Ann Arbor — February 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

Detroit Metro Times goes full tabloid with smear piece on Arbor Brewing Co. owners Matt & Rene Greff


The Detroit Metro Times has a long history of doing investigative journalism about issues that are often overlooked by other media outlets. They have developed a good reputation for their reporting because of it. However, with a recent piece published this week titled “Arbor Brewing Co. presents a case study in local business ethics and crowdfunding “, they have devolved into little more than a tabloid, willing to run a smear piece simply as clickbait.

The attack piece is based entirely on allegations made by a former employee of the Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery (formerly “The Corner Brewery”) in Ypsilanti. The “journalist” Tom Perkins insinuates, based on what he was told by the unnamed former staff member, that Matt and Rene Greff coerced their hourly employees into promoting their Indiegogo crowdfunding effort that raised over $75,000 to replace their kitchen which was completely inadequate for the increased demand for food they experienced.

This wasn’t a for-profit company begging people to give them money. This was a modern effort to raise capital and to do it in a way that was fun for everyone involved. Those who contributed got something in return. Employees were also incentivized to help with the effort and could win prizes, etc. if they were successful in helping drum up interest.

The shoddy tabloid smear piece by Perkins at the Metro Times paints an entirely different picture. Despite the kitchen manager confirming that there was never any pressure on employees, you come away from the piece with the impression that the Greffs were exploiting their supporters and their hourly employees, an insinuation that is entirely false.

In a comment on Facebook, one of their current employees set the record straight regarding employee involvement in the Indiegogo campaign:

Current employee here… It was to monitor who was generating the most contributions and those that did make efforts were rewarded for their efforts with gift cards or specialty beers or dinner. NOBODY was punished, demoted, fired, or even judged for making no effort in the campaign. There are multiple current staff members that made no effort to the cause.

“[W]ith the goal met, the Greffs pink-slipped the kitchen staff,” writes Perkins, suggesting that the employees were used to raise money and then discarded by their uncaring, heartless bosses. The truth? The kitchen staff were given the choice to pick up extra hours doing other things during the two months when the kitchen was being built or to be laid off so that they could file for unemployment. Once the kitchen was finished, employees in good standing were offered their jobs back.

Anyone who is even kinda sorta a regular at Arbor Brewing Company knows that they have many employees who have been working there for years and years, a fact which belies Perkins’ suggestion that they treat their employees poorly and with disdain.

The piece also suggests that the Greffs are jetsetters living high on the hog while their employees are mistreated and that they have ripped off previous investors in the Microbrewery. Again, the reality is entirely different.

Matt Greff wrote a response on his Facebook page to this outrageous hit piece which I am reproducing here in its entirety so that people can hear what the reality is:

Dear FB friends, many of you have reached out to me already regarding the attack piece in the Metro Times. Obviously we, our staff, friends, and supporters were very sad to read the article today that inaccurately portrayed our Indiegogo campaign and our involvement with staff incentives. It is particularly painful for Rene and I because we have put all of ourselves into our businesses for 20 years and this article does not accurately represent our business philosophy, ethos, or even the facts.

The one true statement in the article is that our investors have not seen a penny since we opened Corner Brewery in 2006. This is something we stress and worry about every day. Rene and I, like our investors, have also not made a penny from Corner Brewery and this is also something we stress and worry about every day. Not only haven’t we made money, we have personally loaned the business $165,000 in order to make improvements (about $60,000 of this was for the kitchen renovation project) and to pay the bills to keep the doors open. This is what small business owners do, we pour everything we have into our business in order to make it work. We’re totally fine doing it but it hurts to have someone without the facts accuse us of building the kitchen on the backs of our employees.

We were accused of “diverting resources to open a brewery in India”. This could not be further from the truth. The brewery in India is a completely separate venture and absolutely no money or other resources were diverted away from the brewpub or the microbrewery to make it happen. Any and all expenses associated with the India project are borne by Rene and I and our business partner in India.

The article also said we pink-slipped our kitchen staff after we met our fundraising goal. Laying off our kitchen staff because there wasn’t going to be any work for them for almost two months made the most sense for them because it allowed them to file for unemployment to continue receiving a paycheck while the kitchen was closed. When we had projects to do at the brewery during that time, kitchen staff was given the option of getting some hours to work on projects or not get the hours and file for unemployment. When the kitchen was set to re-open we offered jobs to all laid off employees who were in good-standing.

Also, although the business grossed $1.7 million dollars the business actually lost over $100,000 in 2014. This is a vast improvement over the over $200,000 losses we showed in 2013. This means that there wasn’t money available to do a $170,000 kitchen improvement so we had to find alternate ways of financing the project. I also want to make it clear that the reason for doing the kitchen improvement was because our staff was working in such harsh conditions. The kitchen grew organically over the years as our very creative kitchen team kept coming up with more food options and unorthodox ways of expanding our kitchen. It became clear during the winter of 2013/2014 that this was not sustainable so we knew we had to find a way to build a “real” kitchen before the winter of 2014/2015.

As it turns out, we completely botched the public relations end of the Indiegogo campaign. This was not a philanthropic “give” to a charity, this campaign was offering really sweet items for sale at really sweet prices to our customers. We clearly did not communicate that very well. As it turns out, this was a very expensive way to finance half of the kitchen project because we will be paying for the $75,000 we raised over the next several years in lost sales from mug club memberships, etc. that our customers took advantage of. And by the way, we will be forever grateful to those who took advantage of the sweet deals to help us raise the money we needed.

And finally, there was never any pressure put on our employees to give money nor were they threatened to coerce others into buying any of the items offered. As always, we knew the campaign would be more successful if it were fun for our staff and if we had some excitement around it. Therefore we offered our staff incentives if they chose to participate and those who took advantage of it had a great time and were very happy with their involvement.

I hope some of you who are skeptical will read this and at least consider the facts that were omitted from the article. We will continue to focus on our customers, employees, and community like we always have and hope to continue to see all of your smiling faces come through the doors. Since our businesses are so very personal to us, we also encourage you to reach out to us personally if you have thoughts, suggestions, and criticisms. Thank you all so much for 20 amazing years and, as scary as it is to say it, we look forward to 20 more.

Matt says that he and Rene were interviewed for the piece and explained all of this to Perkins. “We had a conversation with the reporter,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “And none of it made the story.”

That’s not journalism. That’s tabloid rubbish.

Anne and I are personal friends with the Greffs. I am not writing this piece because I am their friend. I’m their friend because they are decent, honorable, caring people who work their asses off and do tremendous good both for their community and for the progressive causes and candidates that I believe in. I’m writing this piece because I am entirely disgusted by the Metro Times for publishing Perkins’ shoddy “journalism”. If you want a glimpse of just how solid the Greffs are, spend a few moments reading the interview I did with them a year an a half ago. You’ll see that they are two people who go above and beyond what most people do to make the world a better place.

Any time you put yourself out in public, you risk having people take potshots at you. I experience this regularly because of my writing and I know that it comes with the territory. What is most heartbreaking about this is to watch two people with integrity and passion being torn down, often by people who, if they knew them, would laud them for their community service and for their progressive values. Thanks to Tom Perkins and the Metro Times, many people now have a completely erroneous and skewed view of the Greffs and that is a tragedy.

Progressives have real adversaries to deal with every single day. Matt and Rene Greff are not two of them.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]