Last days for Last Name?
by Mick Rhodes | email@example.com
Say it ain’t so … again.
Another beloved local landmark is in danger of disappearing: the esteemed, pioneering craft brewery Last Name Brewing (formerly Dale Bros.) is up for sale.
I’ve spent many an evening at LNB, both as a fan of its flagship brew, Pomona Queen, and as a short-lived employee and longtime working musician. It’s the site of many a happy memory, onstage and off. The Upland brewery has always been a welcoming venue for beer drinkers, and for musicians, with fair pay and hospitable treatment (which some might be surprised to learn is an exception, rather than a rule in the music “business”), including (gasp!) a green room!
What I mean to say is, the vibe was good. And the primary source, the man from whence the good vibes emanated, is co-owner Andy Dale. Last Name has been woven into the fabric of the community for a good long time now. Folks have landed their first jobs, met their life partners, and played their first gigs there. The hope, Andy said, is to hand off the business to someone who can continue that trajectory.
“I would love to see it continue on, not necessarily as Last Name Brewing, but in kind of the same spirit of love for the craft beer industry and just being a nice place to visit,” he said.
Andy’s brother Curt founded the brewery as Dale Bros. in 2003. It was among the very first microbreweries (as they were known back then) in Southern California. Later that year Curt delivered the first keg of Pomona Queen to longtime Village restaurant Pizza N’ Such.
Pizza N’ Such owner “Mike Verbal said he would replace the Budweiser tap as soon as the keg was kicked,” Andy said. “In a highly strategic move, Curt and a number of his friends showed up at Pizza N’ Such and began ordering pitchers of Bud, with the goal of killing it. There was more in the keg than they had bargained for and Mike, in a humanitarian gesture, eventually allowed Curt to hook up the Pomona Queen keg before the Bud was totally dry. Dale Bros/Last Name has been on tap continuously at Pizza N’ Such ever since that evening, which is an amazing honor.”
Now jointly owned by Curt, Andy, and Andy’s wife Karen McMillen, along with minority shareholder Steve Sabicer, Last Name celebrated its 21st birthday last weekend with food, live music, and you guessed it, plenty of beer.
Speaking from experience, turning 60 — a milestone Andy will reach later this year — can give one pause. And indeed, he told me that upcoming birthday was a factor in the decision to put LNB on the market, along with other earthly considerations.
“Certainly, the past three years have been challenging and a bit stressful,” he said. “But everybody went through Covid, so I certainly don’t use that as an excuse for wanting to move on and do something new. But, that said, it certainly didn’t help.”
Another factor in deciding to sell has to do with the changing nature of owning a small business, he said, including the rise of social media and the increasing reliance on mastering its marketing side as a tool for driving business. In truth, LNB is a mom and pop shop, and aggressive marketing on social media or otherwise has never been its prime directive. It was concentrating on making great beer. And it succeeded.
“Back when Curt started, and back when I joined [in 2007], it was kind of a ‘Brew it and they will come’ kind of environment,” Andy said. “And now there are over 1,000 breweries in California, and the requirements for success have just really changed dramatically.”
Folks refer to “the one percent,” as the highest strata of income earners in the U.S. But there is another unit of measurement that has less to do with tax brackets and more to do with a very important intangible: contentment. Using this metric, Andy, who has been hoofing it to work for nearly 20 years, is definitely a “one percenter.”
“One of the great benefits of doing this has been that I’ve never had to get on a freeway,” he said. “Y’know, it’s pretty stressful owning a small business, and the past few years have certainly not been any less so, but at the same time, the team that we have right now, I’m definitely going to miss the community aspect of it. And, depending on where I end up next, I may really miss walking to work.”
It’ll cost a potential buyer $350,000 to purchase the brewery’s physical infrastructure — brewing tanks, kegs, canning and refrigeration equipment, delivery trucks, tenant improvements, and office equipment, to name a few. If its intellectual property is part of the deal, including branding and trademarks for longtime fan favorite brew, Pomona Queen, among others, the price would likely escalate considerably.
Though his days of running a brewery are near an end, retirement isn’t in the cards, Andy said. He’ll likely land somewhere in the tech sector, which is where he was prior to coming on board at his brother’s brewery in 2007.
“If I am going to do something else with the last bit of my career days, hey, it’s just time to get a move on because I don’t want to be working until I’m 75 and then still looking for that last role in whatever it ends up being.
“I’m still going to be a working stiff,” he confirmed.
I’ll sure miss LNB. And even if the name remains, I’ll miss Andy, the affable, approachable public face of the brewery. The good news is nothing’s imminent. The Pomona Queen will continue to flow for the immediate future.
“We’re making our big announcement [Thursday], but we’re going to get to work on Friday morning and it’s going to be business as usual,” Andy said. “This process is going to take months, and we have plenty of events planned.”
Those events include a Mardi Gras celebration on February 17, and a Taylor Swift night, with a DJ and all kinds of Swiftie-themed surprises, on March 10, and the annual Shameless Saturday St. Patrick’s Day party on March 16. I will be there for one or more, quaffing a Pomona Queen or two and enjoying the final days of the reign of Andy and Co.
“I think I ultimately will miss smelling like a brewery,” Andy said, referencing a phrase the brewery has emblazoned on its T-shirts.
Long live the Queen.
Our neighbor could use some help
Cash Whitely needs our help. Whiteley, 60, first came the attention of Courier readers through my April 2022 story, “Cash Whitely is a man,” and has since had that remarkable story shared with a nationwide television audience through CBS News.
I spoke to him Wednesday at the Coffee Bean on Indian Hill. He remains unhoused, but he has a car that he sleeps in at a secure private location. His cancer treatments are ongoing and have been marvelously successful, eradicating most all of the open wound that had covered the left side of his face when we first met. And though he’s made great progress physically and mentally since our first meeting, his hours as a delivery driver were recently reduced, and he’s in need of a new part-time job so he can afford to pay for food, car insurance, and his cell phone.
I’m appealing to our readers to please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you may have a lead on a part-time job for our neighbor. Thanks in advance for your kindness.