Since starting at downtown Longmont’s Pumphouse Brewery almost 25 years ago, Alejandro Fraire has been a dishwasher, cook and sous chef. Now, with the company’s transition into a model of employee ownership, he’s also a shareholder.
The brewery at 540 Main St., which first opened its doors in 1996, made the decision last year to put its ownership into the hands of its roughly 100 employees without requiring them to buy into the company. Now, 10% of the company’s dividends go to its employees, who are each issued shares based on factors like their role and time at Pumphouse.
Three dividend checks have already been sent out to Pumphouse employees, with a fourth set for next month. An employee’s shares are also bought back from them the day they leave.
“That puts a healthy amount of money into (their) pocket as a way of saying ‘thank you for your service,’” said Pumphouse president Conrad Legendy.
In November, Pumphouse was bought from its previous owners by Teamshares, a group that keeps local businesses afloat by helping them become employee-owned. Appointed president by Teamshares, Legendy is focused on providing financial education to the brewery’s employees and making sure everyone understands the new model.
Legendy said that for small businesses in particular, employee ownership grants staff access to benefits often reserved for people already doing well financially. Over the next 20 years, Pumphouse employees are expected to own 80% of the company.
“It’s like a motivation for everybody,” said prep manager Richard Vega, who has a Pumphouse employee for around 15 years. “That’s why this restaurant is so successful, because everybody’s like a team. Front of the house, back of the house, we’re on the same team.”
Legendy called the relationship the Longmont community has to Pumphouse “sacred,” pointing to the support people gave to the business through the pandemic.
“We are very much at the beginning of a long process here, but I think we’re at a point where everyone in Longmont can see that the place hasn’t collapsed,” he said. “It’s still the same restaurant that they love.”
While continuity is key for Legendy, one change he’s bringing to the business is regularly entering its craft beers into competitions as a way to boost “formal recognition” for the brewery. Pumphouse’s beers recently won a gold medal at the US Open Beer competition and last month, Pumphouse took “Best in Show” for beer at the Colorado State Fair along with three gold medals.
“Let’s just strive for excellence all the time,” Legendy said. “That’s what’s going to grow this business. As folks are moving into Boulder County and into Longmont in particular, we need the newcomers to know what is obvious to the locals, which is that this is the best place to come eat.”
Ryan Buck, who has been a bartender at Pumphouse for six years, said the employee ownership model lets workers take “even more pride” in what they do.
“I think it’s the right way to sell off a business, especially something that has a legacy,” Buck said. “It gives us an incentive to stick around, because we have a stake in every day that we work.”
By Dana Cadey | Longmont Times-Call