Bear Republic Brewing Company will close its Healdsburg, California-based brewpub, which first opened in 1995, on November 22, according to a post on the location’s Facebook page.
Speaking to Brewbound, Bear Republic president and CEO Richard G. Norgrove cited mounting building improvement costs at the Healdsburg brewpub location, which the company’s landlord would not cover, among the reasons for the closure.
“It’s making the leasehold improvements on someone else’s building — I’m just not ready to do that,” he said.
Norgrove also described a town with a changing population and an increasingly competitive restaurant scene that could no longer sustain the brewpub.
“I live in town and it really has changed,” he said. “It’s become a bedroom community for second-home owners and very wine-centric tourist trade and we’ve been affected.”
Norgrove added that the change in population from families to second-home owners created a shift in the brewpub’s customer base.
“I used to have seven or eight highchairs out on a Friday or Saturday night,” he said. “I’m lucky if we have one or two now.”
Since the announcement was posted to Facebook, Bear Republic customers have posted messages expressing their disappointment and sadness over the closure, Norgrove said.
“There’s a point where you have to stop reading it, because you get bummed,” he said. “It used to be a little cow town and now it’s Beverly Healdsburg.”
Bear Republic will transfer brewing operations to its brewpub in Rohnert Park, located about 24 miles southeast of Healdsburg, as well as its production brewery in Cloverdale, about 18 miles northwest of Healdsburg. The company will also move its custom-built 15-barrel brewhouse from Healdsburg to Cloverdale.
“The original brewhouse that created Red Rocket, Racer 5 and Hop Rod, all of our legacy brands — no one’s ever gonna brew on that but us,” Norgrove said.
The Healdsburg closure will result in 36 lost jobs, but Norgrove hopes to retain six to eight employees in positions at its other locations.
Best known for its flagship Racer 5 IPA, 24-year-old Bear Republic’s production volume has fluctuated since 2014. Last year, the company produced 66,669 barrels, down 15% from 2017, and a decline from a peak of 81,238 barrels in 2016, according to national trade group the Brewers Association. Bear Republic ranked as the 48th largest BA-defined domestic craft brewing company in 2018, and the ninth largest craft brewery in the Pacific region.
This past summer, Norgrove told Brewbound that Bear Republic’s production declines were the result of wholesaler changes, pulling out of some markets, and several natural disasters in recent years, including droughts and wildfires.
In July, Bear Republic announced a series of leadership changes, including Norgrove assuming the CEO role from his father, Richard R. Norgrove, who will transition into the role of chairman of the board. Bear Republic also named long-time employee Peter Kruger as its chief operating officer, and promoted quality assurance manager Roger Herpst to the role of brewmaster.
Since taking the reins, the younger Norgrove has navigated some complicated business decisions.
“It has been a challenge,” he admitted. “I figured I’d try to take all my lumps in one year and press the reset button and dig in”