As Connecticut’s food and drink industry implements new rules and regulations to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, many are finding creative ways to stay in business.
On Monday afternoon, John Doyle sat at his computer typing up the lastest coronavirus-spurred announcement for customers: New Park Brewing’s West Hartford taproom would close until further notice, but in the meantime, the owners would open up a to-go window for canned beer pickups.
“The plan is they’ll pull up just like a regular to-go window,” said Doyle, who co-owns the brewery. “We’re going to build a plexiglass with a hinged opening so we can avoid face-to-face contact.”
New Park Brewing normally has beers on tap, canned beers and a food truck outside, but the new rules have pushed Doyle and his team to get creative. They’ll continue to offer their canned brews but have temporarily discontinued selling growlers. The team was hard at work approving can labels for beers that they usually offer only on tap. Two large pizzas from Pepe’s sat on the bar counter, about 3 feet between Doyle and head brewer Alex Dee.
“We never thought we’d be doing this, but I mean obviously, our No. 1 concern is the health and safety of our staff and our customers,” Doyle said. “I have absolutely no question that Connecticut is making the right move, so we’re just trying to do our part to keep it as safe as possible.”
Doyle posted the announcement about the to-go window on Instagram and Facebook. The changes also mean that he’s had to cut back hours for part-time staff.
“Your first priority is absolutely health and safety,” Doyle said, “and then close behind that you’re just thinking, ‘How do I keep people getting paid?’ Because your rent and your expenses don’t go away, so I think we’re all kind of balancing that right now.”
The party that New Park Brewing had been planning to celebrate three years in business is off for now, but Doyle says they’ll celebrate at some point when people can come back to the taproom and stand closer than 6 feet apart.
For restaurants and bars that serve food in-house or “on-premise,” there’s not much that can be done to work around closure orders.
“When you look at the on-premise side of it, we’re losing right now about 80% of our revenue that our staff members depend on, as well as we employ many staff members to work within the on-premise aspect of the business,” said Phil Barnett, secretary of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. “Whether you’re a server, whether you’re a bartender, a host -- it’s unfortunate the reality is here, and it puts us in a really tough position right now.”
According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, approximately 105,720 people were working within food preparation and serving-related occupations, including chefs, cooks, bartenders, servers, dishwashers and hosts, in the first quarter of 2019.
Barnett said that while the association did “see and sense some of this coming down the pipeline,” it wasn’t prepared for how quickly restrictions were put into place.
As for the off-premise side, which includes takeout, curbside pickup and delivery, Barnett said they’re working with restaurants to ramp up existing services or create systems for establishments that don’t have them in place.
“As much as we might compete at times, we’re also a family,” Barnett said. “Let’s all work together to cope through these challenges together. We have a responsibility. We all have to do our part.”