In its fifth year, Lord Hobo Brewing is making some changes — the company’s packaging has gotten a makeover, there’s a new face at the helm and plans for a taproom in New York City have been scrapped.
Longtime chief operating officer Nathan Whipple has moved into the role of president, taking over much of the day-to-day work of running the company from founder and CEO Daniel Lanigan.
“I’ve been with the company for a long time and I’ve had my influence over basically every part of the business and helped Daniel build this up from the ground,” Whipple said. “It’s just more of a natural evolution in terms of understanding how the business works and all the key stakeholders involved both internal and external. It just seemed to make sense.”
Lanigan will focus on business development and new opportunities for the brand, which involves him “being largely outside of this building,” while Whipple will be the “consistent leadership on site.”
The Woburn, Massachusetts-based company has scrapped plans for a potential taproom in New York City, opting instead to focus on similar opportunities elsewhere in the Northeast, though Whipple declined to elaborate further.
“It was an opportunity that we looked at and it was interesting, but it was a large undertaking at the time and we had a lot of stuff going on,” he said.
Lord Hobo’s other projects — a new location in Boston’s Seaport District and another expansion at its Woburn headquarters — are paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, but will pick back up when stay-at-home orders subside.
“It’s obviously suffering the same delay that other construction projects are suffering, and we’re all anxiously awaiting some news from the government to tell us when we can resume construction,” Whipple said. “It’s all sort of TBD in terms of how big of a delay that will introduce, but it certainly is delayed.”
At the company’s brewery in Woburn, a 2,800 sq. foot expansion to the taproom that opened in November 2018 is in the works, along with a 1,600 sq. ft. patio, which Whipple thinks will be popular in a post-COVID world. He expects the project to be finished by July, if all goes according to Plan B. Plan A had involved opening the new space in late April or early May, obviously out of the question now.
“We are looking to prioritize the patio, both in the Seaport and in Woburn,” he said. “I assume most people are gonna want to be outside in the fresh air. That’ll help people feel more comfortable with being at a restaurant taproom and enjoying the time there with a breeze blowing.”
Lord Hobo’s Boston location will be at Two Drydock, a multi-use project at the intersection of the Seaport District and South Boston. The Seaport District, long home to Harpoon Brewery, has gained a Trillium taproom and brewery and a seasonal Cisco Brewers-branded beer garden in recent years.
Additionally, Lord Hobo has refreshed its packaging with redesigned cans and cartons to create cohesion across brands.
The uniformity will help consumers “identify us, and find the information that they’re looking for when they’re scanning a shelf in a sea of beers and colors and craziness,” Whipple said.
Lord Hobo’s off-premise business, which reaches 13 states, accounts for 70% of its volume, Whipple said. The company’s on-premise volume has dried up with the COVID-19-forced closure of bars, restaurants, athletic venues and the Encore Boston Harbor, a casino in Everett, Massachusetts where Lord Hobo is the official beer.
“That’s painful for us from a volume standpoint and also, you know, just the visibility that we get from being at Fenway or Gillette or Encore, so certainly a double whammy of bummer for us,” Whipple said. “But we were very fortunate and grateful that we do have a strong off-premise business, even without those accounts that have been forced to close.
Our distributors and retailers are really supportive of us and they do a great job.”
In 2019, Lord Hobo sold 40,000 barrels, up from 37,733 in 2018, according to the Brewers Association.
The company secured a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, which allowed them to bring back employees who had been furloughed in mid-March. Lord Hobo sold a minority ownership stake to private investment firm Valterra Partners in 2017; normally, such an investment would disqualify small businesses from Small Business Administration aid, but Congress instructed the SBA to loosen some rules when it created the PPP.
“We were lucky enough to see some PPP money, which allowed us to bring people back on and resume — I wouldn’t say normal operations because nothing’s really normal right now — but we’re making beer and shipping beer and trying to figure out how to maximize the taproom,” Whipple said.