Port Richmond native Tom Sheridan opened Do Good Brewing in 2013, just as Philly’s current beer-making surge was rising. He closed it in early 2017, just as the boom was hitting its stride.
But Sheridan is not ready to give up on his dream.
“I thought I was completely done,” said the 28-year-old, who started his first business at age 18 and has supported himself via entrepreneurship for the past decade. “But after two or three months of not brewing, I realized I really, really missed it.”
So he’s starting over again, and turning to his community for help. A campaign to sell Do Good t-shirts ($25) should net him enough to renew his brewing license before it expires at the end of the year, he said, which will be enough to kickstart a rebirth of the brand.
Do Good Brewing has always been of, for and about the neighborhood.
Over its three and a half years of existence, its customer base was mostly bars in the Port Richmond/Kensington/Bridesburg area. Around 70 percent of sales were Do Good’s flagship United Ale, an easy-drinking cream ale designed specifically to please people accustomed to tossing back Coors, Bud and Miller. It flowed from taps at just over 70 locations before the operation shut down in January, Sheridan said.
Business models and liquor laws
The problem, he explained, was his chosen business model of being a small-production brewery in Pennsylvania, which recently was turned on its head in part because of changes in the liquor code.
“I eventually learned that if you want to be successful just on distribution” — i.e. by selling beer wholesale to bars and restaurants — “you need hundreds of accounts, not the 70 we had,” Sheridan said.
Do Good was surviving, in other words, but not raking it in. So when the Pa. legislature passed Act 39 in 2016 and allowed beer manufacturers to sell pints directly to customers via tasting rooms, Sheridan saw opportunity. (Much like many other local breweries that have opened their own “bars” since that law change; see Saint Benjamin, Evil Genius, Philadelphia Brewing Co., etc.)
He went to his investor partners and suggested, “Hey, let’s shut down briefly so we can move out of this warehouse and go somewhere that can also house a retail establishment.”
They agreed, and Sheridan signed a deal for a new round of investment funds to take Do Good to the next level, he said. The brewhouse operation at Westmorland and Amber was packed up and put into storage.
But then negotiations broke down. It’s possible the investors thought the market was getting too crowded — there are a lot of breweries and brewpubs in Philly right now. But Sheridan’s insistent he’s got an edge.
“No one is paying attention to Bridesburg and Port Richmond,” he explained. “I was raised here. There are no breweries, no brewpubs, and barely even any craft beer bars. So yes, all of these neighborhoods absolutely have room for another pub. And I believe these days, people would rather have a brewpub than another corner bar.”
That argument didn’t overcome the investor differences, however, and they backed out of the deal. But they did turn their share of ownership back over to Sheridan.
The future of Do Good
Now he had a brewery sitting in storage and no money to get it up and running again. And then more trouble hit. Do Good had two partners when it started, and at the beginning of 2017, that other partner’s note came due. “So I sold the equipment in storage and we split the money,” Sheridan said. “He was kind enough to just give me full ownership back.”
Now, with all possible ties separated, Do Good Brewing’s intellectual property is entirely Sheridan’s. But there’s no brewhouse to speak of, and no location to brew in, plus no investment money for either one.
But this is a guy who started his first company at age 18. And a guy who went to North Catholic High and can sell a wizened pub owner on a new beer when any other craft brewer would be laughed out of the room. And a guy who’s been through the process of starting a brewery before, so has the wisdom that comes with experience.
“I’m really banking on the intertwining of myself with the neighborhood,” he said.
He’s looking for investors for the new project, which will have nano-brewing on site and serve local beer wine and liquor, plus a small food menu. The new operation will be based in a retail location somewhere in the neighborhood, though Sheridan is still looking.
“Acquiring money is not the hard part,” Sheridan said. “Acquiring money from individuals you get along with is the hard part.”
He set forth his criteria for Do Good Brewing’s future partners: “Know the risk, be passionate, be local and be involved. When I find those people, things will move forward quickly.”