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Windsor Brewery Gets Crafty to Keep Business Thriving

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A local entrepreneur’s passion and nimble actions is keeping his business thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craft Heads Brewery Co., located in downtown Windsor, focuses on full-flavoured and adventurous beers. The brewery features up to 30 taps of their own beer, a retail shop, in-house specialty coffee, free WiFi and video and board games.

Prior to COVID-19, the growing brewery saw a wide range of clientele in the taproom, offering a space supported by the community for the community. But with the onset of the pandemic, brewery co-owner Bryan Datoc was forced to quickly pivot his business model from tap service to packaged products. 

“About 80 per cent of our beer went through our taps with the other 20 per cent going off-premise. With the taproom being shut down, 100 per cent of our product now had to be packaged,” said Datoc.

Datoc learned that a few breweries outside the region were offering delivering directly to their customers, so he saw delivery to be the safest way to get their product to customers. “We quickly got an e-commerce platform up, figured out the logistics and were delivering beers to our customers within 48 hours."

Just like that, Craft Heads Brewery formed the BRUber alcohol delivery service. Beers that would normally be poured from keg to glass are now being filled, labelled and loaded onto trucks all by hand.
“It is a much more labour intensive process and the margins are much tighter, but our team is happy to see their BRUber packages getting delivered. We feel like Santa for adults. We also teamed up with some local business to offer more than just beer,” stated Datoc. 

The new online store also features products for sale from other local businesses, such as Wolfhead Distillery, Pelee Island Winery, and food kits from Grand Cantina, Smashed Apple Trade Co. and Armando’s Pizza.

The move to online only sales came easy for Datoc as he previously received support from the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre’s Digital Service Squad through the Digital Main Street program. The squad helped him review the brewery’s digital marketing activities and implement a plan to improve its online presence. “The resources … that were recommended have been great tools to help organize and streamline what we wanted to do … We are still working through the recommendations, but it set the groundwork and foundation to build on,” said Datoc.

Datoc was also able to switch gears quickly due to his passion for brewing and drive for success that started before the brewery opened in 2015.

Over 10 years ago, Bryan Datoc and his business partner Steve Fabischek realized brewing beer was on both of their bucket lists of lifelong accomplishments. They did some research, purchased equipment and started brewing. “We were instantly hooked. Beers that we could not get locally or at the LCBO could now be made in our backyard.”

Datoc and Fabischek did not have a background in the service industry, so that was a steep learning curve for them. Funding was another obstacle. “We knew that we wanted to brew independently without any outside influence, so we cleared our accounts, our retirement savings and borrowed from family to fund the startup,” stated Datoc.

“Business has been growing steadily since our inception. We've been able to continually upgrade our equipment and increase production to a point where we needed another space,” said Datoc. “We wanted to stay downtown and found two units a couple stores down from the current location … This will allow us to brew more beer, expand our experimentation and increase distribution. We are really excited to start our barrel aging program that will be unique to this region.”

Craft Heads Brewing Co. will continue their BRUber delivery service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Regular deliveries are scheduled to Windsor, Essex County and Chatham. The latest brews — including a limited release set of beers slated for Father’s Day — are updated regularly for purchase on the Craft Heads Brewing Co. website.

Bryan Datoc received support and guidance through the Small Business Centre's Digital Main Street program. You, too, can receive support to improve the online presence of your small business. Contact the Small Business Centre for more information.