Brooklyn Brewery's first major challenge wasn't cash flow or troublesome employees, it was the Mob.
In February 1996, construction was nearly complete on the first local brewery to operate out of Brooklyn, New York, in two decades. The morning after the New York Daily News ran a centerfold feature on the company, two limousines and a convoy of cars pulled up in front of the building.
"The minute those 'union business agents' and the thugs that were with them got out of those cars, everyone on the work site disappeared," remembers co-founder Steve Hindy. "It was like rats off of a doomed ship; they were gone."
A Sympathetic Story
Hindy called a federal prosecutor he knew who was head of the organized crime strike force and explained the situation. The prosecutor told him that the men were likely there looking for a number of "no-show" jobs. In other words, they wanted to extort a bribe. While Hindy wanted no part of a shady partnership, he was well aware of the stakes.
"You cannot give them the runaround," he says of the Mob. "They're gonna beat up some of your people, they'll burn down your place. These things happen in New York."
The prosecutor's advice: Talk to the men and find out what they what they were really after. So Hindy showed them around the construction project in the hope of diffusing the situation.
"I was telling them my story, how we're bootstrapping this company, how I used to be a journalist in the Middle East," Hindy remembers. "I was just trying to evoke some kind of human connection with these guys."
They Wanted One Thing
The approach appeared to be working with one of the men, who joined in the conversation. But the others weren't buying it. "We're here for one thing," they interrupted. "J-O-B-S."
After gathering privately for a heated discussion in the warehouse, Hindy says the men stormed into his office. The leader of the group grabbed him by the shoulders.
"'We're gonna have to hurt you,'" he said.
With that, says Hindy, the boss slammed him, and the rolling chair in which he was seated, into a chain link fence. Then, the man paused and smiled. "Just kidding," said the boss as he and the others burst into laughter. "Look, we're gonna leave you alone. We want you to come to our Christmas party, bring your wife."
Hindy did not go to the Christmas party. Nor did he hear from the Mob again. To this day, Hindy doesn't know why they ultimately left him alone, and he realizes how fortunate he was.