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70 Days Later: Reopening Responsibly

Alesong Brewing & Blending, in Eugene, on Sunday May 24th

So you want to reopen your retail space… but are you ready?

On Sunday, I made my first visit to Alesong Brewing & Blending for their Blending Circle Membership’s quarterly release party. From everything I witnessed, their event was about as well executed as it could be, considering the circumstances.

If you haven’t been to Alesong, their location has some unique attributes that allowed for a safe and manageable soft-reopening, though the planning they put into it was obvious, as well as a great model for how retail spaces can safely reopen.

First, they sent members an email requesting us to reserve a 2.5 hour block of time to visit, which meant ~25 members (plus 1 guest, max) were allowed to be in attendance. Next, while a POS terminal was available on-site, all members already have their card on file, so any additional purchases beyond their bottle allotment could be processed touch-free.

Also, this event usually includes 3oz taster pours and a food pairing for each beer (3-5 of each). Being that notification of Phase 1 reopening was so close to the event, they weren’t quite able to have the catered food ready or simply felt the focus should be on safely serving three 6oz pours instead. Regardless, it in no way dampened my enthusiasm for the day.

Lastly, everyone was asked to occupy only one picnic table per household, which were spread out sufficiently for appropriate distancing. There was never more than one person in line ahead of, or behind me, taped X’s on the ground denoted distances to stand at, all four employees on-site were masked (only a few patrons were masked, but everyone was at a safe distance), guests were asked to stay outside (other than to use the one-at-a-time bathrooms), and a new Teku glass was provided for each pour received.

So what should locations do to keep their employees and customers safe when reopening? Here are some suggestions based upon what I’ve seen and heard thus far.

Be Prepared

As noted above, Alesong is a unique location, as opposed to those preparing to reopen, in most instances, across Portland’s Tri-County area (Clackamas reopened last weekend, Washington is slated for June 1st if approved, and Multnomah will be the last county to open). Their location is a good 20 minute country drive from the small, I-5 nestled town of Creswell, so it’s remote. They also have a good 1/2 acre of patio and surrounding grass area for benches.

The patio at Alesong Brewing & Blending on Sunday

What’s tricky is that the guidance provided by the state is a bit vague. While it does note that parties of ten or fewer can be accommodated at each table, I wouldn’t allow anyone in one household to sit at the same table. It also states that local gatherings should be limited to 25 people or less – which sounds relative to private gatherings.

Additionally, this guidance allows businesses to “determine maximum occupancy to maintain physical distancing requirements and limit number of customers on premises accordingly.” That is based upon ensuring “tables are spaced at least six (6) feet apart so that at least six (6) feet between parties is maintained, including when customers approach or leave tables.” It also requires for at least 6 feet between back-to-back booths (essentially every other one empty).

Personally, I don’t see myself frequenting any restaurants, bars or taprooms that aren’t solely set up on a patio or in a sufficiently, naturally ventilated indoor space. If they’re using central AC or a recirculating air vent, count me out until there’s a vaccine.

Be sure to prepare for reopening (i.e. those slated for June 1st in Washington County and eventually Multnomah). Talk with locations who’ve already opened up recently and have a similar set-up to yours. Ask them what issues they had when first opening, how they would do things better, etc.

Reopening

In the end, were I the owner of a restaurant, bar, or taproom set to reopen, here’s what I would do:

  • Have a two to three day, invitation only, soft-opening period – i.e. smaller than your original soft opening, possibly limiting guests to friends, family, and/or industry folks.
  • Next, limit patronage going forward to online or phone reservations only to ensure crowd control.
  • Ensure you have enough employees (all masked, of course) to monitor status of guests.
  • Have a set maximum occupancy for your location based upon indoor/outdoor spaces.
  • I would use recyclable/compostable flatwear, cups, and dishes – though if you have enough physical silverwear/glasses/dishes and sufficient dish-washing capacity, that works too.
  • Continue sanitation routines as advised by the state.
  • Limit restroom usage to one person at a time or require masks for multi-person restrooms.
  • To ensure all employees are on the same page, be sure to print out and/or electronically share not only the state’s guidance during these various phases, but also your own occupancy/best practices policies.

I’m sure there are plenty of other details I could get into here, but it’s all relative to the business you’re operating, what you’re serving, how your space is situated, etc. If you don’t have a patio or a well ventilated location, you may want to wait until Phase 2 and continue take-out/delivery options for now.

It’s not worth it to reopen if you can’t do it safely.

If you’re a customer visiting newly re-opened locations, be sure to let employees on-site know if you see something that makes you uncomfortable or isn’t in compliance with how businesses should be approaching this new reality. They’ll appreciate your feedback and it will benefit those who visit after you. This is about doing things the right way and protecting us all, not about saving face.

Brewers Association’s Checklist for Reopening
Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association Coronavirus Resources
Oregon Health Authority: Reopening Guidance FAQs
Oregon Health Authority: Phase One Reopening Guidance
Governor Kate Brown – COVID-19 Resources for Oregonians at oregon.gov

Visiting Alesong

While it was less than ideal to have my first ever visit to Alesong during this strange and uncertain time, it did allow me more time to chat with co-owner Matt Van Wyk during the two hours I was on-site.

For starters, I had no idea that they brew everything off-site on Ninkasi’s “medium” 50 bbl brewhouse. Or that they previously brewed on Block 15’s system in faraway Corvallis, nor that they have a separate barrelhouse for their non-mixed fermentation barrels in central Eugene.

Matt Van Wyk, Alesong Co-Founder/Owner/Brewer

Matt showed me around the production space on-site and we chatted quite a bit about why they’re so remote, how distribution is going, what setting up this event entailed, plus what they’re working on beer-wise. All quite fascinating and worth learning more if you pay them a visit, once they officially re-open on May 28th.

On Saturday, Jeff Alworth posted more backstory on what Matt and Alesong have been doing in preparation for re-opening, as part of his ongoing Coronavirus Diaries series on Beervana: The Blog.

Here are a few more pics of their location and the three new beers Alesong released this past weekend. Hope all those reading this are doing well and that we’ll be able visit in person, sooner than later, in the safest ways possible!

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