PORTAGE, MI — Jake and Kayleigh Lohse didn’t really have an option: Revamp their business in a matter of hours or file for bankruptcy within two months.
This was the couple’s new reality as their barely one-year-old brewery flipped into “survival” mode when the coronavirus pandemic arrived and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced bars and restaurants must close at 3 p.m. on March 16. Presidential Brewing Co., which opened on March 26, 2019, did not have the advantage of being a widely-known entity in the community.
The Lohses carved out a strong reputation in the local beer industry and developed a core of regular customers. Its tongue-in-cheek political themed taproom — with clever beer names to match — resonated. In short order, it was all at risk.
“We had to change our entire business model quite literally overnight, which means there wasn’t a ton of time for conversations. … I think we both knew that closing down entirely just wasn’t an option. If we did, we would lose our business,” said Kayleigh Lohse, who handles the brewery’s marketing and communications. “We decided to give takeout a try and see how it went, in an effort to continue serving our customers the best we could — and honestly, to make sure we didn’t end up filing for bankruptcy by May.”
The brewery located at 8302 Portage Road mostly sells beer in-house and provides to-go beer in cans. Presidential provides food from its full-service kitchen — most notably a series of shareable tater tot options — but that portion of the business is not its calling card.
The Lohses needed to educate the public, entice new customers and execute a revolutionary way of operating, with the uncertainty of COVID-19 looming. The couple relied on their personalities, instincts, faith and social media savvy to flip the story from one of desperation to one of success.
On the last weekend of April, Presidential sold out of its allotment of food and beer. The momentum continues and the reaction provided a degree of comfort for the brewery.
“It (has) completely blown our minds! Knowing that we have this incredible support from our community makes us optimistic and confident about what’s ahead of us right now,” Kayleigh Lohse said.
Presidential has online takeout ordering from 4-7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Online ordering opens at 11 a.m. and sells out quickly with customers selecting their desired pickup time for that night. It also offers beer delivery on Tuesdays within a 15-mile radius of its location, a distance the brewery more than doubled to meet growing demand. Kayleigh said she’s used the new Facebook group, Kalamazoo Menu, with its audience of more than 31,500 locals looking for ways to best support local businesses, to reach new customers and support other nearby local businesses.
“I think my favorite was when I brought food out to a takeout customer, and she asked if I was the person who posted on our social media. She drove all the way across town to come try our food special, because of the obnoxious way I described it in a Facebook post. I loved it!” Kayleigh Lohse said. “Also, I have a delivery customer who has been on my route EVERY week since we started doing deliveries. She commented the other day that she may forget what day it is 90 percent of the time right now, but she ALWAYS knows when it’s Tuesday, because that’s her beer delivery day!”
Jake Lohse said the brewery continues to operate with a limited staff and does its best to keep the food and beer menu updated. The brewing is done between and around takeout ordering. Stocking the kitchen and getting brewing supplies remains a frequent hurdle, as delivery services tend to be unpredictable and the certain items just aren’t available.
“Honestly, we are just overwhelmed by the love right now. This is the most stressful and frustrating time to own our type of business. With new regulations every day, changes at light speed, new systems, reduced revenues, less help, challenging supply chain, etc. … I constantly come back to a feeling of being loved right now. I have never had to rely on a community before. Nothing can compare to the feeling of hundreds of people showing you love without being obligated to do it. I am so humbled by our support from this community,” Jake Lohse said.
For details on Presidential Brewing Co.’s takeout schedule and menu, go here: https://www.presidentialbrewing.com/takeout
*Image at the top of the story is courtesy of Presidential Brewing Co. and shows a series of recent takeout orders.