San Jose brewery closing from post-pandemic struggles amid changing industry

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, April 12, 2024
SJ brewery closing from post-pandemic struggles amid changing industry
Camino Brewing Co. in San Jose is shutting down after a six-year run due to a lack of business post-pandemic. Here's a look at the changing industry.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A shuttered brewery will be missed in San Jose.

After a six-year run, Camino Brewing Co. is shutting down.

Cofounder Allen Korenstein said the difficult decision came down to economics.

They're not seeing the volume of customers they once did pre-pandemic.

"We've seen a big shift you know, people don't come out the way that they used to come out. And our business has been primarily driven by our community and the taproom sales," Korenstein said.

Sunday was the last day Camino was open for service.

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"If you don't have deep pockets, if you don't have those kinds of sources of investment capital then you really are just carrying it on your own and you know my partner Nathan and I did the best that we could for as long as we could," Korenstein said.

Korenstein said the last two days have been difficult notifying staff Wednesday and making the announcement public on Thursday.

"We didn't know what to expect but we've seen such a large response, people are sad. At the same time, it does make Nathan and I feel like we did something meaningful," Korenstein said.

Anthony Raggio with Drakes Brewing Company and President of the Board of Directors for Bay Area Brewers Guild wouldn't describe the beer industry as struggling - but it is changing.

"You have seltzer, you have cider, you now have nonalcoholic beer. These are all vying for the same space," Raggio said.

Raggio said customers are tighter with spending.

"The number of sales per customer is down, so whether that means people are going to a restaurant or bar and buying no more than two beers now where they have bought four in the past," Raggio said.

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Barbacco, another one of downtown San Francisco's long-time restaurants, is closing its doors at the end of the week.

Raggio said the business model should adapt.

"We can't do what we did five years ago, but there's still room for growth if we listen to our customers," Raggio said.

At Fox Tale Fermentation Project in downtown San Jose - the owners hope to bring in more than just beer drinkers. They offer fermented or plant-based foods.

Felipe Bravo said the business is about combining their passions - his years of experience in professional brewing, and his wife Wendy's years of experience as a chef.

"I think it does spread us a little thin, but I think that's what's keeping us alive right now like that ability to diversity and offer many different products not just alcohol because we have seen that people have come in for nonalcoholic drinks and I think the trend of the new generations is not solely just relied on beer drinking. Beer bars have closed at least four of them in this area," Felipe Bravo said.

In March they posted a picture of their empty space on Instagram and asked the question - what could they do better?

"So the goal of the post was to kind of bring attention to what people want to see in this area and what specifically downtown San Jose needs to do better to promote itself and its businesses. So we just wanted to open up the conversation in saying -hey like what is it that will bring you to this area to come in for lunch you know during the day- not just at night?" Felipe Bravo said.

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Bravo said they received a wave of support and feedback after the post. It also created dialogue about their location.

"People didn't realize the city offers free 90-minute parking in four lots in several more just within a four-block radius of this area," Felipe Bravo said.

Bravo said they'll continue to adapt and keep that conversation going with their customers.

"This is our home we're not abandoning it, we're trying to make it work for everyone involved we do need a little help and I think that you know as long as everyone who is listening like the city and the community and all that then we can all work together to make this a really thriving place," Bravo said.

Back at Camino Brewing Co., co-founder Korenstein hopes local brewers embrace his talented staff now looking for work.

And he hopes the community will visit other local taprooms.

"We don't want any more great San Jose brews to suffer the same situation so please just come out and support your local breweries," Korenstein said.

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