It feels a little quieter at Tractor Brewing these days. That has nothing to do with the crowds; like their fellow breweries, they are limited to 50-percent occupancy, but the tables were full and people were beginning to gather on the expanded patio when I visited the Wells Park brewery taproom last week.
No, it is the lack of any musicians playing, or any of their fellow artists and performers drawing in the crowds. For a brewery known for being a hub for all sorts of local creatives to gather in and entertain an audience, Tractor is indeed quieter as it reopens its five taprooms along with the rest of the New Mexico breweries.
Tractor marketing director Jeremy Kinter spoke over the phone about the ups and downs of reopening, and much like Marble president Barbie Gonzalez told us last week about bringing events, even something as simple as a single musician with an acoustic guitar, are off the table right now.
“That’s a very dangerous thing (to think about),” Jeremy said. “We don’t want to poke that bear. All we’re trying to do right now is get our feet under us. We’re trying to focus on one task after another. What we did for (ABQ) Beer Week, like that we’re going to offer to-go pairings. That’s something we’re looking forward to doing in the future again if things keep up for us. Even at 50-percent capacity, tables can fill up fast. It would feel irresponsible if I had a musician there.”
Concerns about overcrowding are certainly valid right now. Another concern is financial, Jeremy explained.
“We’ve had to budget ourselves with the losses we’ve taken,” he said. “I’m not looking to book anything through the fall. I don’t know what’s going to happen on a day-to-day basis. We miss our musicians, we miss our events, and even if we were given the go-ahead from the governor, I don’t think we would do it. It might be a bit irresponsible.”
So far customers have been happy enough just to go out and revisit their favorite breweries, but over time, the fun and unique events many breweries are known for will be missed more acutely. For now, though, all Jeremy and the Tractor staff can do is provide the best, safest, and cleanest experience for customers.
That includes the extended patio at Wells Park, taking up a part of the front parking adjacent to the existing taproom and loading ramp (which did not cannibalize any parking spaces). Even that came together in a hurry once the State of New Mexico gave all breweries clearance to reopen back on June 11.
“It was crazy, it was a mad dash because we found out (June 11) we could reopen,” Jeremy said. “From that point we had to (work it out) logistically, we had prepared just in case, but then the reality came and that was different. It’s tough because we can’t bring everyone back on, we’re operating at limited capacity and hours. We bought on a skeleton crew.
“We were able to get our patios all set up. At Wells Park we expanded the patio into the parking lot. We had it fenced off with barrels. We had some picnic tables, six feet apart. That was helpful.”
Wells Park was actually fairly easy to modify for 50-percent occupancy, and Four Hills and Los Lunas had head starts as their higher food sales made them eligible to reopen weeks ago. The hardest taproom to modify was the oldest of the bunch.
“The real tough one was Nob Hill, because it was just the (north-facing) patio,” Jeremy said. “Luckily we have the secret back patio. We used that one as well. But yeah, that one was the tough one, and Wells Park, because we had lines of people. The seats would fill up fast, then people would hang out. Those were the two challenging ones.”
Some breweries heard opening week complaints about restricting the length of time people could stay, or requiring reservations, while those that did neither often heard complaints that patrons were lingering too long with a line outside. It was a damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don’t situation.
“Our customers are being pretty responsible about it,” Jeremy said. “People are being very diligent and patient. It’s kind of surprising that it’s working out. We’re not doing a reservation system, because we’re not there yet. I think people are being respectful of us and understanding.”
Overall, much like their fellow brewery staffs, the Tractor staff has dealt with the ups and downs of customers who are either knowingly or unknowingly violating the new state rules and regulations for bars and restaurants about when to wear a mask. The answer is simple — stand up to leave your seat for any reason, put your mask on; sit down to drink and/or eat, take your mask off — but that does not mean everyone understands or is willing to follow the rules.
“I think people are in their infancy of going out and testing the security of that,” Jeremy said. “We’re taking all the measures we can, as are all the other breweries. We just can’t demand someone to do something. Fortunately, once again, our customers are being good and being safe. Most of the time they’re following the rules.”
It is not only the issue of masks that breweries must now confront, as another rule about just which friends you can bring to breweries has changed, with the four-legged ones now having to stay home.
“One of the things they’re doing is pretending their animals are service animals,” Jeremy said. “That’s become an issue at Four Hills. That’s not cool. People don’t understand the danger of that.”
Overall, though, Jeremy struck a cautiously optimistic tone for the present and future as everyone adjusts to the new-new normal.
“We’re putting a lot of responsibility on our customers and they’re rising to the occasion, in most respects,” he said. “I also really think it was that big (initial) surge and push. … You’ll see that initial surge (spread) out over the week. Maybe only on Fridays will we have a line, but maybe not. We’ll see.”
For those customers who are not ready to go out just yet, Jeremy said Tractor is continuing with its online ordering system for takeout, and people can still request contactless pickup. The brewery is also still selling hand sanitizer, and is continuing to release new products every week, including a Watermelon Cider this past Friday.
Thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to chat over the phone for this story. We wish him and everyone at Tractor good luck and good health going forward.
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