After trying on its own to recover from massive debts, the San Diego-based beer and coffee brewer Modern Times announced this week that its lender has started the process toward a court-ordered receivership and sale of the company.
With a receivership, the court would appoint a third-party to find someone to buy Modern Times and recover assets for its senior lender, California Bank & Trust. To almost anyone, this sounds like bad news, but Modern Times CEO Jennifer Briggs, who took the position less than five months ago, chooses to look at the positive.
"The receivership isn’t necessarily a good thing," Briggs said, "but we’ve been working with [the bank] to come up with solutions that will be the best for the brand, and it's good that the bank sees our core brand as something that could be valuable.
"I think there’s a certain reality to this that we do need a new ownership structure. I wish it wasn’t in these circumstances."
Modern Times started in 2013 as a small brewery and tasting room in San Diego's Point Loma neighborhood. It quickly grew with locations across the West Coast that focused on enhancing "good vibes" and offering its guests unique spaces for people to enjoy their craft brew and coffee.
Briggs said the company's debt problem is a pretty straightforward situation — combine rapid expansion with a pandemic that shut down businesses and you get debt — approximately $16 million of it.
“We had a lot of debt that was accumulating over time and [with the pandemic], not enough revenue coming in to support that," Briggs said. "Those things are coming due now. It really is just an accumulation of two years of pandemic challenges and taking on a lot of debt."
Modern Times, which is unusual in that it's owned in part by its employees, was already looking for a new owner before the company publicly announced the possibility of a receivership in a blog post on Tuesday. Briggs said the receivership should help speed up the process to find an interested buyer and help maintain the company and protect its employees as much as possible.
"It reminds you what the goal of this is, and it's really just the brewers and the people behind the bar,” Briggs said. "I get energized by the people I work with. When somebody stops by a tasting room or buys our products, they get that same feeling."
Modern Times's approach when it launched in 2013 was different from what many beer enthusiasts have come to expect from local breweries — often built in a warehouse of some sort with an industrial feel — and could have been successful.
"This company’s strategy had been investing in 'on-premise,' which took a lot of work as far as investment," Briggs said. "They were doing all that growth, and who's to say if it was the wrong strategy?"
Take their Anaheim location, for example. The massive 33,000-square-foot property called Leisuretown opened in July 2020 with a cafe inside a three-story historic home, and an outdoor area that includes a beer garden and swimming pool — yes, a pool.
Modern Times's Point Loma tasting room, dubbed The Lomaland Fermentorium, is described as "2,000 square feet of wildly ambitious decor, über-friendly folks and — of course — beer."
They even have their own fan club: The League of Partygoers and Elegant People, a membership program that offers exclusive merch, events and early access to new brew releases.
Briggs started in December 2022 after Modern Times' founder and former CEO, Jacob McKean, stepped down amid allegations of harassment that stemmed from a #MeToo movement for those in the brewing industry.
Her strategy was to reverse course from expansion and reinvest in local properties and wholesale. Locations in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Oakland and Portland, Oregon, were shut down to recoup some costs. About 70 jobs were lost in the process.
The four locations and their approximately 170 employees — at Point Loma, North Park, Encinitas and Anaheim — will stay open until the receivership sale goes through and, hopefully, much longer, Briggs said.
"I really do believe that anyone who wants to buy the brand will buy it as a whole," Briggs said. "In the places that [Modern Times] is, we’re doing really well.... I think the brand and the community that it creates is still there.”
To fans, Briggs says: “Just keep supporting us. This change with the receiver didn’t really affect the daily lives of our employees or the daily lives of our consumers. The brand is still good, it's still alive, the beer is fantastic."