A reckoning in the craft beer industry has hit the leadership at two Boston-area breweries in recent weeks. Lord Hobo CEO Dan Lanigan and four of the five members of the Wormtown ownership team announced on Friday, June 18, that they’re stepping down from leadership roles at their respective breweries amid sexual misconduct allegations.
The allegations came to light after Brienne Allan, who works as a production manager at Notch Brewing in Salem, asked women in the craft beer industry to share their stories of sexism and harassment via her Instagram account, @ratmagnet.
Allegations rolled in by the dozen — naming a number of Massachusetts breweries, including Lord Hobo and Wormtown, among others nationwide — and prompted several brewery owners to issue apologies and some to step down altogether.
Lanigan is among those who stepped down in the aftermath of the allegations. He is being replaced by Brian Walsh, the former CEO of Smuttynose Brewing Company in New Hampshire, although Lanigan will remain on the Lord Hobo board and, ostensibly, in a position of some power.
“Last year as we evaluated our pandemic response, we identified the need for clear and experienced leadership, and certainly the reckoning in our industry reinforced that need,” states a message from the Lord Hobo board, provided to Eater via a representative for the company. “This is a significant moment for Lord Hobo as we enter a new chapter with Brian Walsh, one of the most trusted leaders in our industry at a pivotal moment, and strengthen our board with the addition of two exceptional executives, Wendy Nowokunski and Simon Thorpe.” A third new board member will also be added in the coming months.
The representative also notes that “the anonymous claims have been challenging” and that “each allegation has been thoroughly investigated and addressed to our fullest capability by our HR team who have treated each with utmost respect and seriousness.”
Lord Hobo is adding additional courses, including bystander training, to its existing sexual harassment and discrimination training, which is administered through a third-party vendor, the representative says. The company is also implementing a confidential reporting mechanism through a third-party vendor. In May, Lord Hobo added an employee resource group called “Women of Lord Hobo” aimed at “giving a voice to our female Hobos,” and the representative says that the company is also working on a new hiring initiative focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Some beer fans have taken issue with the Lord Hobo name over the years, pointing out that it makes light of homelessness. Eater asked if the brewery has given thought to a rebranding during this time of change. In a statement in response, the board instead focuses on reiterating its efforts to make the workplace more inclusive of women, including adding its first female board member (Nowokunski) and actively searching for another. “There has not been a discussion of renaming,” according to the statement, “and we feel now is not the appropriate time to interrupt the movement with what could look like a disingenuous brand stunt.”
As for the changes at Wormtown, general manager Scott Metzger says in a statement a representative of the company provided to Eater: “At Wormtown we have been working diligently to investigate any and all allegations of improper behavior. These include those alleged by former employees who did not bring them to our attention, but made these allegations through social and traditional media. We encourage them to speak with the independent investigator looking into these matters to report the specific details so that we can learn the facts and proper action may be taken.”
Metzger also says that Wormtown had already begun to take steps to address the company’s culture before the allegations were shared on social media. “Once the #METOO issues in the craft beer industry became widely shared in mid-May, I immediately sent my thoughts on these issues to our team and redistributed our HR policies,” he says, noting that he announced the creation of an internal committee at that time to “recommend a path forward to better, clearer, and more transparent policies and procedures in regards to workplace harassment.” The committee suggested upgrades to Wormtown’s HR infrastructure and policies.
“This work is ongoing,” Metzger says. “We continue to investigate instances of improper workplace behavior brought to our attention. Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken, up to and including termination, in some instances.” The company is instituting a training program for all staff, hiring a full-time HR professional, and making other changes, including “appointing a diverse Board of Advisors,” according to the statement.
“We sincerely regret that any employee may have been put in inappropriate situations at the brewery and we are doing everything in our power to make Wormtown the workplace we want it to be,” he says, adding that the owners have stepped away from day-to-day operations but “remain involved in the strategic vision of the company.”
The changes at Lord Hobo and Wormtown are just two examples of the reckoning that’s been sweeping through the food and beverage industry during the pandemic, with people in leadership positions nationwide being called out for alleged mistreatment of workers of color and women. Here in Boston, for example, current and former employees of the Tatte Bakery & Cafe chain publicly demanded changes from founder Tzurit Or in June 2020. Or’s “performative” and “mediocre” support of Black Lives Matter, as one former employee described it in a publicly posted letter of resignation, allegedly belied discriminatory hiring practices and racist behavior by Tatte management.
Even in workplaces free of allegations of racism and sexism, the pandemic seems to be spurring on unprecedented organization of hospitality industry workers, such as the unionization effort afoot at Boston’s Pavement Coffeehouse chain, which would be the first union of its kind in the state. As pandemic restrictions are lifted across the country and restaurants start to go back to some semblance of normal, it remains to be seen whether the momentum of workers’ movements will continue.
Additional reporting by Rachel Leah Blumenthal