Labyrinth Brewing Company Co-Owner Adam Delaura first connected with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price back in 2016 (read the interview). A lot has happened since then, so the two reconnected for an update.
NAN PRICE: Tell us about the evolution between your opening in 2017 and evolving through the pandemic.
ADAM DELAURA: Getting through the hurdles of opening the business seemed almost insurmountable. But when I look back, they’re a lot of the challenges anybody trying to get into this business faces.
We’re essentially an alcohol factory, so we underwent all the challenges of setting up a factory and making sure all those machines, processes, and infrastructure were in place. Plus, alcohol is highly regulated, so you have to abide by many state, local, and federal regulations. Add to that, we’re in a building that has historic significance to the town. So, additional regulation and guidance were required.
Through that process, I learned how to communicate with the federal government, state government, and town government and find out exactly what they needed and which forms we needed to complete to get our brewery up and running.
That was the most difficult part about opening a brewery. I imagine a lot of people get into it with the same passion my Sean Gaura and Chris Walnum and I have. We’re really passionate about beer. We wanted to open a bar room and create an awesome experience and share what we were crafting with friends and neighbors.
But on the flip side, the business feels like 99% paperwork. That’s been a hard lesson to learn that—I left my office job to do this cool factory thing and I spend most of my day in the office doing payroll, auditing reports, and regulatory compliance.
NAN: How did the pandemic impact the business?
ADAM: When we started, we only had three employees. It was just the three of us. At the time, we had three part-time employees and we were open four days a week. By the time we got shut down during the pandemic, we had 13 employees and were open seven nights a week.
Things were going really well for us—and then, boom! We had to close our tap room. For us, that was the only means we had to put our product into people’s hands. We had very limited volume of our product in packages. We weren’t in a bunch of liquor stores. All of a sudden, we had all this beer in the cold room and no customers. That “two to three weeks” turned into a couple months and we had to figure out what to do.
NAN: How did you pivot?
ADAM: That was a serious challenge for us, and we had to pivot quickly. We couldn’t keep our staff on the payroll because there was zero money coming in. Sadly, we had to lay everybody off. From a staffing perspective that really hurt because I had to tell 13 people they had to go home and I didn’t know when they could come back. It was totally out my hands.
That feeling was indescribable. It wasn’t because I made a bad business decision. I had done all the things right—grown my business, filed all the paperwork, paid attention to the numbers. It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under us.
To get by, we started selling our beer to go. I had a machine that could seam a single can at a time, so we quickly set up an online web portal with a type form people could use to order beers. In the morning, I would go into the brewery and fill hundreds of cans of beer, one at a time. It was all curbside pickup. We had a line of cars coming up to a table to pick up their orders.
NAN: Did that keep you afloat?
ADAM: It did keep us afloat. I honestly didn’t think it was going to. But I saw how the community was starting to support those small businesses, using social media to raise awareness. Labyrinth was gratefully a recipient of a lot of that support.
In the four years we’ve been open, we’ve done 121 fundraisers. We’re not raising millions of dollars, but we do what we can to support the mission of some small organizations doing work in our community.
During the pandemic I noticed people associated with these organizations started posting on social media, saying how these guys at Labyrinth had helped them in the past and now they need your help. The impact was eye-opening. Everything we’d done came back full circle where people were recognizing how we’d helped in our community and coming out to support us.
NAN: You were able to persevere.
ADAM: Thankfully, we were. A couple weeks ago I hired my 13th person back. We had a little staff changeover because people’s life circumstances had changed. But we’ve grown to a place where I needed that 13th person. And I recently posted two open job positions because we need two more full-time humans since we’re now past the point we were before the pandemic.
NAN: What’s it like to be a part of Manchester’s growing small business community?
ADAM: I was born and raised here, so I have a certain perspective about this town. It seems like the people here really want to make Manchester a better place as far as having a diverse amount of small businesses.
There’s a lot of buzz downtown and a lot of newer restaurants and shops. There’s a lot more stuff to do downtown and there’s a lot more potential to do it. I’ve seen that explode over the last decade or two as far and it’s great to be part of that energy.