Helping Where He Can

Ryan Schildkraut contributes to the effort to support craft brewing employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published in 2020 Minnesota Super Lawyers Magazine

On the day before an expected “shelter in place” directive from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Ryan Schildkraut has a lot to grapple with. “It’s unnerving,” says the mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Winthrop & Weinstine in Minneapolis. “I’m used to being the subject matter expert, getting questions all day that I pretty much always know the answer to—and if I don’t know the answer, I know how to find the answer. The last two weeks, I’ve been getting questions that I’ve never been asked before. Fortunately, our firm quickly assembled a dedicated COVID-19 legal team, so my colleagues have been great in helping me give practical advice in response to these challenging questions.”

Twenty-five percent of Schildkraut’s clients are craft breweries. With many businesses not considered critical services closed by the “#stayhomeMN” order, those clients were left wondering how their businesses would be affected. “There’s going to be a list of essential businesses that are allowed to stay open, and everybody is going to close,” he says. “My question was, some businesses are going to be clearly nonessential, but for the vast majority it’s going to be unclear. What are exactly are we telling people? ‘Stay open unless you’re clearly excluded from the list?’ Or ‘you have to close unless you’re clearly included?’

“This is all new territory.”

One complexity involves the classification of liquor stores as essential. “In Minnesota, obviously the taprooms will stay closed—you can’t walk in and buy a pint,” he says. “But they’re legally allowed to sell growlers and do deliveries. So if liquor stores can stay open to sell beer, then these breweries should be allowed to stay open. The exception should be any retailer that has a valid license to sell alcohol for off-site consumption should be able to stay open. You can’t just pick a type of business in that category.”

To that end, Schildkraut and colleagues drafted a letter to the governor on behalf of 10 brewery clients, requesting that to the extent that alcohol sales are deemed essential, the rules apply equally to all businesses selling alcohol. When the order came on March 25, it confirmed that breweries will be able to stay open for production and for sales of growlers and crowlers.

Amidst the uncertainly, Schildkraut jumped at a pro bono opportunity to help industry workers.

Soon after restaurants and taprooms across the state were forced to temporarily close, Utepils Brewing president Dan Justesen, a longtime client of Schildkraut’s, reached out. “Dan said, ‘It’s going to be really tough for our employees if all we can do is sell growlers. … What we’d like to do is establish some sort of foundation to provide assistance to employees of our brewery, other breweries, and the hospitality industry in general who were really affected by this.’”

And so the Silver Linings Fund was born. Schildkraut and company moved quickly to lay the groundwork. They incorporated a new nonprofit entity, and are working with the IRS on the application for the fund to be taxed as a 501c3 organization.

In addition to general donations, the fund is supported by 100% of the sales of series of new beers brewed by Utepils and potentially other breweries as well.

“What I like about this is that it’s not something they’re just doing for themselves,” Schildkraut says. “They’re trying to bring the industry together.”

You can donate to the Silver Linings Fund at gofundme.com/f/silver-linings-series.

For more information and articles for legal professionals navigating COVID-19 as it relates to their law practice and clients, visit FindLaw’s COVID-19 resource center or visit superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).  

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