A Virginia craft brewery said it paid tens of thousands of dollars for equipment it never received, and a News4 consumer investigation found it’s not the only one.
Sinistral Brewing Company has been a popular hangout since it opened in Old Town Manassas in November, but Blane and Stacey Perry planned to open it months earlier.
Stacey encouraged Blane’s passion for making beer.
“She told me you gotta get that stuff out of the house, there's way too much stuff in the house,” he said.
So they decided to open a brewery, and one of the first steps was buying a brew system.
They chose Systech Stainless Works, a small company in Ohio.
“We liked the fact that this was a young couple,” Stacey said.
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“It was us,” Blane said.
“They were starting a business, they're in our industry, they were from Ohio where Blane grew up, it's American-made equipment,” Stacey said.
In December 2016, the Perrys wired a $70,000 deposit to Systech, they said. They were told their brew system would be delivered in four-to-six months.
They bought a space and started to set up shop.
“We were thinking we'd be open by Memorial Day weekend,” Stacey said.
But the brew system didn’t arrive by then.
The Perrys said they got a call from Systech owners Jason and Amanda Spurrell in September.
“He was like, ‘Well, you know, we're going to have to close the doors,” Blane said. “I was like, ‘Do I get my deposit back?’ And he said, ‘No, we used that for operating expenses.’”
The Perrys said bills were coming in and they couldn't open their doors without equipment to brew beer.
“We literally had no money,” Stacey said. “We were overdrawn in our bank account. I had no money.”
Systech did use about 10 percent of the Perrys’ money as a deposit on brewing equipment for them, but it wasn’t American made as the contract stated. It was coming from China.
The Perrys had to spend tens of thousands of dollars more to pay the balance.
It was going to be months before they received it from China, so they scrambled to buy a smaller one.
Finally, just before Thanksgiving, Sinistral opened with a limited supply. Last week, they celebrated their grand opening.
“After the first day where we had people show up and they were happy to be here and they liked the beer and we had money to put in the bank account, finally that was a really good night,” Stacey said.
Dozen Breweries Say Paid for Equipment They Didn’t Receive
A News4 consumer investigation found more than a dozen breweries across the country that say they sent money to Systech — totalling more than a half million dollars — but didn’t receive their equipment, told it went to operating costs.
Nine other businesses said they received faulty equipment and spent thousands of dollars on replacements and repairs.
Roger Johnson, owner of Screech Owl Brewing in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, said he sent Systech $34,000 and received shoddy equipment, so he’s suing.
”For bait and switch, for inferior products,” he said. “I have a welder out of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, with a mobile welding unit on call because these welds are constantly splitting, falling apart.”
At least four other lawsuits have been filed against Systech and the Spurrells.
While this was going on, the Spurrells started two more businesses — Ace Metalworks and Final Gravity Home Brew. Ace Metalworks, which sold keg washers, was dissolved in August, according to Kinnek, a small business marketplace.
“What happened to us, what this couple did to us, is not OK,” Stacey said.
“I would like to know was this malicious or are you just horrible business owners?” Blane said.
When the Spurrells didn’t return News4’scalls, News4 went to Canton, Ohio.
At Final Gravity Home Brew, a relative of the Spurrells said they were no longer part of the business and that he was the sole owner.
At the Spurrells’ house, no one answered the door.
Their attorney spoke briefly but said he would get back to News4 but never did and didn’t return follow-up calls.
Shane Hoover, a staff writer for the Canton Repository, met the Spurrells and covered Systech as a success story in its early days.
“My impression of them was that they were young entrepreneurs and they were enthusiastic about their business,” Hoover said.
He said the building was barely big enough to accommodate the workers.
”At the time, I think it was around 16 or 15 workers,” he said.
One of those workers said he liked the Spurrells.
“I used to work for Systech,” Tavian Henderson said. “I used to fabricate the metal there.”
He said they were nice and he was thankful for the job but he noticed the atmosphere change over time.
“He’ll just come in there and just be like real tense, real like something was wrong,” Henderson said. “Things ain’t being met. Deadlines aren’t being done. We had to ship this back out again. We had a lot of reships that we had to do as well.”
It’s unclear exactly what caused Systech to go out of business.
Many of the businesses that say they lost money to Systech are still tapped out.
“There are some of them that are still struggling that won't be able to bounce back from this and that, and I can't sleep at night knowing that, so it would be nice to see justice brought to that couple,” Stacey said.
Neither the Spurrells nor Systech have filed for bankruptcy protection.
In addition to at least five civil lawsuits, the FBI office in Manassas is leading a criminal investigation.
Reported by Susan Hogan, produced by Meredith Royster and edited by Perkins Broussard.