I recently had the (long overdue on my part) opportunity to catch up with Matt Simonds, owner of Broken Trail Spirits & Brew. I asked him to take me through a timeline of what has happened since the dark day New Mexico first shut down in March. Matt said it is all, unfortunately, very vivid in his mind.
On Wednesday, March 11, both the Governor and the President held news conferences. That night, Matt said he lay awake thinking what he could do. That is where the idea of doing sanitizer began — before the shutdown, because he realized that hoarding was already going on in New Mexico. The next day, Matt and his brewer Dave Rosebeary got the whole project together. They started pushing out sanitizer less than 24 hours later. As a brewer and a business owner, of all the things they have done, this is what Matt says he is most proud of. To be able to do it quickly and inexpensively was a really special moment. That is also when things became very real.
That Friday was his oldest daughter’s birthday. Her birthday present was the announcement that school was cancelled. (In hindsight, be careful what you wish for, kids!) The following Wednesday, March 18, they started to get an indication that they would be shutting down. At that point it was supposed to be for two weeks. It was difficult, in his mind, to justify going package sales only. It was not a primary aspect of their business, so doing growlers and bottles of spirits didn’t make a lot of sense for them.
What started as two weeks turned into a month, and then turned into several months. May 15 was when it started looking like people were going to be able to open again. But, that day came and went. Matt said he started to lose faith in the decisions being made. He felt that the Governor’s office completely shut itself off to any communication whatsoever from the outside world, and there were a lot of arbitrary decisions that he felt did not make sense.
Broken Trail has been open for several weeks now, and Matt reported they have had fantastic weeks and some abysmal weeks. They are still at about half of what their sales should be. That doesn’t even account for three months with basically zero revenue. When they reopened, they were able to bring back most of their staff.
They did close down their Green Jeans tasting room (which Matt informed me was already the plan pre-pandemic; it just sped up the process), and they knew they would have a contraction of staff because of that. There were a couple of employees who did not want to come back for one reason or another, but that fit in to what their needs were, anyway.
Another plan already in the works was a new location for the production facility, in partnership with Mother Road Mobile Canning, with whom Matt already had a long-standing canning relationship. This interview actually originally came about because I drove by the original Broken Trail production facility one day and saw it was gone. I admit, I kind of panicked a bit. Luckily, nothing tragic had happened. I was just unaware of the move to a new facility in the Sawmill District on Bellamah just east of 12th Street, across from the Painted Lady Bed and Brew.
Instead of Broken Trail and Mother Road each paying leases on facilities, they decided to combine efforts into one entity, Mother Trail. The lease was signed at their new location last June. They are packaging for other local and national clients as well as for Broken Trail, as one of the “clients.” Mother Road sold the original mobile canning line to Canteen Brewhouse. The Uptown taproom located at 6902 Menaul Blvd NE still operates under the Broken Trail name.
I asked Matt about his next steps. But, that’s the thing, nobody really knows what will come next, so it is a very difficult question to answer. At the best of times, owning a brewery is challenging, and things are constantly changing. Now more than ever, flexibility, creativity, and innovation are key.
Everyone please keep supporting local breweries. Unless you are physically sitting down drinking your beer and eating your food, at least six feet from anyone not at your table, wear your mask. Period. Even if you just go in and pick up to go. Remember, these establishments neither caused the pandemic nor made the rules. Let’s do everything we can to help them follow the rules and stay open.
Cheers to staying safe!