A handful of breweries that initially closed their doors in March have begun to reopen for to-go-only orders. One of those is Thirsty Eye Brewing, which will reopen to the public starting today (Thursday) from 3 to 7 p.m. at 206 Broadway Blvd. SE.
Curious about the process that led up to this decision to reverse course, I contacted general manager Amelia Salas via a phone interview.
“We did get our PPP grant to pay the employees, so that’s helping,” Amelia said. “Initially we kind of shut down because there were so many changes coming at us. With the threat looming if you were out of compliance you could lose your business license, (so we figured) why don’t we let things settle in and see where we land. There were so many changes coming down in mid-March, we just kind of kept feeling like as soon as we adjust the very next day there was something else. Are we going to go to full-on lockdown?
“In the meantime, I’d been going to other breweries and trying to figure out what they’re doing. What do I like about what they’re doing? Also reading the Brewers Association guidelines for reopening.”
Ultimately, the owners of Thirsty Eye and Amelia came up with a plan. They tested it out with brewery mug club members last weekend, and clearly it worked. The new hours will be Thursday through Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m.
“We’ve really tried to limit any contact,” Amelia said. “We have three of us working. We each have our own station, but don’t overlap. We’ve converted our front door into a pickup window. We’re not handling things too much. If we do we have to be in close proximity, at least there’s some sort of barrier in addition to we’re wearing masks and gloves. We’re trying to make sure we’re keeping safe from each other. We’re being mindful of the six-foot rule.”
The setup has one employee taking orders over the phone, another sanitizing and then filling growlers, and the third is at the front dealing directly with the customers. Last weekend helped the three employees, including Amelia, learn how to keep things running smoothly under this new format.
“Yeah, exactly, and also knowing where to do we need to clarify things,” Amelia said. “How do we communicate between each other in a good manner? The person taking the phone order needs to be able to make sure the person who gives the growlers out can go this is paid, (while) this one they wanted to pay when they got here. Coming up with that system. In the weeks that we were closed I was doing my own kind of trials. I was taking orders from friends and families, basically where I was doing everything. Copying other curbside pickups.
“(But) in my research we couldn’t really do curbside. In that case we’ll do the pickup window. I insisted on having the plexiglass. Having the front door open it’s spring, the wind can be pretty brutal. So many people are following all the guidelines wearing their masks, but there are people who aren’t. I wanted to make sure my crew was safe or as safe as I could keep them, and that they weren’t being exposed. By taking care of ourselves we’re protecting more than just us.”
Broadway is not really the type of street where one can easily stop, so it is easy to see why the pickup window was a better, and safer, idea.
For now, Thirsty Eye is filling growlers, both their own and those from customers. People can choose to trade their growler for a new one at no cost, or wait until their own gets an extra blast of sanitizer. As always, customers should be patient with the staff, as the staff was patient when waiting on the growlers themselves to arrive.
“We also needed to get more growlers,” Amelia said. “There’s been a backstop, but we’ve found a source. We’ve got some local sources we can (also) tap. We’ve already got our crowler cans in, we’re just waiting on our crowler (machine). It shipped last week from Michigan. My understanding it’s going ground. We’re expecting a couple weeks until it arrives.”
The more crowler machines in town, the merrier beer drinkers will be, or least that is our opinion.
“That’s on the horizon for us, as well as we are building a new website,” Amelia said. “Initially my thought was we would try to limit as much points of contact as possible. We’re having people when they call in we’re offering to have them pay over the phone. We’re still capable of accepting those forms of payment, we’re just putting protocols in place.”
Brewer John Kofonow had been a busy man right before the shutdown, too.
“Right around the time we closed he had just brewed,” Amelia said. “We had a whole bunch of beers ready in the tank when we closed. Our core beers had been run down pretty low. Our El Drac is pretty new. Odin’s Eye he had brewed for April 4. We had just made a stout right as we’d closed. Our house red, there’s a bunch of brand new beers. We need to move these. That’s part of the reason I was taking orders. Some hadn’t been kegged yet. That coincided with the PPP grant coming in. I’ve got a plan, let’s do it!”
The full list of house beers now available for growler fills includes El Drac IPA, Citrus Buzz (Orange Blossom Honey Wheat), Rojo Fog (Amber Ale), El Ojo Rojo (Red Ale), Rented Tux (Vanilla Porter), Odin’s Eye (Sahti Inspired Ale), and Father O’Malley’s Holy Water (Irish Dry Stout). There are also guest taps from Nexus (IPA), Second Street (Agua Fria Pilsner, Boneshaker Amber, Idaho 7 Pale Ale), and Rowley Farmhouse Ales (Germophile Berliner Weisse).
“For right now we’re just doing beer,” Amelia said. “We’re going to start opening up more of our menu. I feel (when) we’ve got the beer part solid, then I want to start doing coffee to go, and then our nachos and our green chile stew. We’re hoping to see how things play out. We’re going to start checking in with our members and what not to see if this is something they want from us at this time, or are we going to be spinning our wheels.
“No one knows how long this is going on for. I hear different things when we can start opening our doors and have people come in. In the meantime, we weren’t prepared for a to-go clientele. Now we’ve put some things in place. We had always wanted the crowler machine but hadn’t made that investment.”
In a fun little twist, the staff will also be dressing up with a specific theme for each day — Tu Tu Thursday, Steampunk Friday, Day of the Dead Saturday. Customers are encouraged to join in, possibly even for discounts, though that is not quite official yet.
A big thanks to Amelia for taking the time to chat over the phone. We wish her and everyone at Thirsty Eye plenty of luck going forward, and we are happy to have them back among the active breweries in New Mexico.
Keep supporting local!