The pandemic has hit breweries and restaurants hard, but it may have hit college-campus businesses even harder, since they rely on students visiting in person for much of their income. For Tivoli Brewing, which occupies a unique spot in the Tivoli Student Union building on the Auraria campus, this double whammy has had a crippling effect.
In December, just before Christmas, the brewery’s ownership group laid off at least half of its staff, including its lead brewers, brewery director and longtime taproom manager; it also overhauled its management for the second time in three years: Tivoli president Ken Hehir is no longer with the company.
Tivoli is currently keeping the doors to its taproom closed, even though Governor Jared Polis allowed breweries to return to 25 percent occupancy in early January. At least part of the reason for the continued closure is the lack of in-person classes at the three colleges that make up the campus, according to Tivoli sales director Heather Chantler.
“We worked hard to keep every one of our employees employed as long as we could through these tumultuous times,” says Chantler, who joined the company in December. “Having our taproom shut down has had a very big impact on our income. ... We eagerly await the day that students can get back to campus life, when faculty can meet up after classes, Tivoli fans can come and cheers each other, and when staff can meet up with friends for a beer or two again here at the taproom. We also remain very optimistic in being able to bring back some of our team members in the months ahead, as things improve.”
Tivoli has also stopped brewing at its small location inside the Westin at Denver International Airport, although it is still making an airport-themed beer at Auraria, Chantler says.
Tivoli is now being run day-to-day by Salomon Marcos Garza Jr., whose father, Salomon Juan Marcos Villarreal, oversees GD Holdings, a real estate investment group that owns the brewery. Villarreal is the third-generation owner and CEO of Grupo Denim, a Mexico-based manufacturer that supplies jeans and other textiles to major clothing brands like Wrangler, Lee, Vans and Tommy Hilfiger. He is also the controlling owner of the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver, the Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek and an under-construction location in Nashville.
“Grupo Denim's family office was invited to make an investment in Tivoli a number of years ago, and they decided to move forward as an investor to help grow Tivoli and Grupo Denim's roots in the Colorado and Denver communities,” Chantler says. That role eventually increased, leading to brewery founder Corey Marshall stepping down as president (he remains on Tivoli’s board, however).
Garza, who will graduate this year from the University of Denver’s hospitality management program, according to his LinkedIn page, is being assisted by Chantler, who has worked in the beverage industry for more than fifteen years, and the brewery’s board, which includes Dan Wolf, a top executive with Grupo Denim. (Villareal and Wolf were the subject of a 2018 Westword cover story related to the Four Seasons deal.)
Founded in 2012 by Marshall and his wife, Debbie, Tivoli's goal was to revive historic Denver beers and brewery names from the past 150 years, including Sigi's Bock, Bohemian Girl Pilsner and Tivoli itself. The brewery's roots go back to 1859, when it was born a year after Denver was founded. It continued to operate until it closed in 1969; the Marshalls revived the brand and moved it back into the original location at Auraria.
The brewery now functions as a primary part of Metropolitan State University of Denver's beer-industry program, and Chantler says that will continue when students return.
In the meantime, she says, the brewery will keep brewing. It's planning to roll out a new canned beer called Rocky Mountain Outlaw just before Memorial Day weekend; the beer is a 4 percent ABV American-style light lager that will be available in six-packs of 12-ounce cans.
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