How local breweries adapt to pandemic to stay afloat.
by Paola Scharberg
After several months of uncertainties, St. Louis breweries are adjusting to the new normal under Covid-19. Breweries across the city don’t look as they did a year ago. Groups of friends are smaller and sharing a table with strangers is in the past. Most are currently offering online purchasing, curbside pick-up, outdoor only seating, reduced hours, social distancing, mandatory masks when ordering, and capacity reduction. Others are currently closed. The way they operate internally has also changed, no longer relying mostly on draft sales.
After the city mandated the shutdown for bars and restaurants, St. Louis breweries were forced to close their doors. As regulations slightly loosened and allowed the service industry to reopen, some of these breweries had to innovate their space to accommodate thirsty clients.
The Business and Marketing Operations Manager at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (UCBC) Ashley Troutman stated, “Prior to the pandemic, about 65% of our entire revenue came from draft sales” she adds, “Slowly things have started to pick up but it’s no where close to what it was before.” Although they have been able to hire some people, they are at about 55 employees.
“Most of our production energy is going into canning and bottling our beers. It’s much faster and less labor intensive to fill kegs of beer, so this has been a big change for us. We used to package about 3 days a week, and now we are packaging every day for 9-10 hours each day,” says Troutman.
Some like 2nd Shift in The Hill got innovative and remodeled their outdoor parking area, creating a comfortable, shaded and socially distanced area with a large fan to help with the St. Louis summer heat. Others like Alpha Brewing Company were lucky to already have a great outdoor area to accommodate CDC guidelines. 4 Hands Brewing Company placed a large outdoor tent that serves customers on reduced hours. Smaller breweries like Civil Life Brewing Company decided to stay closed and use this time to remodel their outdoor patio.
Breweries in Missouri employ 55,000 workers and the industry contributes to $10.2 billion annually. According to Troutman, UCBC had to lay-off 85 of its 120 employees in March.
Jeff Sjerven was one of these servers. He worked at UCBC as a server for over four years and on Mar 17 he found himself without a job. Fortunately, the brewery’s management acted quickly to ensure their employees could maximize their return from unemployment and qualify for the whole 16 weeks of the Cares Act. Sjerven explains that they were able to beat the curve before unemployment websites started crashing by applying early.
St. Louis is known to have a great craft-beer community. In fact, when Covid hit the city, a GoFundMe campaign started to raise funds for the over 600 brewery employees that were furloughed or had a significantly pay decrease. They raised over $30,000 that was split across these individuals. In addition, the Gateway Resiliency Fund provided over $1.3 million to individuals and businesses affected by Covid.
Although breweries are in a better shape than they were in March, what will be their fate once the weather starts getting colder and outdoor seating is no longer possible? Will they continue to evolve in the way they operate or will craft beer enthusiasts be left with less desirable options?