Strange Brew abruptly closes; benefit show to help employees

Strange Brew Coffee House unexpectedly closed leaving staff without pay (KXAN Photo/ Tom Rapp)
Strange Brew Coffee House unexpectedly closed leaving staff without pay (KXAN Photo/ Tom Rapp)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Doors locked, a failure to pay rent notice, and employees struggling to get answers. That was the scene when Strange Brew staff showed up for work last week. For many, the 24-hour coffee shop and live music lounge was a south Austin staple.

KXAN learned there were warning signs, indicating financial hardship. “There was a lot of bounced checks going on for a long time,” Jeff Plankenhorn said, who played at Strange Brew for years and helped with bookings.

Employees KXAN spoke with emphasized that they were always paid, just not always on time. “I do know that with all the problems that they had, Strange Brew tried really hard to take care of their employees through all of this up and down with many ventures that were involved,” Plankenhorn said.

In August, federal court documents indicated it became too much. At that time, Strange Brew filed for bankruptcy. Its petition states the business is nearly $465,000 in debt. That includes more than $265,000 in federal and state taxes.

“It seemed like there was a lot of things going on with trying to open the bake house, trying to have these other ventures, that ended up draining on the coffee shop, which was the main money maker,” Plankenhorn said.

Musician Hilary Adamson told KXAN she has a special place in her heart for Strange Brew. “Not only did they really take time to invest in a great sound system, a great place to play, but they also invested in creating a community that, like, supported the music,” she said. “Our hearts go out to those people who literally just lost a livelihood and are scrambling to find jobs.”

Because of that, Adamson is organizing a benefit show this weekend to help those employees.

“These are the people who are getting left behind, and so as a music community we want to say thank you, as musicians, to the people that people often forget,” Adamson said.

When KXAN spoke with Strange Brew’s owner last week, he said the city’s commercial review process slowed down the remodel of the bakery next door. KXAN found permits were approved, but was unable to get in touch with the owner Tuesday to find out why the permits expired without a finished project. There are still questions about what other factors played a role in Strange Brew’s closure, when employees will receive their final paycheck and what’s next.

The benefit show is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday at Donn’s Depot.

The lineup includes Guy Forsyth, Shinyribs, Jeff Plankenhorn, The Flyin’ A’s, Danny Britt, Barbara Nesbitt and Jaimee Harris.

There will be a $10-20 suggested donation at the door. All proceeds will be split evenly between the Strange Brew staff that stayed up until the day the business closed its doors.

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