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Creating great customer experiences with Jim Adams

Podcast published: August 28, 2020

With restaurants, bars, and taprooms reopening across the State of Pennsylvania, we caught up with Jim Adams to chat about what he and his team at Levante Brewing Company are doing to navigate the COVID-19 economy. Jim Adams is a co-founder and co-owner of Levante Brewing Company. Within the company, Jim focuses on the customer experience for the West Chester based brewing company.



What is Mercury at Levante Brewing Company?

  • Mercury is Levante Brewing Company’s system for shipping beer and products anywhere in the State of PA; the company is licensed to ship beer anywhere in the state.
  • By and large, Mercury relies on UPS to deliver any product within 3 days.
  • For local order (within 10-12 miles of the brewery), Levante Brewing Company delivers those itself.
  • Mercury was launched in 2019 – well ahead of COVID-19.
  • When COVID-19 lockdown orders happened, Mercury became a hugely popular and commercially successful system.
  • Levante Brewing Company pays a lot of attention to the presentation of its beer delivers:
    • Every beer delivery contains a letter from the staffer who packed the beer into the box.
    • Levante Brewing Company sends stickers and other bits of swag.
    • The company gets positive feedback over social media from the attention it gives to presentation.

What was your collaboration with Weathered Souls Brewery?

  • In light of growing demands for social justice, the Weathered Souls brewery publicly shared a base recipe for an imperial stout called Black is Beautiful. Weathered Souls invited other craft brewers to brew their own versions and to donate 100% of proceeds from the sales of the Black is Beautiful imperial stout to organizations that to support Black Lives Matter, under privileged or underrepresented people of color.
  • In PA, 25 or 26 craft breweries supported the campaign, all using the same base recipe, packaging, and artwork.
  • Levante Brewing Company supported the campaign because it was the right thing to do.
  • The brewery donated the proceeds from the sale of Black is Beautiful to the Juvenile Law Center.
  • Levante Brewing Company produced its version of Black is Beautiful about 3 to 4 weeks after making the decision to support the campaign.
  • A base recipe is exactly that – a listing of ingredients and the process of making the beer. Breweries were invited to do something different or add something special to the base recipe to make it unique to that brewery.

How has Levante Brewing Company approached re-opening its taprooms?

  • After the initial shock of lockdown orders – which immediately closed the taprooms – Levante Brewing Company was able to bring people back quickly by pivoting to a curbside format at the West Chester brewery.
  • With Mercury becoming very popular, the brewing company’s delivery service took off, which enabled the company to bringing back more staff. This service is still very popular.
  • Levante Brewing Company has not yet opened either of its taprooms; they only operate curbside sales. Levante Brewing Company chooses this route to keep its staff safe.
  • The popularity of its curbside service and Mercury has allowed the company not to re-open its taprooms as it is still profitable.
  • The company shifted its focus away from wholesale and kegs. It now packages 100% of its beer in cans. This supports both wholesalers and bars and restaurants.
  • The West Chester tap room (called “Carter”) has been converted into a fulfillment center. There is no room for customers.
  • With the Stables in Eagle, Levante Brewing Company did not open because of concerns over the optics of having 200 people gathering in a single place.
  • The company takes colder weather into its planning. Levante Brewing Company does not offer food, so it is reluctant to bring staff on for summer months only.
  • The key factor of Levante Brewing Company’s approach is safety over profits.
  • The brewery will soon open a third location for curbside pickup!

Intro: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, a podcast focused on helping small businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philadelphia area as we try to navigate through the Covid-19 economy. 

Joe Casabona: Now, before I bring in my wonderful co-host and our fantastic guest, I wanna tell you about our newsletter. We are working on a monthly newsletter to help bring you some of the best takeaways from this show, as well as news happening around the county. If that sounds wonderful for you, it’s totally free. You can go to [startlocal.co/news]. That’s [startlocal.co/news] to sign up for our very free, very monthly newsletter.

Okay. As I said before, I am here with my fellow co host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you today? 

Liam Dempsey: Oh, you are such a natural at that. You didn’t even have a script. That’s amazing. I would have stuttered over that a bunch. I’m doing really well today. I’m delighted to be back in the podcast booth with you and with our guests today.

Joe Casabona: Likewise. Always glad to share a mic with you, Liam and a virtual mic, of course. And today we have Jim Adams. He’s the co owner of Levante Brewing Company. Jim, how are you today?

Jim Adams: Doing well. Thank you guys. Appreciate you having me. 

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. Thanks for being on the show. We’re excited to talk about a whole bevy of things from some of your collaborations to what it’s like trying to reopen. And we will get to all of that in a minute. But first, I’d like you to tell our listeners who you are and what you do. 

Jim Adams: Sure. Thank you. Like I said, my name is Jim Adams. I’m one of the co-founders and co owners of Levante Brewing Company based out of Westchester, Pennsylvania. I’ve been with the company since the beginning, since we opened the doors in August of 2015. And so, it’s been five years, and you know, a crazy ride. But 99% of it, it’s been a blessing and 1% of it has been a learning opportunity. So, it’s been great. 

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. Fantastic. Yeah. So you opened up in Westchester in 2015. But, and then, so you are a co owner,  but you also work with customer experience. Is that right?

Jim Adams: Sure. Yeah. Our operation’s big enough now that it warrants what I call almost a 24/7 customer service operation. That’s really myself, and a couple others trading when we can, you know, working around the clock just to make sure that we’re expeditious with customer care and making sure that we’re listening to our customers feedback and attending to their needs across multiple channels. So, social channels and our delivery operations, our curbside operation, anything that’s involved in retail. So, there’s a lot for even a young brewery to maintain when it comes to customer experience. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. And a young brewery with a massive challenge with COVID-19, right? 

Jim Adams: Mm-hmm. 

Liam Dempsey: You know in New York, in the early days as businesses, early days of COVID-19 as businesses were trying to pivot, folks were trying to figure out when are we going to reopen? How do we still engage with our customers? Is this kind of like an extended snow day kind of thing, where it’s just going to be two weeks and then it’s all going to go back? And as it became clear that it was not an extended snow day, it was going to go on for months and possibly longer. you and your colleagues came up with a really exciting way to get your product into the hands of the customers and probably ways that when you were sitting around in 2013 and 2014, wondering maybe we should start a brewery, never even entered your mind. Can you tell us about Mercury?

Jim Adams: Sure. Sure. Mercury is the, what? The messenger of the gods. So, it’s how we carry the message of our products throughout the state of Pennsylvania. So, we’re licensed to sell and distribute, and deliver beer anywhere in the commonwealth. 

And we started this in January of 2019, actually. And at the time, there was maybe one or two other breweries that were doing it. So, quite innovative at the time. It was a slow roll in the beginning as people were sort of getting indoctrinated to alcohol by delivery. And then when COVID hit, it exploded. I mean, it was just completely contactless and made a lot of sense, and people quickly got up to speed with it. 

And then you saw rapid adoption in March and April and May because people were afraid. And all the tap rooms were closed, obviously, and people wanted their beer, and people were coping with food and with alcohol. So, order volumes for anyone who was doing delivery or curbside, they spiked. 

Now, they’re going the opposite way, you know, they’re softening a little bit because, you know, people are starting to loosen up a little bit where, you know, I don’t, depends on where you sit on the spectrum. Do you think that’s a good idea or not? I’m not advocating either. I’m just saying from our experience and our vantage point, you are seeing people start to drift away to more in-house Ccnsumption options, but not a lot. 

Liam Dempsey: You know, what I wonder about is maybe you could spend a minute or two, you know, you’re Westchester based, you’re greater Philadelphia area, you brew here. I think it’s the only place that you brew. How does getting an order to Erie, Pennsylvania work? Does somebody get in the car and drive it out there? Do you try to, you know, do a whole bunch of advertising in Erie? So with one truckload, you can hit 10 customers instead of somebody wants a six pack. So out you go. How does that work? 

Jim Adams: It’s pretty easy. UPS comes every day and takes dozens and dozens of boxes, you know, throughout the state. We also operate, we’ll deliver to your house locally within 10 to 12 miles of the brewery. And that keeps our costs down and also allows us to do same day delivery. But UPS will get it anywhere in the state In less than three days. That’s a good experience with full tracking information, and that’s what the other breweries that jumped on this are leveraging as well. It’s both FedEx and UPS provide, you know, that service capability, but it’s been great. Really good. 

Joe Casabona: Wow. That’s fantastic. So I’m thinking about some of the other logistical stuff. When it comes to shipping the beer, is there a special packaging you need? Do you try to, is it, what is, what does that look like? What’s that process look like on your end?

Jim Adams: I mean, everybody tries to solve it differently. A lot of breweries get a standard box, wrap the four packs or bottles with bubble wrap and throw them in the box. It works. 

Ours is a little bit more prepared, and we’ve learned things. You know, we had a head start. We, our boxes come with these corrugated cardboard holders. They’re, you know, they’re made for four packs. And we orient three, four, five, and six in a single box. it’s very well packaged, very well designed, very secure. And, we also put some other things in there to personalize it. And the outside of the box is completely branded with Levante and Mercury. So, it’s a professional, you know, kind of white glove experience. We certainly could throw it in a box and wrap it up and bubble wrap. And there’s actually some advantages to doing that because then you can, you’re not limited to the amount of four packs you can throw in a big brown box. So, there are advantages. We just feel that most people are buying three, four, five, six, four packs max. and the box configuration handles those different amounts. So it’s been great. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And presentation is really important. I’ll just say before I throw it back to Liam, cause like you get, you know, you can get stuff thrown in a box and that’s fine. That’s like what you get on most Amazon vendors. But, like, I’ve ordered from like Ugmonk or Apple and like their packaging is amazing and it makes me feel like they really thought about the product and it’s going to make me want to go back to them.

Jim Adams: I’m glad you mentioned that. We put a letter in every single one and it’s signed by the person who packed it. And it’s, and we also put stickers and other swag in there. And it’s important. We want it to be personalized because we desperately, you know, need to preserve that experience. We want people to have an experience that they want to re experience, and try to personalize as best we can. So, it’s worked out. And people have, you know, commented and brought to our attention dozens and dozens of times, and they just really felt that we put a lot of attention to it. So I’m glad you mentioned it. 

Joe Casabona: Awesome. 

Liam Dempsey: And I expect you’re getting some rewards on social media from that as well, on Instagram and Twitter, where folks say, Hey, look at this really cool picture and look at this really cool little, Oh, they even signed a Tom down at the distribution center, packed my beer, or Mary did, or whatever it was.

Jim Adams: Yeah, exactly. And then they’ll put it up. Yeah. they’ll put it on their social channels and blow it up. And the box itself presents really well, and they’re the cans and you know. So, there’s always a marketing aspect of it, but in the end you do it because it’s the right thing to do. We just didn’t want to use a generic format, but I respect those that just jumped in and are doing it. It costs money. I mean, you know, it eats margin to be able to do that, but we feel it’s the right thing to do. 

Liam Dempsey: I want to talk to you about your collaboration with Weathered Souls Brewery. Can you share a little bit about that? How that came to be and even what the collaboration does, and what the output it was? Because I’m not sure that everybody listening to the show knows. 

Jim Adams: Yep. So, Weathered Souls is, you know, another brewery in the country that came up with a fantastic idea to give a base recipe of an imperial stout. You know, and said look, here’s this. This is a base recipe. Take it. Manipulate it. Personalize it. Whatever you want to do. But please make sure that 100% of your proceeds go to support Black Lives Matter or other organizations that, you know, support underprivileged or underrepresented people of color and it’s just fantastic, you know. And hundreds, hundreds of breweries did it. 

In the state of Pennsylvania, I think there were close to 25, 26 of us that did it. And everybody came up, it had the same packaging. The same, you know, Black is Beautiful artwork on the can. But every single one of them is different based on the little touches that we added. And ours landed around 11%. it was fantastic, and people loved it, and they scooped it up. And they’re comparing ours versus others people around the country. But, you know It was all in the name of doing right for fellow americans and doing the right thing. And it’s not a political statement. It’s not a social tax, and all that stuff. 

And you know, again, there’s two sides of everything. We did it because it was the right thing to do, and it helped people. We gave our proceeds to the Juvenile Law Center. They advocate for the rights and equity, and opportunities for the young folks in child welfare and the justice system. So, we felt that giving the proceeds to them, you help children that are underrepresented or underprivileged at the beginning of a young person’s struggle. Not years later where that money may be less of, it may be less of an opportunity to make a real impact. So, it was awesome. And, you know, It really resonated with the customer, and we’re very proud that we had the opportunity to it [Inaudible 12:32.14] 

Joe Casabona: So, it’s just as far as timeline goes. This is because I’m kind of generally interested in how quickly things happened. How long did it take for you to put out the stout from the time they released the base recipe?

Jim Adams: Well, we slow played it. You have to, you know, there’s just being logical here. There’s a schedule of things that we’re brewing. And when these things pop up, you gotta figure out where do you inject it in the timeline and what other beers move. And, you know, there’s some logistics around it. And then you wanna get, you wanna make sure you have all the base recipe ingredients. 

And then how do we design the Levante effect on top of it? How do we personalize this? So, I think, a week of kind of really trying to figure that stuff out, how we specialized it. Then brewing, that’s obviously a single day. Fermenting is a couple of weeks. And then, you know, there’s some post fermentation work that we do on this particular type of style. And then packaging it takes roughly about a half a day for the volume that we did. We do it with other products that we were doing that week. And then we put it up there. 

So I would say that we were three weeks behind the original folks that did it. So, but, there’s still companies that are jumping on board to do this. And I don’t think it really has a short time frame. It has a quite an extended one. You know, people want to do it. They’ll get to it when they can, and some people are barrel aging these products. So, you can see things pop out even later in the fall.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. That was kind of my thought because I don’t know how long it takes to brew beer really, and I knew that I could take. I didn’t know how short it could take, but I knew it could take months or whatever. So,  yeah. Really, really cool. Thank you for that insight.

Jim Adams: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. 

Liam Dempsey: Jim, what is a base recipe? Is that like flipping the Nestle Tollhouse package over and it’s just the recipe so that it’s not like they send you a base starter dough with sourdough or anything, or is it just, here are the ingredients. Here’s the portion. Here’s how you long you cook this. Here’s how long you boil that. Here’s how long you… 

Jim Adams: Absolutely. Absolutely. They said, hey, look, you know, here is a base recipe for an imperial stout using these base malts, you know. And this is the yeast that they used and these are the hops that they used. But, you don’t want to go completely off the reservatio. You know, the principle is to stay kind of in the, you know, found in the format that they use. But then add embellishments around it to get in. You know, to give it some character,  you know, to give it your own breweries personalization. And so, yeah. So everyone got the same base ingredient, same base recipe. And then they just, you know, did all kinds of things, like barrel aging it for maybe a couple of weeks just to give it a little bit of bourbon esque flavor or something like that, or, you know, they were adding cacao, you know, cacao nibs, they were adding chocolate, they were adding lactose, they were adding all kinds of stuff. So, there’s some freedom in the personalization part of that beer. And that’s why people chase them to get different experiences. 

Liam Dempsey: That is such a fantastic story. When I read about it, I didn’t appreciate just how wide and how diverse and how expansive and how the kind of collaborative but also unique it was. That’s really, really cool. 

Jim Adams: Yeah. It’s, I have to give, I mean, I have to give Weathered Souls a lot of respect for coming up with that idea. It was very selfless, and, but I also think it’s shown a light on their brand as, you know, curating something really special. And again, trying to do the right thing. And in a time where there was a clearly, there is a focus on, you know, on this particular topic. So how do you turn it around and do something good for people is the nature of the whole thing.

Liam Dempsey:  Yeah. That’s fantastic. We’ve got a few minutes left in the show and I want to ask you, Levante has a taproom down in Westchester just before a year or two before COVID-19 hit, you opened up a fantastic place called The Stables up in the village of Eagle [17:08.61]

Jim Adams: Yeah. And I got a new bicycle for 2020 so I could ride there because I live that close. And COVID-19 is has changed a lot of the way the tap rooms work. And if they’re even open.

Liam Dempsey: Talk to us about what you and your colleagues at Levante Brewing Company are doing now to create a customer experience that invites folks back in the way as best you can. And then also keeps you and your team safe. Talk to us about that. 

Jim Adams:  Sure. Well, the best thing is that once the initial shockwave settled, we were able to bring people back quickly. I mean, a lot of people shed their workforce. It was scary. All the tap rooms closed. What are you going to do? And all of us quickly changed to a curbside format. And Levante’s curbside format drive through at the brewery was popular, and continues to be. And let us bring people back. Then the delivery aspect of the business took off. So we were able to hire people around that and bring those folks back. And maybe, okay, you were doing this role before COVID. Let’s bring you back and we’ll inject you into this role. 

And really trying to maintain as much employment, full time employment as possible. And we haven’t opened either tap room. Both of them operate, both stables and the brewery tap room in Westchester operate curbside only. And everyone else has opened it seems, to in-house consumption or some outdoor format. And you would think, well, why doesn’t Lavante do it? And it is to keep our employees safe. We don’t necessarily have to do it. And that’s because people have been so wonderful with curbside pickup and delivery, we also switched our format away from kegging and wholesale to bars because they weren’t pouring drafts for a while. But they were hurting. So what do you do for them and the local wholesaler? We flipped into a 100 percent canning operation and started putting cans on shelves, which was something we never thought we would do.

But it moves products and it helps our wholesale partners, and the bars and restaurants that can crack cans and serve them that way. And everybody wins. So what do we do about the tapering experience? Westchester, the Carter Drive Westchester Tap Room, with the state mandate to be, you know, 50% and also have food. We don’t, we’re not a restaurant. We can bring a food truck in and all that stuff, but we’ll, the limited occupancy at Carter would make it cost ineffective. Plus, the tap room was converted into a makeshift fulfillment center. All of our beer is where you sit and drink at the bar because we’re throwing it out. We’re moving it outside the drive thru alley. 

So, it’s worked great. So, operationally, it doesn’t make sense right now. And stables, you could make an argument. We hear it all the time. It’s so big. Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you put some tables and spread everybody out? Well, the occupancy there, even at 50%, is a lot of people. And the social optics of having 200 people at the stables is something we’re not comfortable with.

Liam Dempsey: I’m gonna interrupt you right there and I didn’t even really thought about that, you know, the PR side of things the marketing side and it might be Covidly if I can use it as an adverb it can be covidly safe. But what does that mean for? I’ll say constructive feedback you might receive around them, even if it was safe. That’s a really good point. 

Jim Adams: Yeah. It comes down to what’s, every business has to think about what’s the right thing for them. And most of these other companies had either a restaurant part of their brewery. Or some level of food offering, and they relied on the in-house consumption a lot. So I get it. But economically, it’s not making a lot of profit for these companies. It’s just not. But it’s, but they’re maintaining. 

Now, the next thing they have to think about is, okay. we open stables up for what, two months till the weather gets cold and we shut down again because there’s no in-house consumption and we don’t have food. So we just brought all those people back and all that expense to open it just to turn around and close it again because we’re still under state mandates to do. You know, constrained in-house consumption and, but the biggest thing.

And this is just our thought process: Safety before profits. End of story. End of story. And that’s kind of the mindset of the company, and you can argue it and criticize it, and probably some fair points. But we’re going to open a third location very shortly for curbside. So, we’ll have three locations providing our beer to the customer in a contactless, safe, easy, just go get it type of format online experience. And we will be back with retail in full force at three different locations, and a great experience once this thing runs its course, or we have some protections against it, or things change, you know. But again, you know, a month could go down the road and all of a sudden things change, and now we’re retreating on that.

I hope that explains it to the audience. And I hope people get it because I, we, understand you. People drive by our locations and are like, come on, everybody else is open. Why aren’t you open? Those are the answers. That’s the truth. We’re just trying to ride it out and be as safe as possible and throw the beer in the back seat of your car or your trunk and it’ll be okay. It’ll be okay. We’ll be back.

Joe Casabona: Throughout your whole answer, I kept kind of hearing the same undertones which is we talked to people about what works for them whether it be your wholesalers, or your distributors, or your co workers, and, or your employees. And I just think that’s so fantastic. Because you talk to the people that you’re serving, and you’re saying, “What’s gonna work for you?” I don’t know how many people would have thought to switch to a 100% canning operation. It sounds like you guys are pretty unique in your approach because even though you haven’t opened, you’re opening a third location. So, I just love your approach. 

The whole thing about the optics, cause you’re absolutely right. Somebody posts a picture on social media and then everybody’s down your throat. So, I just, I don’t really, there’s no question embedded in here. I just wante to point out what I think your approach has been, which is talk to the people around you, the people that you serve and see how you can improve your business that way.

Jim Adams: Absolutely. And the other thing is that, there, and I get it that a lot of people out there, especially in Chester County, where hospital census are low. The COVID unit doesn’t, you know, I know this for a fact, you know, my wife works in a hospital. We have no patients in the COVID, you know, Chester County and the state of Pennsylvania have done a fascinating job, a fantastic job of doing what we can to get this thing to some level of management, right? But that can change. And we know of pennsylvania breweries that had to shut down for a couple weeks and go into quarantine because there was a covid infection. We know that some breweries in other states about to do the same thing. We cannot allow this to come in and compromise our staff because that will just damage the brand and damage the business. However, being politically correct and I get it, I totally understand why other places are operating and open. I get it. They need to. They’re doing the best thing they can. They’re doing all the things that abide by the CDC rules. You know, maybe we’ll turn around and we could have done that too. But right now we’re just not comfortable. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Liam Dempsey:  And I think that’s a perfectly valid reason, right? You know, our safety is first profit, is second, or third or whatever. It may be and this is how we see it. And you’re not asking anybody to like what you’re doing. You’re just explaining how you’re doing it and why and you have hugely valid reasons and we can all interpret how best to approach in different ways. That’s great. Thanks Jim. I really appreciate that answer. 

Jim Adams: Thank you. Appreciate it. Awesome.

Joe Casabona: Well, Jim, if people have been convinced to try your products or they want to learn more about you,  where can they find you? 

Jim Adams: Sure. [levantebrewing.com]. Everything you ever wanted to know, and more is on our website. and it’s mobile friendly as well. The order experience is really easy and frictionless. You can pick up at any of our locations, 11 a. m. to 7 p. M. every single day of the week. You can order it and come get it four days later. It’s, you can get as much as you want. There’s no limits. And that’s the beauty of it. And it’s to be as frictionless as possible and give control back to the consumer whenever they feel they want to come in and grab something. We release cans every Tuesday and Friday, new stuff, some old heavy hitters, you know, that we like to do some repeats that people really love. We continue to innovate and get creative. We’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming throughout the fall and winter. And you know, most importantly, for those that recognize Levante Brewing, that have patronized us, myself, my partners, our employees, we are indebted to you. We thank you so much for the patronage over the last five years to help this little startup keep going through its ups and downs and lefts and rights, and this is one of them. And from their help and a little bit of luck and good fortune, you know, things will, this too shall pass and we’ll be clinking glasses again at all the tap rooms. It’ll, we’ll be back to normal again. I’m sure at some point. So, thank you guys. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Well, thank you again. That’s [levantebrewing.com]. You can find that and all of the show notes over at [startlocal.co], Jim. So thanks so much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Jim Adams: Thank you guys. 

Liam Dempsey: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you online soon.

Jim Adams: Absolutely. Take care. See you guys. Be good. 

Joe Casabona: And thanks to everybody listening. Remember to go to [startlocal. co/news] to get insights on the latest episodes of news around the county. 

Until next time. Stay safe out there.

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