Hickenlooper sells stake in Wynkoop Brewing

Brewpub pioneer John Hickenlooper has sold his share of Wynkoop Holdings, which operates seven Denver restaurants, to his employees.

Observers estimated that Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver since 2003, received in the neighborhood of $7 million for his 40% share of some of the best-known eateries in Denver.

Hickenlooper and the late Russell Schehrer founded Wynkoop Brewing in 1988 and soon opened or consulted on the opening of dozens of other brewpubs across the country. The Wynkoop influence can still be seen and tasted in brewpubs from San Francisco to Buffalo, N.Y.

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

Lee Driscoll, CEO of Wynkoop Holdings Inc. and the second- largest shareholder of the restaurants, with 35%, said there are initially six new owners.

But there will be about 20 owners when shares are granted to managers of the restaurants, head chefs, and other key executives and longtime employees, he said. However, it will not be an employee stock ownership plan, in which every employee typically can own shares, he said.

Hickenlooper said he first learned about the offer about a month ago.

“They were pretty far down the planning before they approached me,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper had been laid off from his job as a geologist in 1986 and shortly thereafter visited Falling Rock (soon to be called Triple Rock) Ale House in Berkeley, Calif. There was a line out the door on a Wednesday night, and Hickenlooper — who began homebrewing in 1971 — was taken by the concept of serving fresh beer brewed on the premises.

He borrowed a book on writing a business plan from the library, hooked up with Schehrer (the 1985 American Homebrewers Association Homebrewer of the Year) and, a mere two years later, Wynkoop was open.