TRU Colors, the Wilmington brewery that employs rival active gang members, will permanently shutter operations Friday, CEO George Taylor announced Wednesday.
He did not immediately say how many employees the TRU Colors closure will affect. The company said it had about 80 employees late last year in a directory of area breweries compiled by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
The unconventional startup’s founder George Taylor announced his decision in a lengthy statement, primarily blaming unfavorable media reports, dried-up investments and a lack of local support as drivers behind its demise.
“As an early-stage startup, TRU Colors depends on investment to fuel growth and reach profitability. With unexpected delays, media problems, and more, it has been costly as we have worked through it all. With help from a few people, I have covered most of the company’s shortfalls, but I have reached the limit of what can be done,” Taylor wrote in his statement shared with the Business Journal on Wednesday. “All of this, coupled with recent media issues, has created a perfect storm causing our expected investment to dry up. This has left TRU Colors without a viable path forward.”
Founded in 2017
, the brewery’s mission was driven by the belief that social exclusion and a lack of economic opportunity fuel gang violence, according to Taylor. By providing gang members with employment and life-skills training, Taylor said he was attempting to tackle these apparent determinants of gang violence, and often touted the city’s falling crime rate as indicators of the model’s effectiveness.
Taylor’s announcement comes just two months after the brewery’s Greenfield Street taproom opened to the public
, and one week following its national portrayal in an online article in The New Yorker that was published in print Monday. (TRU Colors distributed beer in grocery stores and bars
for about a year prior to opening its Wilmington taproom.)
That article reported on the tension between the brewery’s stated altruistic mission and its profit motives and heavily focused on the high-profile fatal shooting that took place in Taylor’s son’s home last summer. Taylor’s son, George Taylor III, who at the time was serving as the company’s COO, had allowed an employee Koredreese Robert Tyson, to live in his home. Three validated gang members were eventually charged with murdering 29-year-old Tyson and 19-year-old Bri-yanna Emily Williams in George Taylor III’s residence.
In the wake of the shooting, Williams’ family personally blamed Taylor, the founder, and the brewery’s role in their loved one’s murder, WECT reported at the time. This story ranks high in search engine results.
George Taylor didn’t explicitly mention this article in his statement, but attributed search results with stories about the brewery’s darkest moments with “salacious headlines” as having cost the company $5.6 million in unrealized investment opportunities over the past year.
“These deals were set to close but did not because even though investors understood the stories were exaggerated or untrue, they were unwilling to take on the media and the narrative,” he wrote.
Just before The New Yorker story was published, George Taylor said investors withdrew from a critical funding round upon his disclosure that the publication was working on an article. “The situation brought to light the media risk associated with TRU Colors and the understandable concern of being brought into a social media storm on race and violence,” he said. “For most, this is frightening and an unacceptable risk.”
Last week, PNC Bank, which provided the brewery with $9.25 million in financing
last year, did not address questions regarding its ongoing financial relationship with TRU Colors through a representative. The representative instead reiterated the bank’s initial infusion: a $6 million equity investment and $3.25 million secured creditt line.
In his statement, George Taylor characterized PNC’s investment as a refinancing arrangement of TRU Colors’ building and equipment. “After fees and repayments, TRU Colors was left with about $8,000,” he said. He did not immediately answer a follow-up question about this investment.
A Molson Coors representative told the Business Journal “nothing has changed in our relationship with TRU Colors,” when reached Aug. 29. The nation’s largest beer company announced an equity investment in TRU Colors
last year with undisclosed terms.
A company representative told The New Yorker that Molson Coors did not intend to acquire the brewery (the company made no previous public representations otherwise) and described its investment as “a piece of that puzzle to enhance our D.E.I. efforts,” a reference to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
VentureSouth, an angel investment firm with a chapter in Wilmington that funds early-stage startups across the Southeast, invested $500,000 in the brewery, its executive director Charlie Banks recently told the Business Journal. Banks said last week he and the firm stood by George Taylor following the national attention.
Before founding TRU Colors, serial entrepreneur George Taylor acquired Untappd and started NextGlass, both beer-related tech startups that were also headquartered in Wilmington.
“I have spent my career in startups, pursuing risky ideas that I thought would matter. In doing so, I have risked everything and succeeded and also risked everything and failed. Every failure hurt, but TRU Colors is different and tragic on many levels,” George Taylor said. “Good and selfless people who have risked so much to better themselves and our city, have lost their careers—most who found TRU Colors to be their first fair opportunity at a bright future. And our failure will further seed distrust in many of Wilmington’s marginalized and excluded communities and they will again question the intentions and ability of the next person who tries to help.”
The Business Journal has sent additional questions to George Taylor about the closure and impacts but has not yet received responses. Check back later for more details as more information becomes available. Here is George Taylor’s full statement about the announcement.