The recent shutdown forced many small craft beverage companies to shift their business models on the fly.
That was true for Grand Rapids-based Brass Ring Brewing Co. LLC, which operates a taproom with a small kitchen in the city’s Alger Heights neighborhood.
Until the social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, Brass Ring focused entirely on on-premise sales of food and beer. When the orders took effect, they sent the company scrambling at first to find “just basic supplies for the kitchen and the front of house,” said owner Chris Gibbons.
The brewery muddled through the first couple of weeks, but then stabilized to the new operations focused on takeout orders and delivery.
“We tried to stay ahead of the curve … and not get caught short,” Gibbons said. “(We also decided) to scale down the menu and make it work for takeout and delivery. We had to let some of our entrees go and retooled, and we added a couple of new sandwiches that we thought were amenable to the delivery model.”
More than a month in, the neighborhood around the brewery continues to respond with an outpouring of support, he said, noting that the company continues to host its virtual open mic nights to help stay connected to its fans.
“The fact that they’re still calling every night for takeout suggests that it’s something they need, it’s a break from their routine,” Gibbons said. “Especially in these times, I think offering beer and comforting food to people is a very necessary thing.”
Gibbons was an early adopter of social distancing measures within the taproom, initiating a separation plan for patrons before the state-imposed order, which took some education on the company’s part to convince patrons of its purpose.
Noting Brass Ring may voluntarily remove some of its tables as a result of the pandemic, Gibbons wonders how customers will be affected when they eventually return.
“But I don’t see people avoiding restaurants forever,” he said. “People like to go out. People are going to want to get back out and socialize, and we’re all just going to have to find a way to do that in this new post-COVID environment.”
Brass Ring, which worked with Macatawa Bank to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the SBA, has been able to maintain all of its full-time employees throughout the shutdown, but had to lay off its part-time workers. Leveraging the company’s relationships with various food brokers, Gibbons set up a low-cost food pantry to help affected employees get by.
Brass Ring also is using beer as a way to give back to the community. The company had a new IPA set for a mid-April launch, but lacked a name and a concept for getting the beer out to the public. Gibbons eventually settled on calling it Neighborly IPA as a tribute to the brewery’s community and opted to donate an amount equal to 20 percent of the beer’s sales to Kids’ Food Basket.
“We’re just going to remain positive,” Gibbons said. “We have a little extra time and our model has been interrupted. For us, it’s just an opportunity to tighten things up and rethink our menu, rethink our process, and rethink some of the aspects of our presentation to the public, just to make ourselves sharper and leaner when we get back, and more ready to tackle the environment.”
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