TRU Colors Brewing Co., a project to employ gang members
as a way to combat violence, plans to open its brewery in Dutch Square Industrial Park, according to company officials.
The business signed a lease a couple of weeks ago for more than 40,000 square feet of space at 306 Old Dairy Road to house its commercial brewing operations as well as offices for other, non-beer related programming, said TRU Colors Chairman George Taylor.
The plan now, he said, is to start shipping beer from the facility off Market Street in January.
“We have a lot to do in six months,” Taylor said this week from the downtown Wilmington offices of Untappd, where a number of the initial hires working on TRU Colors has been working from this year.
Taylor, whose background is in founding and building tech startups, started with the idea early last year in the wake of a deadly, gang-related shooting by meeting with local gang leaders. Those meetings have broadened to other cities as the idea has grown from just a beer brand to other ways to engage gang members. The concept is to employ active gang members – not former members – with the thought that those involved with the company would use their influence in the communities to deter violence.
Earlier plans to open the brewery closer to downtown with a public taproom or brewpub restaurant have pivoted to just focusing on getting the beer into production and distributed. One issue with opening the facility downtown, Taylor said, was finding available space large enough that would accommodate it. As for a taproom or restaurant, that will have to wait for now, he said.
“Eventually we’d like to put something downtown, but we need to get the beer out,” Taylor said, adding that they are working on deals with distributors now and hope to cover the North Carolina and Georgia markets after launching.
“We have a true opportunity next year to have TRU Colors beer in every city in the country,” he said.
That beer at launch, Taylor said, will likely be one kind – two at the most – as opposed to a lineup. And though Taylor would not comment on the type of beer, he said the recipes have been developed, and three or four are being taste tested.
“We’re not a traditional microbrew. We’re looking for a beer that has good crossover with the urban market,” he said.
As work begins on upfitting the Dutch Square space – a former medical supply warehouse – room also is being devoted to TRU Colors activities that are unaffiliated with brewing beer.
About 7,000 square feet will be dedicated to office space, including for its other units: TRU Impact (a work apprenticeship program), TRU Events (from smaller meetups and community events to large entrepreneurship gatherings), and TRU View News (video-based coverage about the communities, headed up by journalist and author Kevin Maurer).
Taylor said about 35 people are expected to work in the brewery, 40 people on the apprentice team and about 25 people in the other facets, such as in news, events, marketing, finance and general administration.
“Of those we expect over 80 percent to be active gang members,” he said.
Vice presidents and directors, from operations to sales to marketing, would be paired with gang members for those duties while others would work in jobs at the brewery ranging from production to the warehouse.
The apprentice program started earlier this year as Taylor was looking for ways to get some of the gang members hired before the brewery positions became available. TRU Colors partnered up with area companies including in construction and landscaping, training the gang members, covering an hourly pay and workers comp and billing out the participating companies. The idea now is to continue growing the work placement program, even those that don’t lead to a brewery position.
Those non-beer units are the ones starting to make inroads into other cities, Taylor said. He said regular meetup events have started taking place in Atlanta, where the company also is talking with city officials about the possibility of hiring apprentices in their parks and recreation department.
A large event planned for later this year in Wilmington, Taylor said, involves Tony Robbins’ team though he declined to comment on whether the author and motivation speaker himself will visit.
“It’s a very fluid environment,” Taylor said about the project’s evolving focuses, pointing out that there’s a lack of other business examples to look at. While a number of companies in the country give former gang members employment opportunities, hiring active gang members is not the standard approach. “There’s nobody else to call.”