Over the course of the next few days and weeks, the Crew will be catching up with as many breweries as we can to see how they survived the lockdown, how things are going with customers allowed back inside and on patios at 50-percent occupancy, and what additional changes and developments are afoot.
To kick things off, I contacted La Cumbre owner/master brewer Jeff Erway via email and Marble president/chief operating officer Barbie Gonzalez by phone to see how the largest breweries in Albuquerque handled opening weekend.
Advance preparation was the key for Marble.
“Great, really, really great,” Barbie said. “Definitely, this weekend things were solid. People were so happy to be back. We were ready. We went over and over our reopening model so many times. We had staff meetings prior to opening, to go over each location’s specific model. We hired people ahead of time. We were ready to rock and roll. It was better than I expected, honestly. I was a ball of nerves. We’re essentially starting from scratch all over again. Our model is so different from what we had previously. I have a great staff, so it’s not a surprise that they could handle this.”
The toughest part of the weekend for both breweries was the sheer number of people who showed up to enjoy a pint on the patios, with only half the usual seats available between the five taprooms.
“(It was) about what we expected,” Jeff wrote in terms of the crowds. “With only six tables, we figured both would be full pretty much all day, and they were until about 9 p.m. There was a wait to get a table about 90 percent of the time.”
“The only challenge, per se, was we didn’t have enough seats available for the people that wanted to come in, that’s it,” Barbie said. “I hate the way that that sounds, I didn’t want it to sound arrogant, but really it was people waiting. That was the biggest challenge, telling them we can’t seat them right now.”
Most of the regulars for both breweries were properly behaved. In general, the only issue for customers was some mild confusion about when they needed to wear their masks (not while sitting, but while walking to the restroom, for instance). There were, sadly, some negative exceptions.
“We had a very small percentage that were being defiant,” Barbie said. “If they didn’t have a mask, we wouldn’t let them in. For everyone else, it was like when they got up to go to the restroom (and forgot to put it on). If people showed up with a mask, they were ready.”
For the staff members, adjusting to the new routines, which included table service only and constant cleaning, it was better than expected.
“What was a challenge was the making adjustments from what we thought would work to what actually did work,” Jeff wrote. “Getting everyone on the same page as far as SOPs was challenging because it’s all new. The staff did great, though.”
Barbie said her three staffs stuck to their new procedures and standards throughout the weekend.
“Nope, no on the fly adjustments,” she said. “Our plan has been fully set. We went over and over our model. We had meetings where I literally sat there and put myself in the position of the (customer) most afraid of coming into our taprooms and what that would look like for them. We had feedback on what they liked and didn’t like. Will we make adjustments? Probably, but I need more than one day to figure out what needs to be changed. You’re not going to get an accurate assessment for an entire weekend on a Monday.”
Jeff wrote that the two La Cumbre taproom staffs were also able to stick to the plan and no major changes are planned.
“Nope. Some minor things, but we’re pretty much soaking every touch surface down with 200ppm of Quat every hour and between every customer,” he wrote. “Outside metal tables and chairs are getting wiped down with quat and then soaked down in isopropanol.”
Going forward, it will be all about beer sales only for all of the breweries (and food, for those with kitchens). While that was pretty much standard procedure at La Cumbre before the pandemic hit, for a brewery like Marble that is such a huge part of the local music scene, things are still going to be a little tough without anyone on the stage.
“This is something that I’m looking for some clarity on, but I don’t want to push buttons,” Barbie said. “I’m 100-percent in agreement with every decision that the governor has made so far. I’m supportive of her personally, I don’t want to speak for everyone at Marble. I feel very strongly she’s led us in a very safe direction.
“At this point, (live music is) not my highest priority. I feel for the music industry right now. I want to get as much community together as much as I can, but I also want to be very smart and very safe, versus what we’re pushing for. The focus is on Covid-safe practices, making sure we are in full compliance, even above compliance. The safer we keep people, the faster we’re going to get back to the way things were.”
I offer up a very big thanks to Jeff and Barbie for taking time out of their very busy schedules to respond to my questions. If you head out to any of the La Cumbre or Marble taprooms, please be patient if you have to wait for a table, and be kind to the staff as they continue to work their way through the new normal. To follow up on what Barbie said, patience, kindness, and safety are all key to getting things back to what we are all used to at our breweries.
Keep supporting local!