Anne Richardson’s guest on this episode of the BSuite podcast is socially responsible business owner Tom Ruff, the face (and heart) behind Portland, Maine’s newest gluten-free craft brewery, Orange Bike Brewing. During the show, Tom speaks about his roots back on an Indiana farm, the origin of the Orange Bike name, and his journey combating racism, sexism, and other inequities of the craft brewing industry. Anne and Tom dive into what it means to be business leaders who prioritize social justice and work every day towards building a better world.
From Riding an Orange eBike to Brewing Gluten-Free Beer
When he was in his mid-fifties, Tom found that “my body and gluten no longer got along.” As a craft beer enthusiast, Tom resolved to create a craft brew that could be enjoyed by all, regardless of gluten intolerance. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when he took a sabbatical from his job in medical recruiting to spend time with his wife and daughter in Portland, ME, Tom purchased an orange ebike and earned a local reputation as the “guy on the orange bike.” From there, he channeled the hard work ethic gleaned from his youth spent on a farm in Indiana, his sharp business acumen, and his passion for social justice into an endeavor that would eventually become Orange Bike Brewing.
Creating a Safe and More Inclusive Craft Beer Industry
Shortly after kicking off the Orange Bike project, Tom became aware of the high degree of pernicious sexism and racism inherent in the craft brewing industry. He closely followed the story of Brienne Allan, former head brewer at Notch Brewing, who took to Instagram to share stories from many women in the craft brewing industry who have been victims of sexual harassment in their workplaces. Tom recalls, “all I could think about is my four year old little girl and I’m like, oh my goodness, this is the world that she’s growing up in.” He also learned about the staggering racial inequality in brewery ownership: only .4 percent of the 32 billion dollar craft beer industry is Black owned. Tom vowed to make a difference by using Orange Bike Brewery as a platform for people who have been abused or discriminated against to share their stories, and he is proud of Orange Bike’s role as an ally and strategic partner for the National Black Brewers Association.
Taking a Stance on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Anne and Tom feel right at home in a classroom since they both grew up in families steeped in academia. They share a deep appreciation for the students of the University of New Hampshire’s B Impact Clinic program who played a large role in helping Richardson Media Group and Orange Bike along their sustainability journeys. Anne and Tom emphasize the importance of remaining open-minded and keeping policies like DEI statements fluid so that they can be adapted to changing business and social landscapes. As Anne highlights, “Who cares if this gets changed 25 times between now and December 31st? We’re just trying to make it better as we go.”
Non-Alcoholic Beer and Making Breweries More Accessible
In addition to his work with the National Black Brewers Association and the Pink Boots Society, Tom remains committed to building an inclusive space in his brewery. He expresses excitement about developing recipes for Orange Bike’s non-alcoholic brews which he hopes will make the brewery experience more welcoming to those who abstain from alcohol for any reason including religious or health concerns. He’s also devoted to making the brewery as accessible as possible to people of all abilities and ages, a goal that hasn’t come without operational or financial challenges. Though he is proud of the community Orange Bike is building, Tom doesn’t want listeners to forget one other key element of Orange Bike’s business model. “The whole point,” as he says it, “is delicious beer.” Tom has recruited a strong team of brewers including Alan Pugsley and Jason Kissinger, both big names in craft beer, to perfect the Orange Bike recipe which uses only certified gluten-free grains.