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At Allagash Brewing, sales plummeted by 70%. Then its founder got Covid

How a business that knew nothing but growth has navigated the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Maine — As it entered 2020, Allagash Brewing in Portland was on a roll. Founded twenty-five years earlier, it had grown from a one-man operation into Maine’s largest brewery and the 28th largest craft brewery in the United States, among the top one percent in size. Every year its sales had grown, even in the bruising recession of 2008-2009.

Then came March and the coronavirus. Practically overnight people stopped going to bars and restaurants, where most of Allagash’s sales occurred. In less than a month sales tanked by seventy percent. It was, says Allagash founder Rob Tod, “our first downturn.”

The company started playing defense, cutting expenses wherever possible but not laying off or furloughing any of its roughly 150 employees. One thing working in Tod’s favor was that in his first ten years in business money had been so tight that he knew how to run a lean operation. Even so, the company found itself in some odd situations, such as having so much unsold beer that it gave it away to a nearby distillery to be turned into hand sanitizer.

In late March, as he grappled with one new challenge after another in a world turned upside down, Tod got the news no one at that time wanted to hear: He had Covid-19. Taking time off from work was not an option—he had a business to save. So every morning he’d get up, shave, shower, put on the clothes he’d wear if he were going to the brewery—no lounging around in pajamas—and work at home for twelve hours. Then he’d crash, go to bed, and do the same thing all over the next day.

In the last month or two sales have perked up, Tod has recovered nicely (he tries to slip away whenever possible to surf) and in the weeks ahead Allagash will release some new beers it was able to create while its production was sharply reduced. The pandemic isn’t over, and while Tod doesn’t pretend to know what storms the company may yet have to sail through, he conveys a low-key but firm sense of confidence. “I think,” he says, “we’re going to come out of this stronger than we’ve ever been.”

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