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Running Ancient Fire in COVID Times

Star Wars is always our go to after a long day.
(Rise of Skywalker screening in Dec 2019)

In two posts earlier this year we shared some of our experiences and plans during these challenging times. Check out What Next? and Finding The Future to see how things went earlier in pandemic mode. Truthfully the challenges continue to mount, and like so many stories from this period, you can quickly see the “perfect storm” in this one.

First and foremost we are very concerned that no matter what we do we may provide a path for COVID through our community. What a horrible concern to have. Reflected in these times where there will clearly be no easy solutions, we must carry that concern with us as we literally do things that increase that chance. 

What are we, and other businesses like us, experiencing? Assume this is a partial list, because like so many of these stories, every experience is at least slightly different. 

  • Rising prices for materials, packaging and supplies; availability issues with existing suppliers causes lost time and money searching for alternatives
  • COVID specific supply shortages (PPE, etc from day 1, but other items consistently and more frequently)
  • Profitability drops (margin decreases) as more distributed product drives sales goals
  • Logistics delays and sharp freight increases
  • Lots of new “rules”, “recommendations” and “requirements” and approval overhead
  • Minimal to no enforcement of or public education about the new State-driven rules with a call for the public to do their part, e.g. helping to create public trust

The integrated nature of our business means that all of the problems in a wide number of supported industries combine in our production and distribution process. Did you catch that? That was the sound of the perfect storm crashing in. Every day is a soupy mess of tradeoffs and decisions, almost none of which are technically good. Everyone is going through these things. We know because we ask our customers, vendors and service providers. 

But wait, there’s more!

These challenges on top of the changes in gathering behavior and events specific to our hospitality business stokes that perfect storm with unpredictable demand, much reduced marketing opportunities and more friction at and resources needed through every customer facing activity. We’ve brought the staff back to help with Take Out, recovery planning with several having been partially deployed on other responsibilities to help us as much as possible right now. 

This is all without raising prices or adding fees, and as of the time of this document being published, without taxpayer funded relief either. 

And again, we aren’t alone or unique. Ask your favorite local restaurant, bar or brewery. You’ll hear a lot of different stories, but the underlying themes will be the same. 

Depending on where a particular business is at in this moment however, the weight of all of this may come at any one of some classically “bad times” and be more comprehensively damaging than they otherwise might be. For a small company that was just reaching a point of having a capable team in place for primarily a taproom driven model, this wasn’t good timing. We were staffed and trained for one thing, and something quite different was required immediately. Our part time staff all had, and thankfully kept, their primary jobs, but for us that meant they weren’t a good fit for any radical transformations we might want to undertake. We asked them to stick with us without being sure when we could use their help again. Assume the part time arrangements and specific hours per week plays a part in how, and how well, “paycheck” minded taxpayer relief works. 

Some people might say “why didn’t/don’t you just hire new people who fit the need?” Good idea, except that in the immediacy of this change having any staff toiling away next to each other (unprotected at the time) was the opposite of what was being asked, and with an abundance of caution, we took it seriously. Our job can’t be done remote, and training can’t either. Now we don’t have the resources to hire, and remain cautious because we aren’t out of any woods yet. 

So a perfect storm of rising costs, unstable sales and COVID burdens it is. 

Coming back from all of this will be even harder. 

  • We still have lots of uncertainty 
  • Long term thinking is largely off the table
  • Short term thinking can be dangerously reactionary at this point; things change fast

For some of us it is survival not recovery.

This week we are finally re-opening for dine-in, and we hope lots of folks will come see us. Take Out is still a great option, and we also have our quarterly bottle club and the ability to ship to 37 states. You can find us on more shelves and on more taps now than pre-COVID. But we see the challenges reflected in all of these areas. We understand that this is affecting you too, and we are doing what we can to help. As we continue to enhance the engagement with our community we are excited to get the word of mouth working again like it did in years one and two. Thank you so much for all of your support. Your continued feedback has been helpful for us to understand the reality we are all in!

We still need to do all of these and other things we had previously planned so we can understand what the dine-in and other sales channels can actually do for us in THESE times. We need this information because assumptions won’t do it, and this data will feed some very important and challenging decisions that we will have to make at month end. 

The only thing that is certain, and this is typically exciting, is we have a lot to learn with everything coming at us this way.

Thank you for caring enough to read to the end. We want you to know that this is real for us too, and that we understand. We hope what we have to offer can provide you enjoyment for at least a little bit in these challenging times.

 Thank you, and see you soon!

Jason & Margot

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