KALAMAZOO — With an uncertain future ahead and the opportunity to make a clean exit from his business, owner Kevin Tibbs and his team at Kalamazoo-based Tibbs Brewing Company announced this week that it would be shutting its doors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the restaurant and bar industry, and the small brewpub that opened in 2013 was certainly not immune from those tribulations.
The brewery announced earlier this week via Facebook that it would not be renewing its lease at its prime downtown space of 402 S. Burdick St. in Kalamazoo and would hold one last night of service in the taproom on Oct. 3.
“Our lease was up in December anyway and we had a couple options for extension that we could have executed on our end but looking at the current climate — capacity restrictions and the way business looks in the future — we didn’t see a viable option for extending the lease,” Tibbs told MiBiz.
“I don’t know what the best-case scenario would have been for 2021 — maybe break even? So, it just seemed like a good time for us, at least, to go ahead and close because we ran the full extent of our seven-year lease and we did what we wanted to do. It’s a bad way to say it, but timing worked out for us.”
Facilitating half-capacity dine-in service proved challenging for Tibbs Brewing, which features an outdoor patio that only seats 10 people. Tibbs said that, under the current conditions, his upstairs taproom is generally capped at around 10 tables and that he opted not to use a downstairs bar, which accommodates around 60 people, because of ventilation concerns.
The brewery has, however, seen some success with to-go sales.
“To-go worked for us — it helped, definitely,” Tibbs said. “We are lucky to have a business where we’re able to do to-go orders. We have a hair salon next to us and across the street from us. They had about four months where they weren’t even open for business and couldn’t bring in any revenue, so we were lucky to be able to do to-go orders. But, we still pay downtown rent, so that’s not really cutting it.”
Tibbs and his team have bootstrapped the brewery from the beginning, opting not to take on investors or loans along the way. That decision, according to Tibbs, made it significantly easier to break away from the business when needed.
“When all this hit, we didn’t have a big loan payment that we had to look to pay every month,” Tibbs said. “We were just covering rent, employee payroll, utilities and that type of stuff. Especially now, not having loans gave us the flexibility to close now if that’s what we wanted to do. If we had a big loan, that might not be an option — we may have had to borrow more money to try to make it work for the years to come.”
Tibbs Brewing applied for social zone status for its farewell night at the brewpub, where patrons would be permitted to consume alcohol on the sidewalk in front of the establishment in order to create greater capacity. Tibbs said the application was approved by the city and he is awaiting word from the state.
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