Durango Brewing Co. closes taproom, fires employees, moves to La Junta

Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 2:45 PM
Durango Brewing Co. closed its taproom Thursday and is moving all its operations to La Junta.
A sign posted on the front door of the Durango Brewing Co. taproom saying it is “temporarily closed.”

Durango Brewing Co. abruptly closed its taproom last week in Durango, fired all of its local employees and is moving operations to La Junta. And it’s taking the Durango moniker with it.

The move will leave Durango Brewing Co. – Durango’s second oldest local brewery – without a base in Durango.

Georgia Danielson, a sales manager for Durango Brewing Co. based in Durango, said the taproom on north Main Avenue is “closed until further notice.”

“I don’t know if it plans to reopen or remain closed,” she said. “I don’t know.”

She was also unaware of any name change to the beer that no longer has any ties to Durango.

Danielson said the decision to move all of Durango Brewing’s operations to La Junta, about an hour drive east of Pueblo, was planned for some time.

“I think they (the owners) really just felt like the taproom wasn’t working and something that was helping to build DBC in the direction they wanted to,” she said. “And so, from a business standpoint, that was the best decision.”

While the decision to close the taproom was in the works for a while, the actual closing of the taproom was abrupt, and employees were given no prior notice that they would lose their jobs.

The employees found out the taproom closed and they no longer had jobs on Thursday. No one was offered the opportunity to relocate to La Junta, Danielson said.

“Just given the nature of the brewery and restaurant industry ... I think they (the owners) just felt like it’s better to go forward more abruptly than give people notice,” she said.

In total, five people lost their jobs.

Shelly Price, owner of Alaskan Reindeer Redhots, a food truck that started serving food at the Durango Brewing Co. in July, also said she was given no prior notice. The brewery had stopped serving its own food in March.

Price said she learned about Durango Brewing Co. closing its taproom through a Facebook post Thursday. She received a call from someone at the Denver office on Friday and was told to remove her equipment from the property.

“We were just shocked how they handled the whole thing,” Price said. “What I’m most upset about: They didn’t give us any notice and we had just bought a whole bunch of food and supplies and now we have nowhere to use it.”

Alaskan Reindeer Redhots, which serves Alaskan sausage, burgers and other grilled foods, started up last year. Price said now they do not have a location to sell food.

“It’s a tough situation,” she said, “but hopefully, something better works out.”

Durango Brewing Co. was founded in 1990 and is the state’s third-oldest microbrewery.

In 2015, a majority interest of Durango Brewing Co. was purchased by a Denver holding company, Gold Buckle Brewing, which is run by an investment group that owns Miller International, a Western-wear manufacturer based in Denver (no connection to Miller beer).

At that time, a spokeswoman for the new owners, Andrea Allison, said Durango Brewing Co. would continue to invest locally while growing its market around and outside of Colorado.

“Durango Brewing Co. has been a staple in the Durango community as well as the Colorado craft beer community for 25 years, and we are excited about what our growth means for the local community as far as an increase in jobs, driving in more tourism and being able to interact and give back to our community more,” Allison said.

This is not the first time Durango Brewing Co. abruptly fired its employees under the new ownership.

In September 2015, 11 employees were laid off when the brewery closed its taproom for a renovation project. A spokeswoman at the time gave a similar reason for why the company didn’t give employees advance notice they were losing their jobs.

“Restaurant businesses are difficult to close,” said Allison, who is no longer with the company. “If you give advanced notice, they (employees) basically close it down for you.”

Danielson said the company hoped business would pick up after the remodel, but it didn’t happen.

“I think we were hoping for results a little sooner,” she said. “From a business standpoint, they (the owners) felt like the bulk of our sales were coming from not Durango right now.”

Durango Brewing Co. has been producing its canned beer out of La Junta for the past seven months, Danielson said. Glass bottled beer, which was produced in Durango, will now move to La Junta.

Danielson said she was unaware of any future plans for Durango Brewing Co. to have some sort of presence in Durango.

Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said he cannot remember an instance in the 17 years or so that he has lived in town that a company relocating has taken the Durango name with it.

“They own it so they can do what they will,” he said. “We wish they were here. There were good people that worked for that company that now have to find other work, and that’s sad, but things change and sometimes we don’t like it.”

Walsworth said with Durango Brewing Co.’s remodel of the building at 3000 Main Ave., it is likely prime for a new business.

“It looks really nice inside and out ... so I bet it will get filled up before we know it,” he said.

Attempts to reach laid-off employees were not immediately successful Tuesday morning.

There are still plenty of options for people with a thirst for beer in Durango, which now has five breweries: Animas Brewing Co., BREW Pub & Kitchen, Carver Brewing Co., Ska Brewing Co. and Steamworks Brewing Co.