GREENSBORO, N.C. — We’ve all seen the stories about businesses disappearing during the pandemic. Food and beverage places, in particular, have been hit hard
But what if you had a chance to help one of them survive? And then, imagine that place is your competitor. We have one of those stories from right here in the Triad.
Though, if you talk to the folks involved, they see each other much more as brothers in arms than as competitors.
Chris Lester co-founded Natty Greene’s more than 15 years ago — his was one of the first of what is now a couple of dozen craft breweries in the Triad. But, just as those breweries were about to hit what they thought would be record sales months, with the ACC Tournament coming to the Greensboro Coliseum, Furniture Market and a series of other big events, the pandemic closed everything down.
“We were counting on all the events at the coliseum,” says Lester. “We invested half a million dollars in a new tasting room and revamped the whole spot but I just couldn’t make it work.”
So, Lester closed that facility – where he brewed all his beer. Suddenly, he had no product to sell.
“I read the news of the Natty Brewing facility and that hurt,” says Eric Kevorkian, the owner of SouthEnd Brewing, just down the street from Natty Greene’s downtown location. “I didn’t like seeing that and I got in contact with Chris as soon as I could and said, ‘Let me know what we can do to help.’”
What they could do was lend Natty’s their brewing equipment when they weren’t using it – which they weren’t all the time, with slower sales everywhere because of government-mandated restrictions during the pandemic.
“That’s not the only problem – the 50% capacity restriction – a lot of people are hesitant to come out, so we don’t have the size of the market we had,” says Kevorkian.
But that allowed Kevorkian to offer his facility to Lester to brew what is currently his signature beer, the Juicy Love IPA.
“It keeps our brand alive, I think that’s crucial,” says Lester.
And Natty’s survival, Eric Kevorkian believes, is crucial to the entire industry.
Natty Green’s is in the “center of town, biggest footprint, most well-established brand,” says Kevorkian. “I think we have to do what we can to preserve it.”