Toronto brewery overcomes coronavirus pandemic obstacles to launch business

At 11 a.m. on opening day, mask-wearing customers are already rolling into Red Tape Brewery in Toronto’s Upper Beaches neighbourhood.

It’s been a long time coming for married business partners, Sarabeth and Sean Holden, who had planned on opening during the first half of 2020. But with construction delays, permit delays and a pandemic to contend with, they, like so many small business owners, had to roll with the punches.

Launching a business amid the coronavirus pandemic meant additional challenges too. Getting necessary items across the closed Canada-United States border, like the stainless steel brew barrels from Indiana, created stress the Holdens weren’t counting on.

Add dealing with alcohol, a highly regulated substance, it means dealing with all three levels of government.

Then, the HVAC system caused a fire and this week, the canning line malfunctioned just in time for Red Tape’s soft launch brew – which sold out in pre-orders – in a matter of days.

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The taproom at the front of the brewery was supposed to be filled with people drinking and socializing, but that will have to wait. None of it has been easy which is why the couple decided to name their first beer “That Was Easy.”

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“The idea behind ‘That Was Easy’ is that everybody works really hard. You have a tough day… so, at the end of the day, you can open up a can… and just look back at what you’ve done and be proud of it,” said Sarabeth.

Sean started brewing as a hobby 10 years ago. He said he experimented with different styles of beer that weren’t readily available in Ontario. The “Red Tape” name and logo were created in 2014 for use on the couple’s homebrews but the idea for a brewery that would specialize in bespoke beer came in 2018 after the birth of the Holdens’ firstborn, Raymond.

“Our family is all over Ontario, the states and we really wanted to have something to celebrate with them, so we made a special beer, put it in a champagne bottle, corked it, caged it and sent it to everyone with ‘please open when notified,'” said Sean.

“We want to create that same experience that we had for other people,” said Sarabeth.

It takes between six weeks to two months for a bespoke beer to be brewed and labeled. For now, with four beers currently brewing and opening day behind them, the Holdens are looking forward.

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“We’re doing what we love and we’re doing it because we love to celebrate life’s big moments and this is a big life moment for us… but here we are and we’ve done it and I’m pretty freaking proud of that,” said Sarabeth.

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