Riley wins small business award


For The Madera Tribune

Riley’s Brewing owner Dan Riley shows off the 2021 California Small Business of the Year award from California State Senator Anna Caballero. Riley’s production manager Jason Webb was also present for the award presentation.

More than a year ago, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Dan Riley of Riley’s Brewing shut down his alcohol-producing machines and transformed them into hand sanitizer making machines to help the community.


“During April of last year, when everything was locked down and COVID was rampant, we took the southern side of the brewery, which is a spirit area,” Riley said. “We used that license under Trump’s emergency action and started creating hand sanitizer.”


During the six month period, between April to September, Riley’s produced two million bottles of hand sanitizer and donated hundreds of thousands more to first responders.


“We got a whole bunch of volunteers to crank out the product,” Riley said. “We started getting ethanol from other places and we were making what we could. We just donated so much to the community.”


For that commitment to the community, California State Senator Anna Caballero honored Dan Riley, who also owns Steel Structures, the 2021 California Small Business of the Year last week.


At first, Riley began making the sanitizer for his friends. Those friends told their friends and it just exploded from there.


“We are allowed to make sanitizer because of the shortage,” Riley said in an April, 2020 interview. “We went from filling a few dozen cases to helping out, and now we’re doing 200,000 bottles a week.”


However, the first people to receive the sanitizer are the front-line workers, the first responders that are in need.


“We donate all we can to the hospital, probation to wherever we have to,” he said.


Riley started producing sanitizer to help people out, but found out that it was more than that. He has been able to employ some of his workers from closed restaurants, including his own, Riley’s Brew Pub.


“We did it to help people out and now there’s a demand,” he said. “Everybody wants it. We were able to apply ourselves and put our industry back in.”


Caballero first contacted Riley to tell him his company had been nominated for the award. He received a call a couple of weeks later that he won the award.


“It was huge,” Riley said. “I had no idea. I didn’t even know it existed. It blew me away when we won. When Anna came and we walked her around, I think that sealed the deal. She saw what happened and what we did. It was really humbling.”


“I was able to visit Dan, his sons and staff in Madera and was so impressed with their values and work ethic. Congratulations, Riley’s Brewing Co., the recognition is well deserved,” Caballero said in a press release.


Riley didn’t start producing hand sanitizer to make money. He just did it to help the community.


“When we got all done, we zeroed at best. We didn’t make any money,” Riley said. “We moved a lot of things, paid for some equipment, but when it was all said and done, we didn’t make any money.”


Riley, who is the co-president of Madera Sunrise Rotary, said this plays right into the Rotary’s theme — Service Above Self.


“I had a lot of people congratulating me,” he said. “I didn’t know it existed and wasn’t trying to win it. We were just trying to do the right thing and get back to work.”


Now that places are more open to the public, Riley is finding different problems.


“We actually see more business now than before, but I can’t get enough raw materials or employees,” he said. “I can’t get enough cans, can’t get enough steel. Everything is delayed. Everything is tough and there are shortages. We can’t find enough people and material. I just have a hard time getting parts.”


In addition to his hand sanitizer, Riley’s Brewing produced Fire Brigade beer in which the proceeds help victims of wildfires.


“We gave a check for $22,000 to the volunteer fire department to the people that lost their houses,” he said. “That’s been a big boom up in the mountains. We still keep track of proceeds and every quarter write them a check to pass to the volunteer departments to keep going.”


Riley is hopeful things get back to normal soon, but he has overcome other crisis and has come out on top.


“We finished dealing with High Speed Rail in 2018,” he said. “We made a deal to work together and not put me out of business, to finally get going after that, and then COVID hits. A few years ago, it was a recession. There’s always something.”

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