Speakeasy Sells Assets, Buyer Vows to "Revive" Brand

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, the San Francisco brewery beset by financial woes in recent months, has been sold to a newly formed company that says it intends to “revive” the brand. In a statement, the brewery says its assets have been acquired by Hunters Point Brewery, a new limited liability company founded by beer industry veteran and former Oakland mayoral candidate Ces Butner. The deal, which required court approval as the company was in a state of receivership and controlled by turnaround firm Jigsaw Advisors, was finalized on Monday.

WHY IT MATTERS
First and foremost, the deal—terms for which were not disclosed, but the San Francisco Business Times reports was court approved for $2.5 million—secures the brand’s future, saving it from financial ruin. If you'll recall, Speakeasy shut down this past March over its inability to pay off debts related to an expansion project. From there, a Los Angeles court gave control of the company to Jigsaw, which resumed operations to better attract a buyer.

Now, not only is the company seemingly back on track, it has a new owner that already knows the brand quite well. Before founding Hunters Point, Ces Butner sold Speakeasy beers for up to six years with Horizon Beverage Company, where he climbed the ranks to become president, owner, and CEO. This familiarity, he says, played a part in this week’s acquisition.

“We were one the first companies to expand their distribution beyond San Francisco,” he says in a statement. “There was a tremendous amount of growth and interest in the Speakeasy brands. It was one of the best craft breweries we worked with and the beer quality is very high. I thought it would be a shame if the brand, and one of the few production breweries left in San Francisco, disappeared because of financial problems.”

But Butner isn’t the only new team member at Speakeasy. In light of the sale, the company has appointed a new vice president and general manager in Sam Cappione, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, has in the past worked in various capacities for Anheuser-Busch InBev, Horizon Beverage Company, and Craft Brew Alliance. Further, the company says more staff will be hired in the coming weeks and months to fill roles in operations, sales, packaging, taproom staffing, and brewing departments.

But the company may not be entirely out of the hole just yet. When Speakeasy shut down, a number of employees filed wage claims against the company, claiming they had not received final pay. This, as we reported at the time, could’ve presented an obstacle for would-be buyers. Hearings were scheduled for early May, by which point the company was expected be under new ownership, making the wage claims a matter the new owner would be forced to deal with. Calls made to Speakeasy and Jigsaw seeking more information about this were not returned as of press time, though we’ll update the post if and when we hear back.

UPDATE: A source close to the deal that requested not to be identified clarified that the new owners would not be responsible for handling the wage claims. Rather, the receiver, Jigsaw, has converted Speakeasy’s assets into cash and plans to “get those employees and former employees the wages they are entitled to” as a top priority, ahead of paying secured creditors in accordance with a California statute of priority. In fact, according to a tweet from the brewery, those wage claims are being paid out "right now."

—Dave Eisenberg

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Speakeasy Ales & Lagers Secures Future with Sale of Company Assets [Speakeasy]