Citing changes in the craft beer industry brought on by the COVID pandemic, Thin Man Brewery’s Elmwood taproom, their headquarters for the last seven years, has closed its doors. This marks the second Thin Man taproom to close recently after the brewery closed their satellite taproom inside Brennan’s Bowery Bar, which also closed, in as many years.
While the kitchen and taproom will close, Elmwood’s 15bbl brewery will remain in operation for beer production, mostly focused on small batch and experimental releases. The brewery recently added another full time brewery at the location to keep up with demand. For those who might be wondering, the brewery is separate from the kitchen and taproom space.
“We’re not sure who’s gonna take that over, but whoever does, we hope to have a great relationship with them and they kind of give us an odd chance to what we’re there before. We’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen with that space,” Yvon Paul Pasquarello, Thin Man’s director of sales and marketing, said.
Thin Man’s Chandler Street taproom, which opened in 2019, will remain open and serve as the brewery’s headquarters.
“We’re keeping our Elmwood production location because the demand for our one off and specially stuff has grown and represents a large portion of our business, I’d say probably almost 40% of our business,” Pasquarello said. “We recently had to dial back operationally, just to make sure that we were able to get our core brands to our new partners and then we had to downshift with our specialty program, which caused a huge backlash for us because folks wanted our specialty and one-off beers.”
Pasquarello says the brewery was never able to return to their pre-pandemic levels. He was also adamant to point out that it was not the pandemic r COVID-19 that led to the closure, but a shifting market as a result of it.
“It’s not the actual epidemic itself, the way the market shifted after COVID is dramatically different. It is business. The market has just changed. I haven’t really shared these numbers, but we were doing almost $60,000 weeks before COVID and those weeks never returned after COVID,” he said.
Pasquarello admits that Thin Man tried everything they possibly could to keep Elmwood open, including recently renovating all three floors of the taproom. He adds that their Black Rock location on Chandler remains strong for the business.
“We’ve tried everything. Everyone is talking about the renovations,” he said. “Well, we just renovated because we were trying to adapt and change and get those crowds to return and they just never did. Chandler has remained strong, and that’s remained a good piece for our business, but Elmwood was really our flagship location, and our original location, but after COVID, after the pandemic tapered off and people started coming out again, we just never returned to those pre-COVID levels. And just after a while, it wasn’t so much profits, it was just actual revenue was outpacing operational cost. We operated at a loss for a long time and we really tried very hard and not close it. Unfortunately, we got to the point where it’s literally didn’t make sense anymore.”
“It’s an interesting juxtaposition because our wider distribution business and our to-go business at our Chandler taproom are all functioning healthily, sustainably and well, but that particular part of the business, which was a small portion of business, but spiritually a very large one, just wasn’t, and it sucks. To put it bluntly. The industry has changed dramatically post-pandemic, where I think a lot of folks don’t go out as much and it’s just not how it used to be.”
Another reason for the closure? Thin Man’s distribution footprint is growing, according to Pasquarello, while foot traffic inside the taprooms, especially when it came to Elmwood, never returned to what it was before the onset of the pandemic.
“Our distribution has grown leaps and bounds,” he said. “We have 12 trucks leaving the loading today, and another 6 ready to go. Those are sold mainly to restaurants and bars that aren’t breweries and taprooms, and also independent bottle shops, which we love and local and regional chains like Wegmans and such, and those orders are flying out the door, but as far as the actual foot traffic inside the taproom, especially at Elmwood, not so much.”
And while their distribution has increased, Pasquarello says a number of their core brands are also up.
“Our core items are growing as well,” he said. “Minkey Boodle is up like 20 or 30% over the last 12 months, which is crazy because that beer has been around for like seven years. Trial by Wombat IPA is also up 35% this year.”
As far as the effect of Elmwood’s closure on the overall Thin Man business model, Pasquarello says a lot of focus will now shift to Chandler Street.
“From a wholesale perspective of the business, looking at a taproom’s and our distribution network, the distribution network is taking up a large chunk of what we do, it’s not gonna really affect our business as a whole, but our business in the taproom was unsustainable,” he said. “It’s not gonna affect our distribution network, but it tremendously negatively impacted our on-promise business because we’re not going to be able to keep Elmwood open.”
Events that were previously held at Elmwood, like Minkey Day and Summer Solstice, will also now move to Chandler.
“It’s a sad day to say the least, and we’re busted up about it, obviously” Pasquarello concluded. “It sucks.”
Brian Campbell is co-founder and Brand Manager of the Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).