RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Blue Grasshopper Brewery that began its business in Rio Rancho six years ago is closing two locations and has sold another location.
In 2014, co-owners Greg Nielsen and Peter Apers opened the first Blue Grasshopper on Arrowhead Ridge Drive.
Nielsen had money saved up for retirement and decided to invest what he had saved into the brewery. With Nielsen having a master’s degree in business and Apers being a contractor, the two were able to keep costs low in its build-out and opening.
“We didn’t want to go too big because we really had no idea what we were doing or what the response was going to be. And the Rio Rancho location was successful from day one,” Nielsen said.
The success of this location would continue, prompting Nielsen and Apers to add a patio.
Eventually, they wanted to expand even more, and when the unit next to Blue Grasshopper became available, they wanted to expand into it.
“Had that happened, in retrospect, that probably would have been by far the best idea,” Nielsen said. “But just as we were getting ready to cross the T’s and dot the I’s, we were notified by the property owner that they found another tenant, and they decided to just go with the new tenant rather than do some of the things that they would have had to do to make it work for us.”
This prompted Nielsen and Apers to open a second location at Riverside Plaza in Albuquerque.
“We took on a lot of debt to do that,” Nielsen said.
After paying off the debt taken on from opening a second location, Nielsen and Apers broke a golden rule in business.
“And then I violated what I knew with a business background, what was a primary directive if you’re running a business, which is don’t expand too fast,” he said.
Apers found a property on Second Street in downtown Albuquerque.
“I mean, it was an amazing offer; it was 10,000 square feet for $3,000 a month. And looking at that, there was no way that could fail. And in that area, we thought, ‘This is immediately going to be a success,'” Nielsen said.
They decided to open up a third location of the Blue Grasshopper.
“Then the first clue that this was a bad idea: It took us almost a year to get the permit through the city. And paying rent during that time really ate into what we had for a build fund,” Nielsen said.
Once they finally received permits, they had enough funds to buy materials, Nielsen said. Apers had to do most of the work himself.
It took two years to open the location, he said.
“The first night it opened was decent; it wasn’t like the other two and that probably should have been a clue there,” Nielsen said.
With Riverside and the Rio Rancho location being successful, Nielsen thought the same would happen with the third location.
“But we totally misunderstood the demographics down there because that crowd wasn’t looking for food and music and what we had to offer — our demographic is much older than what we found in that area — so it went downhill constantly,” he said.
The new location was under-performing by about $20,000 a month, Nielsen said.
“It was sucking the life out of the other two and so we ended up making the decision, ‘We are just going to close it down and walk away,'” he said.
Because Nielsen and Apers took on so much debt, they were going to pay off their credit by selling the Blue Grasshopper.
“So we did find a buyer and we were all set, and again we were at that point of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and coronavirus hit. And the buyer is a local restaurateur,” he said.
The buyer owned a few IHOPs and some other facilities.
“When he was forced to close all of them, everything was put on hold and creditors were just bombarding me with what they need and so on,” Nielsen said. “We finally just got pushed to the point where there was nothing else for us to do except close the business and file for bankruptcy.”
Nielsen said there is good news: They were able to sell the Riverside location to Jon Shermerhorn, an investor, friend and customer.
“He is going to keep it the same because that was always a profitable business,” he said.
Among the few things Shermerhorn is changing is the name Blue Grasshopper to The Hopper Brewery. The Hopper will open on the other side of the pandemic, Nielsen said.
During all this, Nielsen lost his hearing and is slowly getting it back. The 73-year-old man plans to move on in the next chapter of his life with a few goals.
“Get my hearing back and go to work as Presbyterian Hospital security and help Jon get the new Hopper up and running,” he said.