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Richbrau files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy

Andy Taylor February 22, 2010 8

Richbrau Brewery owner Michael T. Byrne said his Shockoe Slip restaurant collapsed under the weight of the recession.

For 17 years he ran the restaurant, pub and microbrewery out of four connecting buildings that took up nearly 40,000 square feet of space in the 1200 block of East Cary Street.

Last week he padlocked the front doors and on Friday he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. A Chapter 7 filing means the business and any inventory will be liquidated under the direction of a court-appointed trustee.

The filing listed assets of $150,739.59 and liabilities of $222,656.86. SunTrust Bank is listed as the largest creditor, owed $97,159.73 on a term loan and $29,256.58 on a line of credit, according to court documents.

The bulk of the assets are listed as $125,000 in furniture, including computers and pool tables; $3,500 in brewery supplies; and $10,000 in food, liquor and beer.

Byrne said the last two years have been particularly difficult for a variety of recessionary reasons.

“I’ve been through three recessions,” Byrne said. “This is a completely different animal. Everyone is freaked out.”

He said fewer people are working downtown because of job cuts and companies closing or leaving the area. Many who do have jobs are fearful and eat out less, he said.

“You can only go down that road of not making money for so long,” Byrne said.

He said lunch business was down more than 30 percent and the biggest reason is there aren’t as many people on the streets downtown as there used to be.

“The issue for downtown has been that dwindling sales has been an ongoing trend,” Byrne said. “It doesn’t have the infrastructure to move forward during times that are this tough.”

Byrne said he took steps to try to keep the business alive. He closed his Tap House Grill in October to focus on saving Richbrau. The Tap House was a restaurant in the same cluster of buildings that he had opened in 2002.

Prior to that he spent money on renovations to Richbrau, including installing new TV sets, and brought in a new chef.

Asked what he will do now, Byrne said he plans to stay in Richmond and hinted that he might have other employment possibilities.

“I’m actively engaged with different potential opportunities and not all are in the restaurant business.”

Richbrau Brewery’s departure leaves a gaping hole in Shockoe Slip and sent ripples through the business district.

“It’s kind of sad. It was a Richmond staple,” said Jennie Stuart, a barrista at Shockoe Espresso and Roastery, at 104 Shockoe Slip.

Shockoe Espresso Manager Ryan Wirt said Byrne bought coffee beans from the shop that he used in brewing his Shockoe Espresso Stout.

“He was one of the forefront guys in the Slip,” Wirt said of Byrne. “I don’t know what to say. I’m in shock.”

That was the general reaction among merchants.

“There’s an emotional impact too because he was very active in standing up for business owners,” said Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, at 1312 E. Cary St.

Justice said Shockoe Slip merchants, including Byrne, would get together on Fridays and discuss the state of the neighborhood.

While there is no formal merchants association, she said Byrne was the unofficial leader.

The other concern is the lights are now out in one of the core businesses there.

“It’s pretty much half a block of empty space,” Justice said. “That’s bad for the neighborhood. That’s got to hurt.”

Andrea Capece, who owns LaGrotta restaurant, said the sudden departure “was kind of a shock for everyone.”

She said Byrne had eaten dinner at LaGrotta a couple of weeks ago and didn’t mention anything about closing.

“Seeing a business closed doesn’t give a good impression,” Capece said. “Hopefully, it won’t affect us much.”

Rachel Grove, the marketing director at the Tobacco Company, said, “We loved having him as a neighbor.”

She is hopeful another restaurant takes that space, even though that would be a competitor, Grove said.

Grove, like other merchants, hates seeing the empty space across Cary Street.

“The big question now is, ‘What’s next?’”


Richbrau’s top unsecured creditors:

SunTrust Bank (term loan): $97,159.73

SunTrust Bank (line of credit): $29,256.58

Secam Inc (landlord): $11,188.92

Virginia Food Service Group: $10,028.27

City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities: $8,787.28

Island Refrigeration: $7,472.80

Dominion Va. Power: $6,235.69

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8 Comments »

  1. Doug February 23, 2010 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Craft beer has become hugely popular over these last 10 years.
    Richbrau has not. You can’t blame the economy for that.

  2. Tim Edwards February 23, 2010 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Michael Byrne’s most valuable asset could possibly be the brand name ‘Richbrau.’ That beer was everywhere when I was a kid in the 60’s. Home Brewing Company did a great job of promoting and distributing the product, until larger brewers squeezed them out. It could be benificial to take the brand and sell it as the official beer of the ‘Flying Squirrels’ or do something to give it a niche and keep the brand alive.

  3. Jay February 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    “Craft beer has become hugely popular over these last 10 years.
    Richbrau has not. You can’t blame the economy for that.”

    Technically you can. Bad times leads to less spending and alternate ingredients. Different ingredients produce a different taste as ‘Craft Beer’ advocates (like yourself) I assume already know. A lot of people enjoyed the beer, I’m sorry you did not. Feel free to spend time at the plethora of other microbreweries around richmond. Oh wait, I forgot, that variety no longer exists. Enjoy the one thats left. Long live your watered down corporate beer, I’m sure your support is greatly desired.

  4. Doug February 24, 2010 at 10:49 am - Reply

    “Technically you can. ”

    Then why is nearly every other microbrewery in the country thriving?

    “A lot of people enjoyed the beer”

    I guess that depends on your definition of “a lot”.

  5. John February 25, 2010 at 8:50 am - Reply

    I worked in the slip and I ate at Richbrau 3 times – twice for lunch and once for dinner. Each time the food was poor and the service mediocre. I never went back again, and I worked near the place for 7 years. The dinner I had there was one of the worst dinners I have ever had in Richmond in 25 years. I am not surprised his business felt extra pressure in the downturn. I am also a beer lover, and to me the Richbrau brews were mediocre and inconsistent, unlike Legend, which is consistently good. In fact, Legend offers a good lesson: produce a great product and keep your overhead reasonable and the business will prosper.

  6. Jake Crocker February 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Simple fact is in the early 2000’s “Club Richbrau” was THE hot spot downtown on the weekends with lines wrapped around the block. Lunch, dinner and the Microbrewery I’m sure did well but the club is where the real money had to have been made. That night scene mostly shifted down the street to the more trendy places such as Lucky Buddha, Europa and Cha Cha’s a couple of blocks down Cary Street a stating around ’04/’05ish and RIchbrau became an after thought on the Shockoe Slip scene, a shame since they along with the Tobacco Company really made the area a nightlife destination to begin with. Thank you Richbrau for all the great times and good food I enjoyed there over the years, I spent the better part of my 20’s hanging out there every weekend and had scores of business lunches there in my 30’s, you will be missed but your legend will live on.

  7. Jay March 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    “Then why is nearly every other microbrewery in the country thriving?”

    Who is thriving in this economy? And let’s go over your beer lesson. A microbrewery is a place that manufactures beer for selling mostly off premises. Richbrau was a brew pub, meaning its focus was in house sale and consumption of beer. If you want to get into semantics about the business practices and the lack of advertising over the last decade from Richbrau then that is a different case altogether since in my opinion that was one of the biggest mistakes made at that restaurant.

    “I guess that depends on your definition of “a lot”.”

    a lot- Very many, a large number; also, very much. For example, A lot of people think the economy is declining.

    And the poor service and bad dining experience was a shame as there were people who worked there that had no heart for the job and shouldn’t have been there in the first place but there were also employees there who did enjoy their job and were more than happy to create a memorable experience for the customer.

    Point of all of this being, if you want to insult a place, direct it to the person in charge. Don’t generalize as there were many people who worked there that were forced to do things a certain way and had no voice in the practices of the owner.

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