or how to market effectively with limited resources. He wants to look out for his staff more than anything, but the current process only needs a few people to operate.
On the other hand, profit margins are smaller because they need more supplies (cans, labels, cardboard trays, etc.). Transporting the beer also ramps up costs, opposed to just serving it in the tap room.
Shifting to can distribution has been a challenge. The cancelation of large group gatherings is ruling out keg sales. Meanwhile, Labyrinth is used to producing beer in large batches sold during normal taproom hours. “Once it’s brewed it can take weeks of maintenance”, Adam said when explaining the brew process. “Three weeks is a more typical time frame for many of the beers we brew, canning the beer is the easy part”. Responding only to curbside orders makes it difficult to plan for demand each week with such an operation.
Adapting to the Shutdown
With a new beer take-out system in place, Curbside Pickup is surprisingly a success so far. When I arrived in the parking lot, the staff were setting up a clothed table held down in improvised fashion, with bricks in boxes. Afterwards, the beer orders are set on the table for pickup throughout the day.
Labyrinth is even taking take-out one step further by offering home delivery using their own vehicles to satisfy customer demand. Fifteen home delivery orders went out on the first day, as customers show their amazing support to keep Labyrinth alive. The extra effort Labyrinth has been putting in to sell beer has Adam working up to sixteen hours a day.
Despite tough times, Labyrinth is still making it a point to connect with their customers and community. They had to think creatively to engage with people, but events such as “Virtual Happy Hour”, and “Virtual Beer Tasting” are some bright spots during the pandemic. “Now we’re bringing it to you”, Adam said. Both events utilize popular video communications platform Zoom where up to 100 people can be together for free. The events are organized and promoted through social media.
Virtual Beer Tasting works by buying a $20 ticket that gets customers a mixed four pack of beer for pick up during curbside hours in the parking lot. An email invitation is then sent to join the Zoom video session. Labyrinth guides you through the beers, flavors, ingredients, and answers any question you may have in a relaxed conversation.
Adam understands that when business starts to open up, customers may think twice before leaving their homes and stopping in for a drink. “We just want everybody to feel safe”, Adam said.
General upgrades as well as safety improvements include (pictures below):
- Refinishing the main bar top.
- Repainting the restrooms
- Installing touchless paper towel and soap dispensers
- Adding hand sanitizer dispensers
- Baby changing stations in the restrooms
- Adding climate control to the restrooms (prior to this it would get super cold in there during the winter)
- Building a small patio outdoors (social distancing)
Making a Difference Together
COVID-19 undoubtedly has caused one of the worst economic shakeups in the history of the United States. With many small businesses struggling with their backs against the wall, it’s crucial to adapt in order to stay open. It’s fascinating to see people come together and support the businesses they are committed to.
Labyrinth didn’t have to focus on helping others more than building profit over the years, but they did anyway. Customers line up beer orders on a daily basis because they want Labyrinth to be open. They understand how much the brewery benefits the neighborhood.
Labyrinth takes great pride in being located right in the middle of a neighborhood. One of the greatest gifts one can give is making a positive difference around you. Helping one another during a time in need can encourage others to follow suit.
During difficult times, it’s just a neighbor helping another neighbor at the end of the day.
If you enjoyed my content, feel free to check out our podcast as we drink Labyrinth beer on episode 17.