Beer Man

Breckenridge Brewery Founder Richard Squire Brewed Up a Colorado Legacy

Richard Squire founded Breckenridge Brewery in 1990.
Richard Squire founded Breckenridge Brewery in 1990. Suzie's CBD Treats
When Richard Squire sold his garment business and left New York in the 1980s, he only needed two things: a set of car keys and a road in front of him, says longtime friend Steve Farland. That road led him first to the ski slopes of Alta, Utah, and then to Breckenridge, where he continued to embrace the ski-bum lifestyle in the winters and focused on rock and mountain climbing in the summers. He also liked to home-brew his own beer, lots of beer — so much so that friends persuaded him to open a brewery in 1990.

That pioneering company, Breckenridge Brewery (now owned by Anheuser Busch-InBev), would become one of the first craft breweries in Colorado, as well as one of the state's biggest and most renowned.

Breckenridge Brewery is how Squire's legend began in Colorado; it's also how it ends. Squire died Sunday at the age of 78, leaving behind many family members, some friends, some enemies, a cantankerous plan to start a new brewpub in Breckenridge's existing space in the mountains, and a complicated legacy of beer and business that mirrors Colorado's own.

"He was a fairly classic entrepreneur. He had big ideas and vision about what his businesses could be some day," says longtime business partner Ed Cerkovnik. "He was also a complicated, mercurial man. He could be very tough, but he could also be kind and considerate and caring when he wanted to."

"His story is one of adventure," Farland explains. "Yes, he made some people mad, but that’s what you do when you forge your own way. He built a lot of businesses and employed a lot of people, one beer at a time."

Farland met Squire in 1991, when they were both starting out in business in Denver. Farland had just opened the Chairman, a store selling locally made chairs and tables. Squire had already taken a step beyond his pub in Breckenridge and was opening a second location in Denver to serve as a production facility.

Squire opened his second location in Denver in 1991. - WESTWORD
Squire opened his second location in Denver in 1991.
"I pulled my Vanogan up to the corner of 22nd and Blake streets — this was back when it wasn't a very nice neighborhood. You were scared to step out of the car because you didn't know what you were stepping into," Farland recalls. "Richard was standing there in his mukluks, hosing down the new concrete." The two talked business and did a handshake deal for some furniture. "It was like that for all of his years," Farland says. "He kept his word, and we did a lot of tables and chairs and bar stools over the years."

The location turned out to be a good one, as Denver leaders announced just a few months later that Coors Field would be built across the street from the brewery. But Squire, who described himself as a "serial capitalist" to the Buffalo News in 1997, didn't stop there. With a group of investors supporting him, he went on to open a second, much larger production facility at 471 Kalamath Street (now home to Crazy Mountain Brewery), and then to start a group of Breckenridge Brewery & Pubs across the country.

The first was in Buffalo. "I take risks. But when you are proven right time and time again, it's easy," he brashly told the Buffalo News. "I'm a raging capitalist. But that doesn't mean everything I do is based on money. Capitalism is my game, and being as good a human as you can is not paradoxical with being a good capitalist. The real payoff for me is reaching out to as many people as I can, and in my position, I can do it every day."

Squire had started both Breckenridge locations with six investors and legal advice from Cerkovnik, a local attorney at the time. Within the first few years, however, Cerkovnik became a big investor, as well. Eventually, he and Squire created the holding company that owned all of the pubs, both in Colorado and out of state.

click to enlarge A classic entrepreneur, Squire opened Suzie's CBD Treats last year. - SUZIE'S CBD TREATS
A classic entrepreneur, Squire opened Suzie's CBD Treats last year.
Suzie's CBD Treats
Within a few years, however, the craft-beer industry took a bit of a nosedive, and most of those pubs across the country were closed or sold. Squire himself stepped down as president of the company in 1998, telling the Denver Post that, while he was an entrepreneur, Breckenridge needed someone who could run it on a day-to-day basis and build it from a $25 million enterprise into a $125 million business.

Cerkovnik agrees: "He was a great salesman and marketer, and he was long on ideas and vision — but not on execution. He didn't particularly like getting immersed in the details." Cerkovnik and his business partners eventually bought out Squire and later started a large restaurant company of their own that at one time included the Wazee Supper Club, Gaetano's and the Goosetown Tavern, after a deal brought Breckenridge together with the Wynkoop Brewing Company.

Meanwhile, over the next fifteen years, Squire, who married and divorced several times, took on a variety of other businesses — he was co-owner of the Kenosha Grill and Rita's in Breckenridge — as well as other entrepreneurial ventures, like a company that attempted to make building material out of fly ash, a coal by-product, and Bonnie's Balms, which he co-founded in 2007 with now-ex-wife Bonnie Searcy.

More recently, Squire, along with two of his children, opened Suzie's CBD Treats, which manufactures and sells treats for ailing dogs — a more Colorado-lifestyle-friendly idea than even draft beer, perhaps. "He called me a year ago because he wanted to show me this warehouse where he was going to make organic CBD dog treats," says Farland. "And he needed some furniture. ... He had this team of young entrepreneurs — his protégés, I guess you could say — and he wanted to show them how to have vision, too."

click to enlarge The disputed building and original home of Breckenridge Brewery. - BRECKENRIDGE BREWERY
The disputed building and original home of Breckenridge Brewery.
Breckenridge Brewery
Throughout it all, Squire retained ownership of the original building, at 600 South Main Street in Breckenridge, along with some partners in a company called Breckenridge Brewery Real Estate (BBRE).

And at some point in the last year, he decided that it was time to kick the original brewery out by reneging on new lease-agreement wording with Breckenridge — something that would have left the company out in the cold and looking for a new home. Breckenridge took the story public in May, appealing to its continuous and historic occupancy of the building, as well as the dedication of its longtime employees. When Squire wouldn't budge, Breckenridge sued BBRE. Squire countersued, and the case looked like it was heading for a showdown.

"I personally believe that the brewery needs to go back into the hands of the locals — back to the people," Squire told Westword in June, referencing AB InBev's controversial 2015 purchase of the brewery from Cerkovnik's restaurant company. "InBev is a Belgian corporation. That’s not what I started the company for. I did it so my friends could have great food and great beer in a wonderful local atmosphere."

The two sides settled the dispute in August, with BBRE allowing Breckenridge Brewery to stay in the building until May 2021. But Squire said he had other plans after that. “We are opening a brewery called The Brewery,” he told the Summit Daily News. “I’ve had that on ice for three years. It’ll be a bright, cheery and fun place for locals and tourists alike. It’s dark and dingy and old and tired now, and we’re going to change that. … We’re happy with the arrangement. It’s perfect for us. It gives us 21 months to get our stuff in order.”

Maybe Squire really believed that. As Cerkovnik suggests, "He may have thought that there was a better opportunity for his investors."

Or maybe Squire was simply being himself: mercurial, entrepreneurial, garrulous, complicated, caring or, as he described himself, a raging capitalist — with a Colorado twist.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes