By CARL PRATT
Happy Holidays, everyone! I’m Carl, a 13-year resident of the Beach and the owner of Beaches Brewing Company. I’d like to talk about your local shops, some of my pandemic experiences, and the coming months.
Winter in the Beach can be difficult for businesses during the best of times, and I think it’s fair to say we’re already seeing indications of a very slow winter. Last year it felt like there was a more deliberate push to support local, and this drop-off is probably from less government supports and a little more COVID fatigue. I’ll step out on a limb here and say that many of our businesses are nervous about the future. Frankly, your local shops, services, and restaurants have had it hard.
Trying to pivot, and pivot and pivot to scrape together some semblance of a business model every time the rules change. Taking risks in unfamiliar territory, just trying to hold on until a random point in time when these restrictions are lifted and old habits (like going out for dinner) are restored. To give some context, here’s a timeline from the perspective of the Beaches Brewing Company.
March – April 2020: Shut it all down. Don’t leave your house unless absolutely necessary. Lay off all staff and hope to get them back, eventually.
June 2020: Open a takeout pizza business with our old chef who is exchanging his time for use of the kitchen for his own startup. Sell retail beer out of our front garage door.
July – August 2020: Open a sidewalk patio with 1/3 the capacity of our restaurant. Labour is less available, so we simplify the food menu and expand offerings when possible.
September 2020: Mull over the option of adding heaters to extend the patio season. Diners are allowed indoors but are extremely wary.
October 2020: Indoor dining is shut down; outdoor dining is impractical with weather and spending thousands of dollars to fortify a patio that we’d only keep for another month wouldn’t bring enough people in to be viable.
November 2020 – March 2021: Indoor dining ban is extended indefinitely, CaféTO patio is removed for winter. Closed the kitchen to focus on retail & online beer sales versus competing in a crowded take-out market.
Two Weeks in March 2021: Tables outside on nice days, offer beer and stuffed buns. Consider rehiring staff.
April – May 2021: Never mind, shut it all down again.
June – September 2021: Street patio returns more glorious than ever! Re-open the restaurant for the 3rd time. Three amazing months with some indoor dining. Still in a labour shortage, still running a simplified menu. Retail beer sales decrease.
October 2021: Looks like things are open to stay. Learn and train staff on proof of vaccination systems and hope it provides confidence to patrons to head inside again!
November 2021 – Present: Hire a chef, enhance menu, add programming. Wait for 2019 levels of business to return… Hey, wait? Omicron? What? Sigh…
If you have been making a point to support our great array of shops, restaurants, and services on Queen Street East then I applaud you. We need your support more than ever.
For the rest of us, I’d like to propose a challenge: Get out there this winter and take advantage of your neighbourhood.
It’s common to hear about all the summer tourists inundating our roads, restaurants, and parks; well, here we are, with the whole neighbourhood to ourselves! Get to know your local shops. They have all taken huge risks with the hope that they can stay and become an ingrained member of this community.
— Carl Pratt is the owner of the Beaches Brewing Company and a member of the board of The Beach BIA.