Beer Man

Old Chicago, Rock Bottom Parent Company Terminates 18,000 Employees

Old Chicago
Craftworks, the parent company of Old Chicago, Rock Bottom, the ChopHouse, Gordon Biersch and several other restaurant chains across the country, laid off its entire workforce on March 31, letting all 18,000 employees know that they were out of a job — and without health benefits — effective immediately.

That news comes just four weeks after Craftworks filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing both assets and liabilities of between $100 million and $500 million, according to multiple reports. The company was then in negotiations with one of its investors to reduce its debt significantly.

On March 18, as government officials began issuing closure orders around the country, the company shuttered all of its restaurants rather than keeping them open for takeout orders or delivery. Most of them posted notices online thanking customers and saying that the plan was to reopen "at a later date that is yet to be determined."

In a March 31 letter telling employees that they'd been laid off (read it below), the company said it hoped to hire them back at some future date.

click to enlarge
Old Chicago
Although Craftworks is now based in Nashville, it was created in Broomfield in 2010 by the merger of the Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch brewpub chains. It has more than 300 restaurants and breweries nationwide.

Rock Bottom was founded in 1991 at the base of the Prudential Building in downtown Denver by Boulder restaurateur Frank Day, one of the early pioneers of craft brewing in Colorado. He also founded Boulder's storied but now-closed Walnut Brewery, the ChopHouse in Denver and the Old Chicago chain. Day's wife, Gina, is the longtime owner of Boulder Beer Company, which closed the doors to its pub in February.

By 2010, Day had built the brands into one of the largest craft-beer-focused restaurant and brewery companies in the nation. Rock Bottom's merger with Tennessee-based Gordon Biersch that year was financed by a $150 million investment arranged and led by Centerbridge Capital Partners, a $12 billion money management firm.

The resulting company, Craftworks, split its headquarters between Colorado and Tennessee, but in 2019 consolidated its operations in Tennessee. Day, who was chairman of the board, has since retired from that company but still owns a separate enterprise called Concept Restaurants, which includes a number of well-known local eateries, including Humboldt, Stout Street Social and Table Mountain Inn.

Here is a copy of the Craftworks letter to its employees:

March 31, 2020

Dear Craftworks team,

First off, please know that I hope each of you and your families are safe and doing as well as possible given the circumstances. My thoughts are with each of you every moment of every day as we continue to navigate these challenging times.

Our small team continues to make progress consolidating the Company and preparing for a day, hopefully soon, when we can return to the business of serving our communities across all our great brands.

Due to the current state of affairs in the bankruptcy process, the Company’s existing benefit plans will be terminated effective March 31, 2020. Regrettably, because the plans are being terminated, there will be no COBRA continuation coverage available under the group health plans. All claims incurred on or before March 31, 2020 will be handled in accordance with the plan’s usual terms, but there will be no coverage for health care services or items you receive after that date.

To assist everyone with this transition, please find attached a list of options for you to consider as you seek alternative health plan coverage for yourself and your family. Your separation is generally considered a qualifying event that should provide you a special enrollment right (typically 30 days from the loss of coverage) to enroll in other coverage. You may want to explore coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace at, options through a spouse/partner’s employer plan, a parent’s employer plan (if you are under age 26), Medicare, etc.

In addition, effective March 31, 2020, the status of all team members will be revised from furloughed to terminated. You will receive additional communication from our third-party administrator regarding your benefit selections and how you can handle this transition (HSA, 401k, Life, Disability, etc.).

Finally, please know that we continue to work diligently towards a reopening date and are looking forward to the day when we hope to bring many of you back with a new suite of benefits.

Thank you for your understanding and please be well. See you in a restaurant soon!

Warmest regards,

Marc Buehler
Chief Executive Officer