Public Safety

Decorah Brewery Toppling Goliath sues former employee and rival Cedar Rapids company

Lawsuit claims employee broke noncompete agreement

A tray of sample beers at Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa. (Josh Noel/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
A tray of sample beers at Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa. (Josh Noel/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

DECORAH — A regional brewery in Decorah is suing its former head brewer, contending that the brewer — who signed a noncompete agreement for two years — is violating those terms by helping Thew Brewing Co. in Cedar Rapids.

Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. also is suing Thew for knowingly violating the noncompete agreement.

Toppling filed the lawsuit last Friday in Winneshiek County District Court claiming Chris Flenker of Cedar Rapids, who worked there from 2015 to January 2017, signed an employment agreement, stating upon termination he couldn’t work for another brewery within 150 miles of Toppling for two years.

Toppling Goliath is well-known in the brewing industry for its IPAs, pale ales and barrel-aged stouts, according to the lawsuit. Ratebeer named Toppling the second best brewery in the world.

Flenker, in connection with his job, had access to nearly all of the Toppling’s confidential and proprietary information, including recipes, formulas, processes and techniques, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Flenker told Clark Lewey, Toppling’s owner, on Jan. 3, 2017, that he intended to open a brewery with his brother using the knowledge he gained working for Lewey.

During a podcast, “A Lo-Fi Iowa Beer Podcast,” in March, Flenker said he was brewer and co-owner of Thew Brewing, which opened March 16 in Cedar Rapids, according to the lawsuit.

In another podcast in May — “Havin’ One” — Travis and Haley Flenker, co-owners of Thew, said Chris Flenker was their head brewer.

The suit also claims Thew Brewing knew of the noncompete agreement and “acted maliciously and wantonly in interfering” with the contract by employing Chris Flenker.

The lawsuit asks the court for an injunction to block Chris Flenker from working at Thew Brewing and seeks damages. A hearing is set for Aug. 31 in Winneshiek County District Court.

Travis Flenker said in a statement Tuesday he disagrees with the assertions made in the lawsuit and is “disappointed” Toppling decided to pursue legal action.

“The Iowa craft beer community is wonderful, and we appreciate all of the positivity that has come our way since we opened,” he added. “We will not let this distract us from achieving our mission to give back to the communities we touch.”

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