When Gangsters Tried to Extort Brooklyn Brewery
00:09 Steve Hindy: You cannot give them the run around. They're gonna beat up some of your people, they'll burn down your place. These things happen in New York.
1988, Steve Hindy co-founded Brooklyn Brewery.
At first, he outsourced beer production in Utica, New York--but seven years later, he started building a brewery in Brooklyn.
00:29 Hindy: Early in '96, we were almost complete, like late February or so. And the New York Daily News did a big centerfold piece about the first brewery in Brooklyn in 20 years. But, the next day two big limousines pulled up in front of the brewery and these union business agents got out. There were actually about 10 of them, and there were cars following with young thugs in them. And the minute they arrived, all the workers on the job, the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians, they all disappeared. I mean, it was like rats off of a doomed ship, they were gone. And these guys wanted to talk to the guy in charge. I was at lunch, and so, they hung around for a while, but then they left, they left a card, and a number for me to call. So... Actually, my first call, I called this lawyer I know, who used to be a federal prosecutor, head of the organized crime strike force. And I explained to him the situation, he interrupted me and said, "Look, Steve, they're probably gonna wanna put some no-show jobs on your payroll. And that will be it." And I said, "Well, no-show jobs. So, you mean like I pay them for people who don't exist. I bribe them?" And he said "Yeah." And I said "Well, I don't wanna do that. I just don't wanna do that. And anyway if I do it once, do they go away? Or do I've a partner for life?" He said, "Look, you got to talk to 'em, you don't know what they want?"
Although he was firmly against bribing, Steve agreed to meet with the gangsters in hopes of defusing the situation.
02:05 Hindy: Each of these three guys has two thugs with them. And I started showing them around the construction project, the warehouse, telling them my story, how we're bootstrapping this company, I used to be a journalist in the Middle East, and blah-blah-blah, just trying to evoke some kind of human connection with these guys. Then, the boss is kind of interested. At one point he says, "Wait a minute, you were there when Sadak got it in Egypt." And I said, "Yeah." And I started to telling him about the assassination. The guy next to him, I don't know if he discovered Joe Pesci, or Joe Pesci discovered him, but he keeps interrupting like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We heard enough of this bull shit. We're here for one thing, J-O-B-S, you did this without us. It's an insult." And the boss is like, "Sal, let him talk, let him talk."
02:56 Hindy: So, I just continue telling them the story how we're bootstrapping the company, we're almost done with this, it's taken every nickel we got. And the boss says, "Okay. We've heard enough. We need to talk." And they're out in the warehouse yelling at each other. It was like a big argument going on out there. All of the sudden, they come charging back in. The boss is in the lead and I'm in this chair with my feet off the ground, I can't get up out of the chair. Before I can get up, he's on me, he puts his hand down between my legs, he puts his face up to me close and says, "We're gonna have to hurt you." And I'm just completely frozen, flabbergasted. He grabs me by the shoulders, slams me into this chain link fence in this rolling chair. And says, "Just kidding." And he burst out laughing, all the other guys start laughing, and I'm just flabbergasted. I do not know what is going on. And the boss says, "Look, we're gonna leave you alone. We want you to come to our Christmas party, bring your wife."
Steve did not go to the Christmas party.
He never heard from them again.
04:10 Hindy: Well, to this day I really don't know why they left me alone. And, like I said, people have told me we were very, very fortunate. Maybe they figured with my journalistic background, I could be a lot of trouble for them. Maybe the project was a lot smaller than they thought it would be. I don't know, but for whatever reason they walked away. And for me, when I went into business, I mean, one of my real fears was corruption, like what are you gonna do when you're faced with a choice of saying... I could have said to these guys, "Hey guys, let's work this out." I didn't want to bribe these guys. I did not want to do that.
Brooklyn Brewery now ships beer to 25 states, and 20 countries.
In 2011, its revenue was $35 million.