Armstrong Brewing Company, the small but mighty taproom prominently located in downtown South San Francisco, has tapped its last keg.
The brewing company which moved to its downstairs home across from City Hall at 415 Grand Ave. in 2015 announced it has shuttered permanently due to challenges associated with running a brewery amid a pandemic.
“It really sucked,” said Benjermin Colombo, a spokesman for the brewery said of the difficult decision to close down.
The company was financially stable until the shelter-in-place mandate arrived in the spring to stem the spread of COVID-19. But following a prolonged stretch of inconsistent and vague operational mandates for bars and restaurants, Colombo said the company’s ability to sustain itself faltered.
“The numbers just didn’t work for us to stay open,” he said, of the brewery run by a small team comprised of two full-time employees, plus a handful of part-time workers.
Located downstairs in its central office building, Armstrong specialized in serving unique offerings brewed on site with a variety of rotating experimental beers available primarily through the tap.
Comedy performances, trivia nights and other community events were staples of the establishment, which earlier this year received recognition from the South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce for its fundraising supporting the school district and other local organizations.
But with indoor dining banned, large gatherings discouraged as well as varied regulations on ways bars and restaurants can stay open, the financial challenges grew substantially.
While crunching the numbers, Colombo said he determined the brewery would have needed to sell roughly twice as many beers under some amended fashion of operation to be viable.
“Ultimately it was just a really tough business decision and we couldn’t see a pathway all through this,” he said.
He also noted the challenges presented by the brewery’s location, which prevented them from opening into an outdoor setting and adhering to social distancing standards.
Colombo said some thought was given to pivoting to a business model built around canning and bottling rather than relying on sales made at the bar. But with profit margins thin and plenty of logistical hurdles associated with the transition, ultimately the idea fell flat.
Assessing the landscape of the Bay Area brewery scene, Colombo expected many others in the industry to be forced into similarly tough decisions over the coming months.
“I don’t think there is a small craft brewery in the Bay Area that is turning a profit,” he said.
Not to be too pessimistic, Colombo said he believes there will be innovations pursued down the road which will allow breweries to survive in an economy upended by the pandemic.
But in the immediate term, he suspected that there will be a challenging stretch for businesses like his, as well as many other neighboring companies in South San Francisco.
“For the restaurants and bars in the downtown quarter, it’s going to be a tough couple of years,” he said.
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