On Tuesday, the Dark Side Brew Crew ran my story on the Santa Fe breweries that have been open to the public for a couple weeks now, and what unique challenges they’ve faced as they blazed the trail for the others. As promised, I reached out to Second Street Brewery, Blue Corn Brewery, and Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery, who are either not yet open (or not fully open) for dine-in and patio service, to find out what drawbacks they’ve faced with their current state of business, when they plan to open their doors, and what’s been holding them back.
Drawbacks and challenges
Second Street Brewery has been running their to-go service at 2920 Rufina St. for a few weeks now. It’s been their only business open to the public since COVID-19 closed nearly everything down in March. Once given the go-ahead by the governor, they opened the largest space they own for dining to great public response. As of noon today (Friday), they are flinging wide the doors to one of Santa Fe’s favorite family pubs with a patio, the OG locale just off the eponymous 2nd Street.
Opening Second Street at Rufina was a big test for them. It would show them what they needed to know to run the same business by a new set of rules, and they ran into plenty of challenges along the way.
President and brewmaster Rod Tweet said the biggest challenges came from, “all the tedium of dealing with CSP requirements and just basically getting used to different motions and new ways of doing basic things. And, also getting used to essentially a new dining room/patio arrangement.”
Staffing was another major challenge Second Street faced as they opened.
“We hired back a lot of our employees,” Tweet said. “But, a fair number were not interested in coming back into the workforce just yet for multiple reasons. Not having any idea what business volume was going to be possible in this environment, we staffed lean in the beginning and then quickly had to re-group and add more staff.”
Adding even more to everyone’s dinner plate was the decision to install a brand-new state-of-the-art POS system to support fully online ordering and contactless payment.
Blue Corn Brewery has also only been open for to-go food and beer since March, and though they’re part of a larger restaurant group that has now since opened up some of its restaurants, the brewery locale was not one of them.
For Blue Corn, there have definitely been drawbacks to only being open for to-go service.
Head brewer Paul Mallory said, “The main one is that we aren’t able to connect with our customers in the same way. Of course our volume is down as well, so we aren’t able to produce as many new beers or food specials as we used to. But, it has given us the opportunity to reevaluate what was working and what wasn’t.”
Mallory remains optimistic, though, believing they’ll be able to open even stronger than before and with a revamped food and beer menu.
Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery had to close the doors to both of their locations when COVID struck. It was a while before they brought their workers back, and it was mostly for the purpose of making hand sanitizer for local businesses and for the heavily afflicted Navajo and Hopi nations.
The biggest drawbacks for Tumbleroot only open for pick-up has been not being able to interact with their customers.
“We ID and check orders with limited interaction, but we miss our regulars,” founder and co-owner Jason Fitzpatrick wrote in an email. “A major part of our business is the Agua Fria Taproom. And, while we appreciate the support through our site, handing a bag of items to enjoy at home isn’t the same as serving a pint or cocktail across the bartop.”
Tumbleroot currently offers beer, spirits, canned cocktails, and hand sanitizer for curbside pick-up on Fridays at Bisbee Court from 3 to 6 pm with ordering through their website.
The public response for Blue Corn has been mixed, according to Mallory.
“It’s a mix of wanting to support us through the difficult time, and a disappointment for not being able to enjoy all the great things a brewery has to offer in regards to ambience and mingling with others in their community,” he said.
For Tumbleroot, public response has been mostly positive.
“The Santa Fe community is very supportive and being able to offer hand sanitizer has helped our site exposure. We hope we have gained a few more loyal customers. Our barrel-aged beer program gained the most traction with people being comfortable ordering bigger ABV beers for home enjoyment,” Fitzpatrick said.
As for Second Street, their grand re-opening has been very well received by the public.
“Dining options are still fairly limited, but people are just really happy to be out and having beers and food and socializing,” Tweet said. “And people, for the most part, have been very understanding of the situation, and that we are doing our best to cope with it.”
So far the turnout has been great.
“We chose to open Rufina first because it’s such a large open space with a big patio, and at 50-percent capacity we thought we would have a shot at doing enough sales volume for it to make sense, and we quickly ramped up to basically ‘break-even’ sales,” Tweet added.
Additional safety measures
As they’ve opened up their doors, or windows, or patio for pick-up, they’ve all employed a few extra measures to keep the public safe.
“We’ve done our best to learn from what other restaurants were doing when we would order takeout from somewhere else,” Mallory said. “We limited the amount of people who were working at the restaurant, wiped everything down continually, and some of us even were tested for the coronavirus. Not only did we improve our cleaning processes along the way, but we found ways to communicate these things to our customers.”
Second Street has added even more cleaning protocols, including the requisite gloves/masks, etc., according to Tweet. And of course, with the new POS they now offer customers fully touchless payment in the restaurant as well as online.
Fitzpatrick said, “We make sanitizer, so that is a part of our routine with curbside pick-up. We wear masks and thankfully most of our curbside customers do as well.”
But when will they open?
Blue Corn downtown and many other Santa Fe Dining restaurants haven’t opened yet. I asked Mallory what that timetable looks like for Blue Corn Downtown or the other locations and what was holding them back.
“Maria’s and Rio Chama are now open,” Mallory said. “Blue Corn Brewery (Southside) is holding back for now because we are taking some time to make sure we open with a fresh new look. We are excited to have new beers on tap, an updated food menu, and even a little remodel. We don’t want to open flat-footed. We will open La Casa Sena next, then Blue Corn Brewery afterward.”
I asked Mallory what it would take to open them at the currently allowed capacity and what has to happen first?
“Along with our plans for some revamping of the building and menu, we are going to make sure we have safety protocols and protective gear in place,” he said. “Opening a little later than everyone else will hopefully allow us to observe what works and what doesn’t.”
Tumbleroot hasn’t opened at either location yet. And, when I reached out to Fitzpatrick, he wasn’t sure when that reopening would take place.
“We are considering opening our Bisbee Location first, but are waiting to see if Santa Fe is ready to go out again,” he said. “Our Agua Fria location is built for concerts and large gatherings. It just doesn’t make sense for us to open with the limitations. On most weekend nights we have 200-plus customers that come through and live music is a major draw for us. With 50-percent capacity, no standing service, and no live music, we lose our vibe.”
The Second Street Railyard location remains closed, but in good news, the original or “the Oldery” is opening today.
“The Railyard (location) is still a few weeks off,” Tweet said. “Honestly, with three properties to run, trying to activate all three simultaneously just didn’t seem wise because of unknown sales and the risk. Also, like I mentioned previously getting staff back in place has taken some organization. At the 50-percent capacity and no bar, the Railyard, because of its much smaller size, we wanted to hang back just a bit and see how things go and gauge the public’s appetite for going out. But, as every week passes, we know more.”
What they want the public to know
I asked all three breweries what they would like the public to know walking into any brewery establishment today and what they would like you to know walking into their business when the time comes for them to open.
Blue Corn Brewery
“I want everyone to know that we are excited about the changes ahead. We are hoping our customers see these changes as a sort of blessing in disguise, if there is one to this whole situation. We are excited to see our customers again.” — Mallory
“The establishment has most likely gone through the toughest few months they will ever experience. The employees are unsure whether every move they make or table they serve is unsafe. The normal rhythm of service is going to be off. Be patient. Tip very generously. And, thank everyone you come into contact with.” — Fitzpatrick
“That we are as happy as they are to be easing back into business and really appreciate their support, and behind the scenes we are working really hard to keep them and our staff as safe as possible, and adapt to what will be a new environment for some time to come.” — Tweet
Even though it’s been anything but business as usual for these three breweries, they are more than happy to still be serving their customers in any capacity. They, just like you, are hoping for a swift return to that semblance of normalcy we keep daydreaming about. Until than, stay safe and healthy, wear your masks and tip your servers, and as Fitzpatrick mentioned, please be patient. To your health, cheers!
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