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Boston beer scene takes a hit: Somerville’s Slumbrew closes; Lord Hobo CEO speaks out on challenges restaurants face amid virus

Daniel Lanigan, CEO of Lord Hobo, shown in a 2013 file photo.
Daniel Lanigan, CEO of Lord Hobo, shown in a 2013 file photo.Essdras M Suarez

“I don’t know.”

That was the first line of an ominous Facebook post by Daniel Lanigan, CEO of Lord Hobo, who said that’s his only answer when people ask when his popular Cambridge bar and restaurant will reopen.

In the post, Lanigan enumerates the litany of challenges he and so many others in the restaurant industry face in the COVID era: The number of employees he had to lay off (33 from the Cambridge location alone); the deal he cut with the building’s landlord to slash the rent for a few months and “see what happens in the fall”; the dining restrictions that reduce the number of patrons inside the Hampshire Street haunt from 92 to 29. With no patio or outdoor space, he says he can’t figure out how to make the numbers work.

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“So for now we remain closed,” he wrote. “And with each month that goes by our rent will add up, our debt will grow, our team of 33 will remain unemployed, and the likelihood of us ever serving a customer again will diminish. And we are not alone. This is the conundrum facing tens of thousands of other restaurants nationwide.”

Lanigan, who also owns Lord Hobo Brewery in Woburn, which remains open, told the Globe he wrote the post to let his customers know what’s going on behind the scenes and what a complicated calculus it all is. His note clearly struck a chord; by Monday afternoon, it had amassed nearly 700 likes on Facebook.

“I’m shocked by the response,” Lanigan told the Globe, “and how much it’s being shared.”

It has been a rough few days all around the Boston beer scene. Bukowski Tavern in Inman Square confirmed that it would close its doors permanently, joining a host of other local restaurants that have called it quits during the pandemic. And craft beer company Slumbrew, located in Somerville, announced that it, too, was going out of business. It had been struggling financially since the fall, when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last September.

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“Having plenty of time to think, rest and reset we have decided to close for good,” the company said in a Twitter post on Monday.

As it happens, Lanigan says it’s the brewing arm of Lord Hobo that’s helping to keep his company afloat. In Woburn, they’ve been able to set up tents in the parking lot where they can serve about 200 people outdoors. And Lord Hobo beer sales at package stores have increased about 12 percent over the course of the pandemic, as more people drink at home.

“If I didn’t have the brewery, I would have put a ‘for sale’ sign in the window [in Cambridge] March 13,” he said.

He’s hopeful another project, still in the works, will keep things moving forward. Lord Hobo’s planned expansion into the Seaport comes with an enormous amount of outdoor space, enough to seat 230 people. Located at 2 Drydock, near the Black Falcon Terminal, the location is ready to open as soon as Lord Hobo gets the green light from the city of Boston.

Still, Lanigan said, “There’s no happy ending yet.” Restaurants around Boston have been trying to survive on revenue from outdoor dining in recent weeks, setting up tables on sidewalks and even on slivers of roadway. And while that’s perhaps a realistic business proposition in warm-weather states, in the North, that won’t work forever, he cautions.

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“I respect the hustle,” he said. But “the first day of rain or sleet or snow — all that’s gone.”

In his Facebook post, the Lord Hobo CEO laid out what he believes the restaurant industry — and its millions of employees — need as the pandemic continues.

“We need another significant round of PPP,” he wrote. “We need the $600/week to continue. We need Health Insurance to be covered. We need rent covered. We need Payroll taxes lowered. We need stimulus. We need investments from our cities for 4 season patios. We need laws relaxed. 4 million Americans work in restaurants. And 9 million more work in companies that support the restaurant industry. Without real leadership, guidance, and a long term plan, the industry that so many of us have dedicated our lives to, will be destroyed as we know it.”

He ended with a line that’s all too familiar: “Winter Is Coming.”


Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.