By Ron Bartizek email@example.comBusiness & Consumer / City Editor
WILKES-BARRE – Ron Hammond, the new chief executive officer of The Lion Brewery, and new president Cliff Risell looked at several opportunities during their yearlong search for a business to buy. “There was nothing quite as interesting as Lion,” Hammond said Tuesday, and with financing from Blue Point Capital Partners they purchased the 102-year-old brewery, which has more than kept pace with its industry in recent years. Hammond said no staffing changes are expected and the new owners’ intention is to make the business grow. He said nothing in the acquisition’s terms would affect an existing contract with 95 unionized workers that expires next May. There are about 150 employees in all. “One of the great assets of The Lion Brewery is its employees,” he said. Tanks and other equipment aren’t really the brewery, “it’s the people that brew the quality products.” Hammond, 52, and Risell, who is a few years older, have known each other for 30 years and each had most recently held the position of executive vice president of operations at two different soft drink bottling companies, Hammond in Charlotte, N.C., and Risell in Philadelphia. “Way back when Cliff was my boss,” Hammond said. Now they are business partners. “We were looking for businesses that were involved mostly in New Age beverages,” such as ginger beer and other unique products. The partners also recognized the increasing popularity of small-batch and regional beers. “Craft beers are growing at a much higher clip,” than major brands, Hammond said. The Lion fit another requirement, with a strong presence as a producer for beverage marketers from outside the area who don’t want or can’t afford their own production facilities. Hammond said about 70 percent of The Lion’s revenue comes from contract work. The Lion is “very ensconced in the New Age market, contract, craft beer and has a nice portfolio of their own brands,” Hammond said. Hammond will not move to Pennsylvania, and Risell will stay in the Philadelphia area for now. Hammond suggested this may not be their only acquisition. “We’re not closed to buying other businesses,” Hammond said. “Certainly we want to grow the business,” he said, and he would like to add another production line at some point. He could not say whether that might turn out cans or bottles. “We’ll have to see how we grow.” Former owners Chuck Lawson and Patrick Belardi will stay involved. Lawson led the $18.5 million buyout that returned the brewery to private hands in 1999 after running it for previous owner, Quincy Partners. Hammond declined to say the value of the latest transaction. “We don’t think we’re going to break stride at all,” Hammond said.