Breweries express varying levels of disappointment and frustration with latest change to state regulations

Brewery taprooms must remain empty for at least another two weeks, even as other retailers were allowed to partially reopen to in-house customers this week.

At the start of the week, we sent out a single question to all the brewery owners asking how they were preparing their taprooms for a possible reopening this weekend. The idea was to hold back publishing any of those answers until Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made the expected partial reopening official.

Instead, the Wednesday news conference said restaurants, and by extension breweries, would remain closed to dine-in customers for the rest of May. It was an unfortunate development for the industry, which must remain reliant solely on takeout orders of beer and food for at least another two weeks.

While the safety of customers and staff is of course the most important part of any potential reopening, money is getting tight at a lot of breweries. We sent out three new questions and have heard back from eight brewery owners/representatives so far. If we receive any additional responses, we will update this story.

NMDSBC: Are you disappointed in the governor’s decision to still deny dine-in and remain in a to-go only model?

Scott Salvas, Brew Lab 101: Yes, we are disappointed and more importantly many of our customers and brewery industry supporters are disappointed and upset.

Matt Simonds, Broken Trail: Disappointed? Of course. Sad, upset, angry.

Joel Gregory, Ex Novo: Of course, but not surprised. NM has been toward the front on a lot of these restrictions and I expected us to be later in opening than a lot of other states. I don’t think any of us were ready for 10 weeks of this closure, followed by indefinite limited-capacity, but here we are and we’re adapting!

Jeff Erway, La Cumbre: Of course we are disappointed, but in the current situation we understand the decision and will carry on with the business that we still have.

John Gozigian, La Reforma: I’m philosophical about it. History will tell us what the correct decision was. Will the short-term pain ultimately lead to a stronger recovery? Or, will the extended restrictions make any eventual recovery meaningless for those who won’t survive the current crisis? One thing that has become clear is that, even with aggressive cost cutting, a to-go-only model is not sustainable for the majority of operators.

Ali Cattin, Red Door: Not disappointed, it is really what we were expecting. You can’t look at NM infection numbers and reasonably say it’s safe to reopen bars. We are grateful to be able to continue with the to-go model as we have been.

Denise Baker, Rio Bravo: Very much disappointed.

Nico Ortiz, Turtle Mountain: Very disappointed, but not surprised. She wants to avoid having any death on her hands, and will sacrifice the restaurant and brewery industries to make sure that is accomplished. It is evident that she has never owned a business, and has no empathy for what we are going through at the present time. Her eyes are likely on going to DC anyway.

NMDSBC: With retailers only being allowed at a 25-percent capacity, would something similar work at all for any of you? Or would it need to be at 50 percent or higher?

Brew Lab 101: For us and most breweries, I would say at least 50 percent is necessary to reasonably accommodate customers. I’m concerned that 25 percent will only allow a few tables at most places and we will end up with lines of people upset about having to wait to get in. Even with a large occupancy rating, once you cut out bar seating, large community tables (only six allowed per table), and every other fixed table to accommodate 6-foot spacing, you are not left with much. 25 percent will likely be a hassle for most to control.

Broken Trail: The problem with 10-20-50 or whatever percent capacity is that it turns into a public comfort problem. If I was at 25-percent capacity from open to close, seven days a week, yeah. I’d be okay. But, if I am at 25 percent of my pre-closure revenue, absolutely not.

Ex Novo: This would be a big blow for us, our taproom only has a capacity of 80, so opening for 20 people including staff would be very strange. The headache of trying to limit people coming in and and turning away a lot of folks who want to be one of those 20 seems like it wouldn’t be worth it. I hope they consider doing something more thoughtful than a blanket percentage — our capacity number is because of our restroom count, not square footage, not to mention we have a large patio space where social distancing would be very easy. Oregon announced they’d be opening just mandating the six feet between tables and letting that rule the capacity, without putting a cap on the percentage. That makes sense to me; I’ve seen crowded aisles at Lowe’s that are complying with their percentage capacity rules. We could do much better.

La Cumbre: No idea. It would seem to me that at 25 percent, it would be so empty in here it would almost be eerie. Don’t know, but I don’t think so.

La Reforma: Most restaurants/taprooms are only profitable at 100-percent capacity. That said, onsite sales margins are far greater than to-go sales margins. Any increase in onsite capacity would help operators mitigate losses and hang on longer.

Red Door: 25 percent would be weirdly empty, we would rather continue as a “to-go only” operation as it is most cost-effective. Table service means more labor for not much more in sales with the added risk of exposing our staff to infected people.

Rio Bravo: Why does the governor trust (big box) retailers to only allow 20 percent and not restaurants or breweries?

Turtle Mountain: Turtle Mountain has a capacity of 325, so we can easily make 25-percent capacity work. The ability to sell pints at $5.50 is what we need.

NMDSBC: Can your brewery hold out until June?

Brew Lab 101: We can hold out to June because financially we are doing OK with the to-go only model, but it’s not much fun and I don’t think the public can wait much longer.

Broken Trail: Ask my landlord. I haven’t been blessed with an EIDL loan or a huge emergency fund. They’ve suspended rent for a limited time, but it is not like they don’t have a mortgage to pay. At some point I’m going to get a gigantic bill. At that point, I’m fucked. June, May, July, whatever. I’m fucked.

Ex Novo: Yes, but not because anyone here has deep pockets — (we are) surviving solely because we’re able to package beers and our community is supporting us.

La Cumbre: Package sales are keeping us going. We’ll make it.

La Reforma: Yes, but certainly not indefinitely. Even the well-capitalized have a finite lifespan operating under the current model. We are all vulnerable to attrition, it just depends on how long this lasts.

Red Door: We’ll be OK.

Rio Bravo: Yes, if customers keep coming in for curbside and takeout.

Turtle Mountain: Yup. I’ve received a PPP loan and am working on an EIDL loan. Due to funding restrictions I’m not sure if I can use the money, but having it in the bank as an insurance policy puts my mind at ease.

A couple of the breweries, before and after the above questions were sent out, did tell us how they will prepare for customers when people are allowed to sit inside.

NMDSBC: What is your brewery doing to prepare for a partial reopening to customers being allowed to sit inside?

Ex Novo: Staff will be trained on all our new safety and sanitation procedures, and since we have a capacity of 80 (this is due to having only two restrooms, not square footage) we’re looking at how to best utilize 40 seats and safely work with guests when more want to be here than we have space for. We’ll have only one entrance so we can count guests in/out of the patio, and we’ll be streamlining our to-go beer options as well. We’re set up well for this with the patio being large; 40 people will not seem like many at all, and it will be easy to get some space in the open air.

La Reforma: We’re prepared to go to an all-disposable service model to eliminate ware-washing and handling of used service items. We also have online ordering set up which will allow guests to order directly through our website, even when dining in, if they choose. That way, the only point of contact is food and beverage delivery. We will also continue to offer traditional service with enhanced distancing measures.

* * * * *

As always, a big thank you to the breweries who responded to our questions. Trust me, I would rather go out and interview everyone in person than rely on email, but that is not really possible right now. Instead, all any of us can do is to keep showing our amazing levels of support for our breweries. Buy beers to go, grab some food, snag some merch, order a gift card for later use, but keep showing up! Oh, and do not forget your masks, because those are now mandatory when you go out in public as of this Saturday.

— Stoutmeister

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