Some people just love the chaos of a busy workplace, finding a home of sorts amid the hustle and bustle. Most of us in the Crew have known Allison York to be one of those unique people during her time at Quarter Celtic Brewpub (and Erin has knew her long before that).
We managed to find a time to catch up with York, a self-described lifer in the restaurant/brewing industry, for the latest entry in our series on women working in the New Mexico craft beer industry.
“I have been working in restaurants since I was a teenager,” she said. “I’ve never really not worked in a restaurant. I ended up applying here at Quarter Celtic in 2017. I’ve always loved how crazy, hectic, and fun restaurants are. Working in an actual brewery just took that a whole other level. It’s a really fun environment. I get to interact with some really cool customers, working with amazing people. I just got sucked in that way.”
Like so many others who have jumped into life at a brewery, it helped that York was already a bit of a beer geek.
“I am a beer person, I do love beer,” she said. “It’s been great to learn so much about it. I did have a bit of knowledge before, but being able to taste so many different styles, being more interested in venturing out to the other local breweries, and tasting what they have to offer. Just asking Brady (McKeown) stupid questions constantly. I wouldn’t say I’m like beer nerd level yet, but I think my knowledge has certainly grown, and my tastes have grown and changed over the last few years. I used to be a big IPA girl, but now I pretty much stick to lagers and the other lighter stuff.”
We have also long been asking co-owner/head brewer Brady McKeown stupid questions, so we get where York is coming from, but the truth is there are no stupid questions, just dumb beer writers doing the asking.
Anyway, moving on, York said she initially joined Quarter Celtic as a server, but she knew Brady and his brother, Ror, for a long time, and they knew she could take on more responsibility as time went along.
“So maybe six months or so after I started, because I got hired as a server and was serving, they asked me to be kind of a shift manager,” York said. “And then, once the (Juan Tabo) taproom was getting ready to open and Ror needed to shift his focus to nurturing that baby, then they asked me to (become) general manager.”
Managing the entire front-of-house staff was not an easy task, but York was willing to take on the challenge.
“While there was an easy-going-ness to just being a server, and not much responsibility, and kind of just show up, make your money, and leave,” she said. “Knowing the guys and knowing this industry, and the staff and the regular customers that we have, I was just excited to be a part of helping that grow, making it the best that it hopefully can be.”
York started as general manager in 2018, and just as she fully settled into that role, along came Covid-19 in March 2020.
“Clearly the biggest challenge I’ve had here at Quarter Celtic has been Covid,” York said. “Navigating the literally constant, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month changes in every aspect of what we’re doing. (I was) just trying to do my best to keep staff, keep customers coming in, keep the doors open, and also making everybody feel safe, that they’re in a safe environment. That was a big challenge for everybody, not just me, clearly. Now the unique challenges we’re facing in the aftermath is the staffing shortage and just getting back to where we were before.”
The worst of that storm has hopefully passed, and things are slowly getting back into the groove of 2019, though not fully as of yet.
“Sales are doing very well,” York said. “The problem is that we are having to rebuild from a skeleton crew. So, in order to provide excellent service and quality food and beer, we have to slow our expansion. So while customers are eager to come in, they really do and it’s awesome, we can’t exactly start right from that place that we were before. Things like music or beer choir, or different events that we definitely would have loved to host and get people packed like sardines in here, we just don’t have the staff to accommodate that.”
The good news is that most of the regular customers at Quarter Celtic understand the situation the brewpub is in at the moment.
“Luckily, most of our customer base has been super patient with us, and they understand that’s not a unique problem to this brewery,” she said. “All through the pandemic they’ve really been supportive and treated our staff well, and expressed their support. That’s been amazing to see.”
Of course, for every good group of customers, there have been those who are not as accepting of reality.
“There were those, but it’s best to not focus (on them),” York said. “The good news is the fun is coming back into the brewery. It got a little dark there, and now we have new faces that are part of the staff, new faces as part of the customer base, and it’s just starting to feel like that fun environment that has kept me in this industry as long as it has, and that’s awesome.”
Everything at Quarter Celtic keeps York plenty busy, so naturally she went and added another job to her resumé while the pandemic was still at its peak. She is now a member of the New Mexico Brewers Guild board of directors.
“It’s been great,” York said. “It’s been definitely a growth for me. I have already told the board members that I feel like I have so much to learn from all of them. They have so much experience collectively. I kind of feel like the stupidest person in the room, but I like that, because that means I have nowhere to go but up, and nothing but knowledge to gain.”
Things started out a little easier with that, as York said the board meetings were done over Zoom, and mainly focused on keeping everyone up to date on all the changes going on with Covid. Now, though, the restrictions have been lifted, and the board is getting back to the business of years past, including scheduling a slew of events.
“We have so many events coming up that it’s a little daunting, but I’m very excited,” York said. “I’ve never experienced any of these firsthand. I’m really just excited to get my hands dirty, and learn I can from the Guild.”
As for how York got sucked into taking on even more responsibility, it was not at the request of the Quarter Celtic owners, but instead another member of the board.
“No, it was (Rob) Palmer!” York said. “I was actually doing a school project that I asked Palmer if I could come hang out at his brewery, get a feel for what he did. It was my final semester at CNM, just trying to get through that. It actually was great timing because I graduated at the end of 2019 and my board membership started at the beginning of 2020. It was good timing for me. Palmer can be convincing, you know, he really sold it as hey, it’s a good time, it’s not too much work.
“I honestly was surprised, even though I do love this industry and I feel like I’ve had my feet in for a good amount of time, I wasn’t sure what he saw in me and what I had to offer to be a part of shaping the brewing industry, and helping the brewing industry out in any way. But, he told me that you care, that was his main thing. He said you’re organized and you care, and that alone is a great asset. I thought why the heck not, threw my name in, and now here we are.”
Being on the board has allowed York to meet many other people in the industry, some of whom she had only seen once or twice, or just knew of by reputation in the past.
“Yeah, pretty much besides Palmer, I had only met a handful of them once or twice in passing,” she said. “Jamie (Schwebach), I think I had met at GABF in 2019. That was pretty much it. They’re all so knowledgeable and passionate about this industry. It’s a neat time to sit on the board and see a majority of women. It’s just poor Palmer and Dan (Herr) outnumbered by the rest of us.”
Being a part of an organization that supports women has been important to York, who has been just like the rest of us in reading the many stories online of the discrimination and harassment that women have faced across the craft beer industry nationwide.
“Yes, I’ve dealt with sexism in my life in my different aspects, as any woman can attest to,” York said. “However, that being said that I felt a little naive when I first started reading all the information coming out, all the stories coming out, all these women coming forward. I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t realize a lot of it was going on. What that speaks to is that I haven’t had that experience, and I haven’t experienced that here at Quarter Celtic, or in talking with other brewers or brewery staff. Being naive only meant that I was lucky, that I had not really had to experience it.
“But, there’s no longer any space to be naive about the situation. Anything that I can do to support women in the industry, support not just women but all walks of life, I will be happy to do and champion for. Now that it’s come to light I think a lot of places will be more mindful, more inclusive, and hopefully these old, antiquated boys club behaviors will eventually be a thing of the past.”
The majority of what York has encountered has come from customers, as one might expect from a front-of-house manager.
“Well, the way that I personally try to handle it is through humor, and joking, and while also saying hey, you’re being inappropriate,” she said. “They say something to you, and you can kind of say hey, shut the fuck up, but you have to say it in a way that they don’t feel like you’re saying that to them. They figure out she doesn’t like that, she doesn’t want to play like that. The best thing about wearing a mask, and I’m sure all the ladies will agree, was men no longer told us to smile.”
York said that a lot of standing strong just comes from the attitude you present.
“I think personally I don’t put off a vibe where men can feel they can say a lot of derogatory things to me, so my main thing is protecting my staff,” she said. “That is always my number one (goal), to protect my staff. I don’t want anybody, male or female, to feel like they’re being belittled or harassed, or be made to feel unsafe in any way. A customer would really have to cross the line, but definitely people have been 86ed for saying one of my staff was acting like a bitch, or calling them a bitch directly to their face, or lewd and inappropriate behavior like that will get you not invited back here. It’s definitely just about creating a good, comfortable, safe environment, not just for the staff but for customers as well.”
The times, they are a changing, and that goes for the brewing industry as well as society in general.
“Times are weird, man,” York said. “2020 and the first half of 2021 have changed the industry, and changed us all, in many ways. We’re just having to relearn how to function together as a community and a society again. It’s not just something where you can snap your fingers and everything is OK. My main thing is just being patient, being a little more gentle with people, and hoping that they do the same for myself and my crew.”
York has always done a good job of putting up with our Crew, and associated friends, over the years, so we understand.
A big thanks to Allison for the conversation and the pint of the delicious Burque Biergarten, an oaked kellerbier.
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