Since the quarantine began, local breweries have handled the change in multiple ways. Among the announcements of closures and re-openings, new hours, sanitary procedures, specials and discounted prices, and an increase in package and to-go offerings, something else began to stand out. A genuine concern for the newly disrupted livelihood of the breweries’ front-liners — the hourly staff who make sure we the customers get our beer (and food) delivered correctly, in a timely manner, and with a smile.
Santa Fe Brewing reached out to us about their decision to donate 100 percent of their taproom and online sales back to their hourly staff. Meanwhile, the new Northeast Heights Albuquerque location at Tin Can Alley is nearing completion, and they recently rolled out a new line of seltzers and ciders. Naturally, we were curious about the details, and Jarrett Babincsak, vice president of sales and marketing, kindly responded to our emailed questions.
NMDSBC: We were told that you are donating 100 percent of your taproom and online sales back to your hourly staff. How did you come to the decision that you were able to do that, and are you planning to continue through the duration of the stay-at-home order?
JB: When things really started to pick up momentum in mid-March we decided that we had to provide stability for our people in the short term. Our initial concerns were around the cash flow realities of our people given that state and federal assistance would likely be slow in coming and details at that time were very limited. Improved unemployment benefits, stimulus support — those things sound material and may eventually be material — but, timing is everything, right? We’ve seen the reality of how the different programs are being administered, and when you need to buy food for your family or pay rent, money you might get six weeks from now doesn’t help much in the present.
The initial commitment we made to our hourly staff was to pay, through the expiration of the first public health order, a baseline wage. We’ve also made additional hours available working taproom, packaging, and other shifts to help our people stay as close to whole as possible. We’ve since extended that commitment and are still paying our hourly staff this way. Ultimately, we’re committed to continuing as long as we can do so without jeopardizing the long-term health of the company, and the fundraising component is helping enable us to do so. We’ve been very humbled and inspired by the support people have shown us, not just here in NM, but from around the country.
NMDSBC: How many hourly staff do you have, and of those, how many are currently still working? For those who are not currently working, have most of them decided to stay on with you during this time?
JB: We have 40 hourly folks and 72 total employees. All members of our team are working in some fashion, and all hourly employees are being compensated as mentioned earlier. We’ve not laid off, furloughed, or reduced anyone’s compensation.
NMDSBC: Are all of your locations currently open for to-go orders? What are your recommendations for people who would like to make an order, either online or in person? And, what is available?
JB: All of our locations have remained open and our hours of operation are 3 to 7 p.m. We’ll fill new growlers, but have focused primarily on package to-go. We’re also selling kegs. Customers can call in their order, or come in to place one knowing that we’re employing all social distancing and cleanliness best practices.
NMDSBC: You are one of several local breweries to offer packaged beer off-site (e.g., grocery stores, etc.). How much of your decision to donate back to the staff (and keep your normal business operations going) is reliant on those sales?
JB: We’re certainly very thankful to have positioned ourselves to survive in this environment, but more importantly, to do so while also taking care of our people.
NMDSBC: Tin Can Alley, your new location on Alameda and San Pedro in Albuquerque, is currently under construction. Can you give us a brief preview of what that will be like when it opens (Green Jeans 2.0)? Has the current situation brought about any challenges to that project?
JB: Tin Can Alley, like Green Jeans, is a local-business driven, multi-tenant environment, and our goal was to create another warm, inviting, family-friendly space, for people to come together and celebrate over local food and beer. There will be 10 local businesses at Tin Can Alley, and right next door, our friends from Stone Age will have another world-class indoor climbing facility. Local food from Amore, SA BBQ, Guava Tree, Pho Kup, and Flip-Flops, juice and ice cream from Squeezed Juice Bar & Nitro Fog, coffee from Michael Thomas Coffee Roasters, local artisan products from Cocoa Flora, and of course beer from SFBC, all under one big glass roof. You’ll be able to order food from any of the restaurants and have it delivered right to your table inside the SFBC taproom. Also, the views are outstanding — the Sandias, the Valley, Balloon Fiesta. If this situation had not materialized we’d be open already, but all of the people working on the project have really come together in a great way to help each other through this. It’s been challenging for everyone, but we’re adapting together along with the environment. The experience at TCA will be one of a kind, and we can’t wait to share the space with everyone.
NMDSBC: In the midst of all this, you are also offering a new line of ciders and seltzers. Can you talk a little bit about those offerings, how they came about, and where they are currently available?
JB: Our customers have been asking for something gluten free for a long time, and we’ve been wanting to make ciders for just as long. The only thing keeping us from getting to ciders sooner was trying to keep up with demand for our beers. But, once we installed our new brewhouse and a few new tanks last summer, we had the capacity to bring the ciders to life. Many of the other ciders on the market have fruits other than apple in the name or description, but are artificially flavored. Our ciders are made with only real fruit. Making an all-natural product was important to us.
The decision to make seltzers was driven by our staff as much as by our customers. Sometimes you just want something light and crushable or need to mix it up. We made the decision early though that if we couldn’t make an all-natural seltzer the SFBC way, a true craft seltzer that we were proud to put our name on, we’d have to pass on making one despite the obvious demand. We weren’t going to rush out a copycat to try and capitalize on the seltzer hysteria. Our seltzers are called Santa Frescas, because they’re inspired by the agua fresca. All natural, real fruit, no BS, while also being gluten free, low calorie and low sugar. They taste and smell like real lemon and lime because there’s actual lemon and lime juice in them, and they have more mouthfeel and nuance.
The biggest challenge in rolling out the four new brands has been access to market. The liquor and on-premise channels have been closed, and that’s been compounded by the fact that most supermarkets and convenience stores have been unable to conduct their annual spring resets. We’ve secured new distribution in outlets across the state for the new brands, but those have been slow in coming. Once things open back up, even on a limited basis, we’ll see much broader distribution on our new products. Right now, you can find them in many of the supermarkets across the state, Costco in a new variety pack that should hit stores later this week, and at our taprooms.
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Thanks so much to Jarrett for taking the time to answer these questions, and to Santa Fe’s press contact Evan Wrons for connecting with us and setting up the (virtual) interview.
Keep supporting local!