The Evolution of Restoration Brew Worx

Written by on February 8, 2022 in Bars, Beer, Beer from Here, Taprooms - No comments

I recently had a fascinating opportunity to have a lengthy conversation with Frank Barickman about how Delaware’s Restoration Brew Worx has weathered the ups and downs of the craft brewing industry over the past seven years. Frank was one of the five founders of Restoration when it opened in 2015. His major role at the time was Head Brewer. His decades long background as an award-winning home brewer, and his status as a Grand Master beer judge eminently qualified him for that job. Of course, successfully running a brewpub is about much more than simply producing good craft beers. While Frank ran the brewing end, his partners ran the kitchen and the bar. By 2017, the realization of the time commitment and the many challenges and headaches that come with any small business, had sunk in. His partners were ready to sell the business. Frank and his wife Roma were not ready to bail, and used their first rights to buy out their partners.

This was the first of the many new challenges that would affect Restoration and Barickman over the coming years. It clearly forced him out of his comfort zone. He was now “a businessman, and no longer a brewer”. He would need to “adapt, find a way to make it work”. He quickly recognized that Restoration was in fact, three businesses: brewing, food service, and distribution; all of which needed attention. Step one, bring in a new brewer, Chris Goodman. The brewing philosophy remained in place. That being 12 house beers on tap with four flagship beers, four seasonals, and four one-offs. Second, bring in a General Manager to oversee the restaurant. And third, grow the business through increased distribution. The next two years focused heavily on steadily growing that distribution business. Restoration focused on “finding small bars that cared about the beer”. Bars within 10-12 miles that could introduce their customers to Restoration beer and potentially bring them to the brewpub in Delaware. That radius ultimately expanded to 60 miles encompassing Lexington, Mansfield, and Grove City, and includes 270 accounts representing 55% of their total sales.

A relative period of calm was shattered on March 21, 2020 when Governor DeWine shut down the Ohio economy due to the pandemic. Wasting no time, Barickman gathered his entire management staff at 11 PM that very night to assemble a survival plan. All on-site food and beer sales were gone, as well as the large majority of the distribution sales. Overnight, the business was transformed into carry-out only. Within two days, Restoration had a small canning operation on-site and operational. Sixteen-ounce cans were filled one at a time, (purged with CO2 to maximize quality), turning out a humble two cases per hour. The good news: everyone stayed on payroll and community support was over the top with beer and food orders flooding the business by Day Two. Still 2020 brewery production dropped by more than 30% as compared to 2019. (2021 bounced back, but still came in more than 10% less than 2019.)

Of course, the storms weren’t over; 2021 brought supply chain issues and a 40 year high in the inflation rate. Sourcing became an issue, labor retention was a challenge, and higher prices for nearly everything were the latest headwinds for Restoration. Fortunately, Barickman’s policy of keeping his staff on the payroll through the hard times, plus offering healthcare benefits and 401K’s ameliorated the issue of staff retention. Inflation is another matter, and is perhaps best explained by a brewpub standard: chicken wings. Once largely a discarded part of a chicken, and then a bar snack that might only cost ten or twenty cents a wing, has now become the most expensive part of the bird. Wings now are generally a buck or more apiece. At Restoration, wings prices have climbed so quickly and become so unpredictable, that the menu simply lists them at “market price”. Even though Restoration offers “premium extra jumbo” wings that make a meal, that’s not a position you want to be in.

So, what’s next for Restoration? They will continue to focus on well-made, traditional craft beers supported by “upper-end pub food”, and continue to manage the cost of goods and the cost of labor. Hopefully, as the pandemic eases and inflation wains, there will be some return to “normalcy” and they will be able to return to their 2019 hours. The main driving force, however, will be growth in volume, sales, and space. Their 1200 bbl. brewing capacity is constrained by keg storage space. Finding additional space, potentially a second location, will be a priority.
As Rodney Dangerfield said in the classic movie “Back To School”: “it’s tough out there”. The pandemic is not over, the supply chain is still a mess, inflation is still raging, and labor is still hard to find. So, we all need to continue to Eat Local, Drink Local, and support small business!

Restoration Brew Worx is located in downtown Delaware at 25 N Sandusky Street. Hours are Tues-Thurs 11-9, and Fri-Sat 11-11.

About the Author

Bill Babbitt is a retired engineer, beer lover, and freelance writer for Beer Advocate Magazine.

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