Just across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Jersey City, New Jersey, Departed Soles Brewing founder Brian Kulbacki had to pivot his business from a thriving taproom to home delivery in the matter of an afternoon.
“As soon as they shut down all the bars and restaurants, immediately there goes a huge chunk of our distribution, all of our off-premise draft consumption — just gone,” Kulbacki said.
Departed Soles, which Kulbacki founded in 2015, splits its volume 50/50 between distribution and taproom sales. Of the half that’s sold into distribution, 60-75% of it is in packaged goods, mostly cans, and the remainder is draft.
New Jersey, along with New York and Connecticut, were among the first states to temporarily ban on-premise dining and drinking in mid-March. When fellow Garden State brewers began offering home delivery, Kulbacki balked at the thought at first. However, consumer demand for the brewery’s gluten-free offerings showed him there was a local need for the service, which is offered in Jersey City, neighboring Hoboken and throughout Hudson County.
“We just very quickly realized that if I wanted to fulfill my promise to the team to keep them all here, it was my obligation to do whatever I had to do — whatever the team was comfortable doing — to keep afloat,” he said. “And I think that kind of goes for any business owner right now. You have a lot of obligations, not just to your personal beliefs, but to the community, to your employees, to the people you’re interacting with on a daily basis.
“And you’ve got to paint a bigger picture. It’s not just about you anymore, so as long as people are comfortable with it, and they support it, and you’re doing it in the right way, then then we roll with it.”
Operating during the crisis brings new challenges daily. In late March, Gov. Phil Murphy walked back the ability for breweries to offer home delivery, but reversed course a few days later, creating some confusion among the state’s craft brewers.
“It’s pretty much a roller coaster at this point,” Kulbacki said.
Watch the interview with Kulbacki above and visit Brewbound’s YouTube channel for more interviews and other content. Tune into Brewbound Frontlines, a live-streamed video panel discussion with the founders of Harpoon Brewery and Deschutes Brewery, this Thursday, April 30 at 3 p.m. EST.