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Arbor Brewing Co. Staff Accuse Owners of Sketchy Crowdfunding Practices

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The brewery raised nearly $79,000 via Indiegogo last year for a new kitchen.

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Arbor Brewing Co

ABC Microbrewery. [Photo: Arbor Brewing Company]

Arbor Brewing Co.'s successful crowdfunding campaign to upgrade its brewery's kitchen has elicited some serious controversy. According to a report by the Metro Times, an unnamed ABC employee claims owners Rene and Matt Greff "charted new territory by pressuring staff earning less than a living wage ($9 an hour) to help pay to improve their own work conditions in a kitchen that lacked basics, like walls."

Eight-year-old ABC launched an Indiegogo campaign last July with a goal of $75,000 to upgrade their makeshift kitchen in order to satisfy health department rules. The paper's source claims that brewery staff were encouraged to donate to the fund themselves, as well as "asked to solicit funds from family and friends." At the same time they were soliciting funds for their business, the Greffs were also apparently jet-setting around the world in first class, says the Metro Times, leading the paper to ask: "When does it become unethical for an established business to turn to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund basic improvements or expansions?" The report says that kitchen staff were laid off after the Indiegogo goal was met, and that "the Greffs have yet to pay back a dime to investors" who helped finance the microbrewery's opening.

None of this is sitting too well with the Greffs, who have taken to the ABC blog to refute more or less everything stated in the Metro Times piece. They say that while it's true investors in ABC haven't been paid back, they also have "not made a penny" and further say they "have personally loaned the business $165,000 in order to make improvements (about $60,000 of this was for the kitchen renovation project) and . . . to keep the doors open." They say that they "completely botched the public relations end of the Indiegogo campaign," declaring that "this was not a philanthropic 'give' to a charity, this campaign was offering really sweet items for sale at really sweet prices to our customers."

ABC's owners also say that the layoffs were done in the kitchen staff's best interest, enabling the workers to collect unemployment when there was no work available for them. They also claim "there was never any pressure put on our employees to give money" to the crowdfunding campaign. The blog does not, however, address the Metro Times' statement that the Greffs were "sipp[ing] drinks in first-class on Delta" while simultaneously asking others for money to improve their business.