Imagine devoting your life savings and your years to a startup brewery, going deep into debt, and sleeping on a cot in your brewhouse not just because you “live your work.”

Fast-forward seven years. You’ve worked hard to build a successful brand, have a staff of 14 and are making award-winning beer for a loyal customer base that’s grown so much you’re building an $8 million multipurpose brewery complex up the road.

Then a pandemic strikes and, suddenly, you’re ordered to close. For how long? Nobody knows.

“To have the hammer fall so fast, was not something for which anyone was prepared,” said Todd Baldwin, president and founder of Red Leg Brewing in Colorado Springs. “To have everything you work for be out of your control, that’s an emotion very few of us have ever experienced.”

Like most business owners, Baldwin said his first thoughts after learning about the mandatory shutdown for breweries, which went into effect March 16, were of his employees.

“We brought our team in the very next day, when I think a lot of people got the ax,” Baldwin said. “We decided to take a very different approach. We said, we’re going to keep everybody.”

For as long as they could, at least.

Baldwin laid it all on the table: At that time, Red Leg had enough reserves to keep everyone on for another eight weeks.

“We told our employees, this is how much money we have. This is how long we can keep everybody employed … without any money coming in,” Baldwin said. “We said, we’d rather keep you all employed, do the right thing and go bust together as a team than make you get in line with the 14 million other unemployed people out there.”

Baldwin knows he was lucky to be able to make that decision, as other breweries without such a cushion were forced to enter “survival mode,” lay off and furlough staff or even close their doors.

He also believes that being able to say he’d retained all his employees helped Red Leg’s application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, meant to help small businesses weather the pandemic storm and better position them to reopen once it’s passed.

Red Leg received “just shy of $100,000” in the first wave of loans in early April. If used for designated expenses, with at least 75% spent on employees, the loan will be forgiven, he said.

“It turns into a grant, on our end,” said Baldwin, who applied for the loan through Pikes Peak National Bank, with guidance from the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

Baldwin said the loan, plus sales of package and to-go beers from the Forge Road brewery, mean he’s able to continue the “math equation” of staying open, despite the fact that he’s losing money every week,and the brewery’s only operating at a fraction of its usual output.

“We’re in full summer mode now usually, producing at full tilt. We’re producing at 30% now,” Baldwin said.

At least he doesn’t have to worry about where the payroll money will come from for a few more weeks. Hopefully by then, reopening, or a plan for it, will be on the horizon, he said.

“That’s the important thing about the PPP loan is to provide that stability. For our employees, so they can pay their mortgage and buy groceries and continue to be consumers,” Baldwin said. “Also for the business, so when the doors do open, we’re not starting from scratch. We’re not having to retrain bar staff or brewers. It’s the same employees you remember, and we’re set and ready to rock.”

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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