Deschutes Brewery halts plans for Roanoke production facility

At Deschutes Brewery, opening either the Portland or Bend pub depends on the data and the approval of the governor.

Deschutes Brewery laid off 60% of its workforce because of the need to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, according to the company.

About 250-300 workers in the brewery’s pubs and taprooms were let go last week even before Gov. Kate Brown ordered all bars and restaurants to suspend dining operations and allowed only carryout business, said Gary Fish, Deschutes Brewery founder. More layoffs occurred on Friday, he said.

The layoffs were across the board, from servers to sales and promotion to canning and bottling and brewing, Fish said. About 140 employees are left, he said.

“It’s gut wrenching,” Fish said Wednesday. “It’s extremely difficult, particularly when it’s not of our own making. We have to remain safe and take care of our community and make sure our business remains at the end of this.

“We’re still producing beer.”

Fish said he hopes to resume normal business operations once the pandemic subsides.

The brewery has pubs and tasting rooms in Portland, Portland International Airport, Bend and in Roanoke, Virginia, where it had planned to build a second brewery. In 2018 the brewery pulled the plug on the Roanoke plans when the craft beer market softened from oversaturation.

Also in 2018, the brewery laid off about 10% of its workforce in an attempt to become more efficient in the competitive craft brewing market.

Ranked No. 10 by the Craft Brewers Association by sales volume in 2019, Deschutes Brewery spent much of the year introducing new packaging and new beers as a way to stay fresh and innovative.

Draft beer sales account for a quarter of all sales, Fish said. The brewery will continue its manufacturing and packaging of canned and bottled beer during the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown.

“The closing of our on-premise buildings has had a pretty devastating impact on us,” he said. “The bottle and can business is showing signs of improvement in certain markets as people load up on supplies for self-quarantine and beer is one of those supplies.”

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