The Coast News Group
Stone Brewing
A view from above of the inside of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Photo courtesy of Stone Brewing
Cities Community Escondido News Region

Stone Brewing criticized for not hiring back employees after COVID-19 layoffs

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Stone Brewing VP of Hospitality Gregg Frazer.

REGION — Businesses in San Diego County have started reopening in the past couple of weeks after lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19 shuttered businesses for months. In trying to creatively adapt to these uncertain times, however, some companies are being criticized for mishandling layoffs.

As businesses reopen, many of those who were furloughed are returning to work, while employees who were permanently laid off must grapple with the fact that they have been left behind.

Last month, health care workers and nurses held protests in response to the layoffs of more than 300 Palomar Health employees, becoming one of the first and perhaps the most vocal group of employees to speak out about layoffs.

More recently, Stone Brewing, the largest brewery in Southern California, has also been scrutinized for claims that they mishandled companywide layoffs.

The brewery, which has two World Bistro & Gardens locations, including one in Escondido, as well as several taprooms in San Diego County, reopened their doors at the beginning of June after statewide orders forced them, and numerous other businesses, to close down back in March.

A former employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Coast News that they worked at Stone for several years before being laid off on April 6 via a roughly seven-minute conference call with more than 300 other employees.

“It was very cut and dry,” the former employee said. “It wasn’t a furlough or anything like that. It was just like, ‘We’re restructuring the company, we’ll be running on a skeleton staff,’ which they didn’t even tell us what that meant.”

According to the source, the staff, which included servers, bartenders, bussers, hosts, food runners, kitchen personnel and retail personnel, were told that they could reapply once Stone reopened again but were given no indication that they would get rehired.

“I think a lot of people were planning to reapply, but as time went on, we started realizing that they might not be having us back because they started utilizing GoTab, which was something Gregg Frazer was really pushing even before COVID,” the former employee said. “There was a lot of suspicion that he wasn’t going to bring servers back because it means less labor costs for Stone.”

Gregg Frazer is Stone’s vice president of hospitality who was hired in December 2017. He began implementing a mobile ordering and payment platform called GoTab in September 2019.

This former employee told The Coast News that they were not contacted once Stone reopened, and when employees searched for positions on their website, they rarely found any listings.

“We found out that they’ve been calling people and handpicking who they want to come work for them,” the source said. “They also don’t have servers anymore. They’re using GoTab exclusively. So it looks they’ve eliminated the position of server completely, at least at this point.”

The source said they are disappointed by the situation, but not surprised that the company would seemingly prioritize GoTab over their employees.

“Because many restaurants are in this same situation and are trying to operate with these new regulations, it’s a little bit more understandable right now, but I think, in the long run, they should go back to having servers, and I honestly don’t know if they ever will,” the employee said.

A different Stone employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Coast News that they were one of a handful of people who were rehired.

The source said there are currently around 10-12 front of house employees working at each World Bistro & Gardens location, pointing out that before the layoffs, servers alone made up about 30 of the front of house employees.

This employee confirmed that there is, in fact, no longer a server position at the moment. Instead, orders are made through GoTab and everyone is a “crew member.” The hourly pay rate has remained consistent, but employees are now required to pool their tips.

Frazer responded via email to the criticism regarding the brewery’s handling of the layoffs.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate that we had to lay off employees due to COVID-19,” Frazer said. “We are, in fact, taking a slow approach to re-hiring, as we’re still not sure what the hospitality landscape will look like in the coming months, weeks or even days.

“Contactless ordering via GoTab has not been put in place to eliminate positions, but as a safety measure to protect our team members and guests during these early days of re-opening.

“Immediately following our layoffs caused by the COVID-19 shutdown, we created a fund to support all laid-off employees. Our co-founder, Greg Koch, contributed his entire 2020 salary. Co-Founder Steve Wagner, CEO Dominic Engels and other executives also contributed. We opened it up to the rest of Team Stone and are proud to have offered additional support to these employees during this time.”

Ballast Point Brewing Company, which has two brewery locations and a homebrew mart in San Diego, also reopened at the beginning of June.

Vice President of Retail Operations Jeremy Kirby spoke to The Coast News about how they are adapting to business changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We furloughed our employees,” Kirby said. “We did weekly Zoom calls just to keep everybody engaged, and when the time came, we brought everybody back. We’re still trying to figure out how everything is going to look in regards to staffing levels and the new measures, but we don’t plan on reducing staffing because that would also mean sacrificing the comfort level of our customers in the process.”

Ballast Point is open for dine-in with all of the county’s safety regulations in place and, according to Kirby, the feedback from the community and their employees has been encouraging.

“It’s fun to have the staff back together again, and they’re excited to show our customers what we can do to meet their needs,” Kirby said.

19 comments

Former Stoner June 17, 2020 at 5:34 pm

As one of the 300+ fired that day I am incredibly grateful that these details have come to light. That was a rough day. What was tougher still is that when employees were asked to pickup their last paycheck there was a letter enclosed. I assumed it was going to be a goodbye letter, an apology, a note from the owners. Something to lighten the blow. Instead we received an offer for $500 if we would sign a waiver ensuring we would not sue. That’s when I knew the company I loved was gone, replaced by corporate execs who cared nothing for the people they employed. It was heartless.

Reply
David T. June 17, 2020 at 5:57 pm

I have been a customer of Stone since they opened in Escondido many years ago. I always love the gardens and am extremely happy they have now opened the gardens for dining. I have been there twice now since reopening and I can say that the new system is great. Although service was pretty good before, I have never received food and drink as fast as they are doing it now. Stone seems to have prioritized safety, and at my age, this is more important than anything to me.
I am sure this new operating model is not the end of the road for Stone, but they seem to have put a huge amount of effort into providing a safe environment and limiting the amount of social interaction while still managing to provide a great experience.
This article is a little strange and seems a bit inappropriate during what is still an ongoing pandemic where businesses are just trying to survive. It seems you could write this article about most restaurants or many businesses for that matter during these times.
I’m just happy my backyard go to beer destination is up and running and doing it right.

Reply
Former Stoner June 17, 2020 at 6:36 pm

Former stoner of 14 years here. This is a quote from Chili- our beloved 64 year old, 18 year employee of Stone Brewery, the driving force behind the beauty and uniqueness of
the Gardens who has not been offered back his position “ If concepts like ‘Team Stone’, ‘Stone Culture’ or ‘Stone Core Values’ ever did exist at all, they most certainly do not now. My life, my health and my well-being have been violated and disrespected.”

Reply
Ryan June 17, 2020 at 7:51 pm

The story of employees being replaced by software is only going to become more commonplace. It’s a discussion I’ve had with ownership in the last several places I’ve run. The math of running a restaurant, brewer or tavern can be…difficult. Ultimately those places decided it wasn’t the right move, but there are a lot of financial benefits to going fast casual. That can be much easier to quantify than the value add employees bring to the community, culture and bottom line. The pandemic has brought into light how slim the success rates for hospitality businesses are. Often what’s best for ownership isn’t what’s best for the employees despite their co-dependence. Motivations at the upper levels and the willingness of the consumer to accept a new normal will ultimately determine whether businesses keep service staff or move towards a tech based alternative.

Reply
Another Former Stoner June 17, 2020 at 8:51 pm

I will always have a place in my heart for the company that Stone Brewing was when I was hired several years ago. I’m so thankful for my time there. I always will be. Years-long periods of wage theft and general disrespect towards the hourly employees the past two years have made it clear though that they no longer are that same company. The middle finger that they pretend to wave at the corporate status quo, they now wave in the face of the many dedicated and hardworking people that used to work for them. I wish them no ill will, I still plan to buy and support them on occasion. In the same breath though, I’m also no longer obligated to keep their dirty secrets.

Reply
Former Employee June 17, 2020 at 10:07 pm

From a former employee’s perspective, someone who has worked there for several years and genuinely admired Stone for being a local San Diego based company that was previously committed to serving it’s employee’s and vendors just as well as their loyal customers. I want to simply say thank you to the article’s Author for acknowledging the issue. Stone is a company with a well deserved reputation but the past three years have made it abundantly clear it simply is not the same place, and the direction is going is vastly different from the humble earnest business it once was. From the callous and surprising delivery of the layoff, to the almost non existent effort of collective communication in the aftermath, and the overall sense of poor executive management decisions across the board. I can’t support that business, I love the beer, I love the people that work there, and I loved that company’s message and history. And all I say all this because I know people up the ladder actually take the time to read feedback on public platforms. All you had to do was just let the beer sell itself.

Reply
Noneya Dambiz June 17, 2020 at 11:11 pm

I agree with David T, this seems pretty biased. As a local and fan, I’m grateful to have them reopened. Its only been like two weeks, and they opened with restricted hours, limited menus and reduced seating… of course not everyone will be rehired immediately.

This is something all service industries are dealing with and I feel this article could have been written about any number of restaurants. Singling out Stone seems like poor journalism, especially when the only source of “Stone being scrutinized” is a clearly disgruntled ex-employee that’s petty enough to call out his/her former boss for trying to replace servers with machines, in a “tHeY tOoK eRr JoBs” moment.

And if comparing to Ballast Point, didn’t they sell out for a billion dollars then consolidate and close several locations across the country all prior to COVID-19? That’s a rhetorical question, because everyone in SD knows this to be fact. This wasn’t an attempt to survive during a crisis, but a purely greed driven, screw the employees move.

This article is garbage.

Reply
Former Employee June 18, 2020 at 2:08 pm

The company spent years telling their customers and employees that they were a special company, being run a different way, and their employees were happy and paid well and had good jobs. Now all of that is a complete lie and we’re being run by a board of MBA scumbags who will happily ruin everything we’ve ever built with the snap of a finger as long as they get a bonus out of it. Greg Koch is currently hiding out on his vacation home in maui after selling us out to VMG and poor Steve Wagner is here stuck looking like a total jackass for caring about us while promoting these fake values.

Reply
It’s too bad... June 19, 2020 at 8:13 am

This. A million times this. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The industry knows who Stone is and what they are all about now. A company that was looked at as a pioneer in craft, and great place to work has become a festering swamp of lies and deception. One only needs to take a look in to the backgrounds of the current executive team to realize what the true motives are, and why they tried (and failed) to sell the company to an overseas entity last summer. This, like everything else, will be denied and flat out lied about. To any current and new employees, when you hear a rumor, it’s probably true. There will be a highly produced video with heavy metal music and some executive drinking a beer telling you it’s not true. They will try to bury the truth like they have tried to to with their most loyal employees, but you don’t have to too far to find where the bodies are buried, and dig up the skeletons.

Reply
Industry Experienced June 18, 2020 at 8:23 pm

Noneya Dambiz, let me point some things out for you:

1) You don’t work there (or in the beer/service industry at all, I assume), so you don’t have first-hand inside experience of how things went down. This wasn’t the right way.
2) Clearly you don’t keep up with beer news because BP was sold off last year to an independent group, so they’re now local, independent and craft again. The BP you think you know and the BP it is now are two different things. The comparison makes perfect sense as they both run large restaurants and are both large beer presences here.
3) It’s not WHAT you do, it’s the WAY you do it. Had they kept better communication (or been flat out more honest) maybe they wouldn’t be getting so much heat. It’s not just servers that are affected.
4) If Stone received PPE loans, they’re supposed to bring back 75% of the existing staff

Reply
HopHead June 19, 2020 at 6:28 pm

Ahhhh…Ballast Point is as ‘independent’ as the koalas at San Diego Zoo. BP was acquired with an infusion of cash from Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. — a front for the mob in exurban Chicago — and is now a mafia money-laundering operation. If you don’t believe this, take a look at Martin Scorsese’s new film, “We Got The Point,” where the unlikely-monikered north-shore mob brewery Kings & Convicts is rebadged as Bosses & Capos Brewing Co., a cash-only establishment that serves Italian Beef sandwiches along with its flagships Chicago Outfit IPA & Hitman Honey Ale. Following his epic chronicling of the Chicago mafia in “Casino,” in the new acclaimed film Scorsese relates the real Ballast Point story. Mob boss Salvatore DeLaurentis (Robert De Niro) tells nanobrewery mob-front CEO Brendon Watters (Joe Pesci): “How’d we pull it off? We made them an offer they couldn’t refuse!”

Kings & Convicts began as a homebrew project @ the Oakbrook mansion of Chicago Outfit Boss Joseph Ferriola. Associates who rated his beers less than **** were never heard from again. Since Mob Boss Joey Aiuppa — who was convicted in the skimming operation depicted in “Casino” — also lived in Oakbrook, the money-laundering ‘actual’ brewery was located off to far-north suburban cul-de-sacs.

Reply
Nate June 18, 2020 at 5:40 am

There is likely more to this story, and the fact that the economics of running a restaurant are difficult is understandable. However, the servers are real people with real families who were already in a difficult situation because of COVID 19. Firing them in the middle of a pandemic and adding to the current uncertainty was heartless.

One can understand that businesses have to make a profit, but not at the expense of the hard-working families that poured their lives into that brewery. I will neither eat at Stone brewery again nor will I drink their beer. I encourage all my friends to support other breweries/pubs (e.g., Yard House, Townhall, etc.) who actually value their employees and don’t just treat them as a profit-generating widget.

The fact that Stone wasn’t even willing to try to defend their actions is a good indicator that the management knows that what they did was wrong and is ashamed.

Reply
300+ June 18, 2020 at 12:30 pm

Interesting that we got an email THIS morning regarding the relief fund. Talk about timing! They didn’t even set up the relief fund until after the first bad press release. They are scrambling to save face. I would even bet that some of these comments have been placed here by Stones media team. Lets talk about how they dangled $500 at us after the layoff if we signed documents promising not to be part of the class action suit that might ruin them. A suit that is completely justified and will 100% find Stone as negligent in their handling of labor hours. All of us would have stood by Stone if they had stood by us. We are aware that during these crazy times certain new procedures need to take place. We would have adjusted to their needs had they just included us, as promised. Instead, we were essentially ghosted.

Reply
I am the 300 June 18, 2020 at 1:32 pm

Gregg Frazer keeps falling back on the fact that Steve Wagner and Greg Koch donated their 2020 salaries to the fallen employees. Riddle me this.. why did it come 3 months after the fact, and 3 months after they were already suffering backlash (and a lawsuit) for how they went about the lay off?? Seems to me like they’re desperately trying to cover their tracks and save face for what’s left of the company.

Reply
Former Employee June 18, 2020 at 1:47 pm

Yeah fuck this lying ass company. Just a complete shell of its former self, completely fraudulent values that are a laughingstock among its employees who have been stabbed in the back continuously for the last few years. If you support stone brewing company right now just know that everything they tell you is a fucking lie and there is nothing different or special about their fake ass brand anymore compared to any other beer company. You might as well go to applebee’s and order a budweiser.

Reply
Okaybyyye June 18, 2020 at 2:06 pm

Many of you readers probably think us former employees are being petty. Heres what you should know. The lay-off was mishandled and heartless to those that put their heart and soul into the company. Granted, that’s how lay-offs go. However, similar breweries like Belching Beaver furloughed. Guaranteeing their employees a job when they reopened. Stone did tell us we would be able to reapply. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t true. They hand picked a few rehires. They have also started hiring from the outside. Never giving us a chance to go back. Which truly feels like a slap in the face from a company we gave so much to. I understand things are going tech in this new world. Couldn’t they at least said sorry? Maybe told everyone who was waiting to come back that unfortunately they’re going with a different model. Instead everyone had to hear through the grapevine that they’re hiring brand new people. There was also a feeling of hush money being forced on us. Which is just ew. Chili, the 18 year former veteran of Stone, made the gardens what they are today. Beautiful and artistic. He was a Stone staple. He, like the rest of us feel as though we were tossed aside. Our dedication worthless. The relief fund money is nice. Yet the timing does seem strange. Seems like it’s all for publicity. All of my beliefs in what the Stone brand was… the culture, the teamwork, the authenticity, the leadership! They’ve all been torn down. They’ve turned into exactly what they said they never would.

Reply
MJ June 18, 2020 at 4:18 pm

Let’s talk about how they threatened everyone’s job by saying “If you don’t come in to deep clean the restaurant and be a part of team stone you won’t have a job when covid-19 is over” then they fired everyone the day after we finished deep cleaning.

Let’s talk about how when we went to HR about sexual/inappropriate/racist comments said to us by management HR ALWAYS took the managers side.

Let’s talk about how they tried to pay us off to not sue them when they let us all go.

Let’s talk about how we didn’t get an email about this stone relief fund for weeks!! Until today after the bad media came out about them.

Let’s talk about when they fired everyone over a 7 min phone call they told use to reach out through our company emails or scheduling app AND then immediately blocked us from being able to contact them.

This article didn’t even go in on half of stones transgressions. They got off easy.

So next time you want to grab that “local” beer think about how they treat their staff who are all locals and that they don’t care about you and only want your money.

Reply
We Are 300 June 25, 2020 at 11:36 am

Let me start off by admitting to to the public: Stone most definitely violates at least 10 health & safety codes daily and the managers are blissfully unaware…take it from someone who worked behind the bar for years. They have moldy drains underneath every bar and in the keg room, couplers caked with dirt and grime, uncleaned beer lines & faucets, broken water rinsers at both bars, and insufficient dish washers with inadequate sanitizing water temperatures…Honesty is the best policy after all right? Believe me. The beer you are drinking is disgustingly presented to you as a lie of quality.

Let’s talk about how the threatened everyone’s job by saying “If you don’t come in to deep clean the restaurant and be a part of team stone you won’t have a job when covid-19 is over” then they fired everyone the day after we finished deep cleaning.
Let’s talk about how when we went to HR about sexual/inappropriate/racist comments said to us by management HR always took the managers side.
Let’s talk about how they tried to pay us off to not sue them when they let us all go.
Let’s talk about how we didn’t get a email about this stone relief fund until today after the bad media came out about them.
Let’s talk about when they fired everyone over a 7 min phone call they told use to reach out through our company emails or scheduling app AND then immediately blocked us from being able to contact them.
This article didn’t even go in on half of stones transgressions. They got off easy.
So next time you want to grab that “local” beer think about how they treat their staff who are all locals and that they don’t care about you and only want your money.

Stones management doesn’t deserve the quality of employee it had. Enjoy your robots Stone!

Reply

Leave a Comment