Portland Brewery Owners React to Halt of Multnomah County Reopening Plans

Portland-area breweries were expecting to reopen their taprooms today for limited dine-in on-premise service but it was not to be. Multnomah County (which includes Portland, Gresham and Troutdale) was denied entry into Phase 1 of Oregon’s reopening plan by Governor Kate Brown.

Many brewery owners thought reopening on June 12th was so certain that they had already announced it. And that involves bringing staff back to work, restocking kitchens and kegs and spending a lot more money during a time when they are bleeding funds. Though not everyone was keen to reopen yet, many expressing concern and a more cautious approach. Regardless, many brewery owners felt left out in the cold by the lack of advanced warning.

Multnomah is the only county in Oregon that hasn’t yet moved on to phase 1 or phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plans. Multnomah County residents can drive as little as a few miles to have a beer in Washington or Clackamas County, which some say penalizes Portland.

Ex Novo Brewing pint

“Well, we know opening will not be easy and there are plenty of concerns about controlling guest behavior, but we have been preparing for this solidly for the last 6-weeks, and we were ready. Our staff has gone above and beyond in planning an environment that is as safe and enjoyable as possible, so we’re disappointed we have to continue to live with more uncertainty for who knows how long. Our employees are stressed, and rightly so, but we’re strong and we’ll make it through. Also, we got broken into last night, which is some fun icing on the cake. Nothing significant stolen but plenty of damage on the entry.”

Joel Gregory, Ex Novo Brewing
Occidental Brewing taps

“I can’t say I was surprised. Given the spiking cases and the delay in the decision, I was expecting the answer would be no. For our part, we wouldn’t have opened today anyway. We will likely wait a couple weeks after the official opening to see what works and what doesn’t, get a read on consumer behavior, and get a sense of what will be economically feasible given the infrastructure investment and increased staffing necessary to comply with the regulations and operate safely. It’s not an experiment we want to be the guinea pigs for. Safety of our staff and customers will be paramount. In the meantime, we’ll continue doing to-go sales and deliveries.”

Dan Engler, Occidental Brewing and president of the Oregon Brewers Guild

“While I think our community safety is our top concern, the way this all went down caught us off guard. We had just setup our restaurants with picnic tables outside and tables 6 feet apart. 
With all the other counties open we are confused by the decision during the final hours. Portlanders can drive over to neighboring Washington County so it doesn’t seem to much of a comprehensive plan. I’m also sad for our staff who desperately need to come back to work to make ends meet. My employees text me throughout the night with frustrations about why we couldn’t open. There seems to be more questions than answers and more problems than solutions.”

Adam Milne, Old Town Brewing
Breakside Brewery NW Slabtown pint

“It’s just plain mean that she waited until the night before to tell us we couldn’t open. A lot of small businesses like ours put in time and money over the last couple weeks getting ready for opening in the safest way possible. That includes bringing staff back on and stocking up our kitchens with perishable foods. Thousands of dollars down the drain when we don’t have many to spare.  I don’t get it at all. Waiting until the end of the day before we were set to open…she’s either mean or incompetent.”

“We can protest (rightfully so) in groups of thousands, but we can’t have 20 people in a restaurant.”

Scott Lawrence, Breakside Brewery

Laurelwood Brewing Co has been operating for the last three months with take out food and beer only.  We were looking forward to opening today June 12th.  Employees were scheduled, picnic tables painted to expand our seating into the parking lot, beer lines cleaned, food was ordered. Cleaning was done.  Safety protocols in place.  All we needed was the green light.  When we heard about 7:30 last night that it was going to be at least another week we were very disappointed.  Our biggest question was why couldn’t the state made that announcement on Wednesday, or even noon on Friday.  Waiting as long as they did was ridiculous. We understand the reasoning why the delay happened, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t announced sooner.  

Mike De Kalb, Laurelwood Brewing

“This wasnt totally unexpected given the lack of communication over the past week. The difficult thing for breweries and restaurants is most of us restaffed, bringing people off of unemployment and restocked food and supplies to prepare for tomorrow .We understand that there is an uptick in cases and we need to prioritize public health. But as a business owner it certainly makes things more difficult to navigate.”

Tomas Sluiter, Culmination Brewing
Stormbreaker Brewing St. Johns

“this is a bit unfortunate as we have been working around the clock to get ready for opening tomorrow and making it his announcement so late has really deflated us. We bought a lot of food that may be wasted and spent money on rentals for no reason. Yesterday would have made more sense to cancel and given us time to adjust That being said, we understand that this decision is being done for the greater good and we respect that”

Dan Malech, Stormbreaker Brewing

“We are extremely disappointed with the Governor’s decision to not allow Multnomah County open. It’s even more disappointing that she let Willamette Week release the news at 7PM the night before we were set to open rather than make the call herself. We have spent countless hours on systems for our staff and patrons safety and thousands of dollars to restock our kitchens that we will now have to sit on. As a leader the Governor should respect the planning small businesses go through to get open and show she has been putting in the same depth of planning on the reopening process rather than it looking like an afterthought.”

Colin Patrick Rath, Migration Brewing

“Makes sense to Devin and I to keep closed. Of course we want our taproom to be open, but safety for our team and guests is our biggest priority right now. We fully support city and state officials decisions.”

Shaun Kalis, Ruse Brewing
Gorges Beer Trailhead founders
Gorges Beer Co. founders from let to right: Travis Preece, Bryan Keilty & Willis Boyer

“Local businesses were given every indication that we would reopen as scheduled. All precautions were taken.  We spent thousands on new signage, a new pos, new outdoor seating.  We started new brews and began prepping food.  We brought in the entire team yesterday to train on the phase 1 rules and prepare for safe re-opening.  We were excited and we were finally ready, after 90 days, to try to rebuild our business.  I agree that caution is important, but the 11th-hour decision cost businesses which were already barely hanging on.  If the Governor was concerned, she should have made a statement after the June 3rd spike that this was a possibility, rather than letting us know via Twitter less than 12 hours prior to the scheduled opening.”

Travis Preece, Gorges Beer Co. and Tap & Table

Oregon Governor Kate Brown will reassess opening plans at the end of the coming week. Until then, Portland taproom and restaurant owners are stuck holding the bag, employees will be laid off again, food will go to waste, and small businesses are even more likely to permanently close.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com