Even on video, Bailey and Brendan O’Leary’s passion is obvious. These two love their small brewery, love their community, and love the craft brewing industry. In two short years, the O’Learys harnessed that passion—plus healthy doses of creativity and willingness to try new things—to build their Rockville, Maryland brewery, True Respite Brewing Company, into a thriving enterprise.
Now, the O’Learys are using those same qualities to see True Respite through the COVID-19 outbreak. Over a period of 48 hours between March 14 and 16, the O’Learys and their friend Brian O’Connor, created Biermi.com (pronounced “beer me”), an online platform that manages delivery logistics and pick-up orders for breweries and other craft food producers.
“We were watching the COVID-19 case curve and could see where things were headed. We knew we couldn’t survive without a source of revenue to replace some of what we would lose by having the tap room closed,” Brendan said.
Brendan spoke to Brian, who had been one of his roommates at Georgia Tech. Brian started coding right away. By the time the governor of Maryland announced the closing of on-premise service at bars and restaurants to stop the spread of COVID-19, the O’Leary’s were already launching True Respite’s beer pick-up and delivery service.
True Respite uses Biermi to take orders and facilitate contact-less fulfillment. The platform even provides instructions, so customers know what to do when they arrive to pick-up an order.
“The best part is that because of Biermi we’ve been able to bring back some of our staff,” Bailey said.
The O’Learys could have stopped there, but in an act of true generosity, they made the Biermi platform available to other breweries—free of charge. “It’s important right now that the brewing community take care of each other,” Bailey said. The pair reached out to the national and state brewers associations and posted to brewer’s Facebook groups to get the word out quickly. Currently, Biermi is being used by approximately 60 brewers in 21 states.
In addition to the craft beer community, a few other craft food businesses are using the Biermi platform. These include a pretzel maker and a winery. The O’Learys are open to helping all craft food and beverage producers. (They have also been approached by several restaurants but for now, the focus is on the small producer community.)
At some point, the O’Leary’s may turn Biermi into a paid platform. But for now, they just want to help other small businesses survive.
Six takeaways from the O’Leary’s success:
Shoot big—and often. Brendan says you’ll make more progress by taking chances and going after big opportunities—even if those opportunities seem like long shots. “Most whale-sized opportunities won’t work out but those that do can be pretty spectacular,” he said. In addition to the success of Biermi, Brendan shares the example that True Respite was able to get Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan, to cut the ribbon at the brewery’s grand opening.
True Respite booked the governor’s visit, not through back channels or inside contacts, but by making the request through the governor’s public online platform. “We told the governor, ‘We’ll schedule it any day you’re available,” Bailey said.
Move fast and adjust as you go. With COVID-19, it’s more important to launch soon than have a perfect launch. There were a few aspects of the Biermi platform that needed tweaking, but Brendan was far better to have the platform up right away than to lose time testing and adjusting.
Show your passion. Enthusiasm is contagious and the O’Learys have it in spades. The pair’s authenticity, willingness to support the community, and support of other small makers inspires others and has earned them a dedicated following.
Keep social media going. Even with their tap room closed, the O’Learys stay in contact with their customers through posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They use these posts to show what the True Respite family is doing and to promote their specials and delivery/pick up service. “We engage people in our process and we’re always honest about how things are going—even when something doesn’t work out,” says Bailey.
Reinvent your promotions for your new circumstances. One of True Respite’s most popular promotions was “Fifth Tuesday.” Every time a month had a fifth Tuesday, True Respite would celebrate by serving $3.00 pints in its tap room. Now, with the tap room closed, True Respite has reinvented “Fifth Tuesday” for its takeout/delivery business. The new “Fifth Tuesday” promotion is $6.00 crowlers. True Respite hit its capacity for delivery within an hour and a half of opening orders and sold out for pickup shortly after noon.
Bring back customer’s favorite specials. During normal operations, the O’Learys craft a variety of special brews. This month, it brought back a fan favorite—a limited-batch of its popular “Fruit Crushers” Fruited Sour Ale (inspired by Crushers candy.) True Respite ensured a sell-out through heavy promotion and taking pre-orders.