Brian Koch is the owner of North Portland’s Lombard House pub, and like many others he is grappling with a pandemic, a pivot to delivery, and worldwide protests of an unjust system that have implications far more important than beer and bars.
I was half-way through my first afternoon as a newly anointed home beer delivery driver when I realized I had forgotten something important.
I put together what I felt was a rather solid ‘best practices’ set up. I had masks, I had gloves, I was not coming into contact with customers, physically. I was sanitizing jars after filling and again upon delivery. I felt like maybe I had figured this out. I zig-zagged, and back tracked through the ‘mental mine field’ of asking myself if I had made the “right” decision by starting home delivery. Was I doing the morally correct thing? Was I driven by fear? Will I look back and wish I had done things differently? Will my customers feel obligated to support us while they were under their own financial strain? I had covered those bases. That is not what I forgot. I forgot to ask myself a basic question, “Where do I pee?”.
I was happy to notice that my next stop was a couple who I have come to know very well, and they thought it was hysterical that I asked of them, “Can I use your side yard?”. I’ve been a bar tender for years, and I have a good amount of experience delivering kegs, but I had never been the bartender who shows up in your front yard, icy cold beers in gloved hand, asking to pee during a pandemic.
That “problem” was real to me at the time I wrote the first draft of this. The pandemic, and its effect on our little world in the craft beer community was new. It was a frighteningly real, invisible monster that threatened to destroy our families, our businesses and our community. I needed to find a way to meet a basic human need, and I was frightened I might not find a way to do so with dignity.
Last week we all saw a very real, invisible to some at times, but always present monster. We saw it with our own eyes. “I can’t breathe!”, and we watched as nothing happened, and nobody came to his aid. He died right before our collective eyes. The monster was not invisible, it was right there, and it was real. And my heart broke.
I have been trying for two weeks to expand upon my thoughts on what it will take to maneuver and survive as business. I was asked to do so before the news last week. Right after I got word that we were shut down indefinitely due to the Covid-19 outbreak, I made a decision to accept the fact that life is not always fair, and that I would have to pivot and make some creative changes. I might not be right, but if I trusted myself, I would be doing what my heart told me to do. I embraced the scary new world of setting up home delivery to my customers. I am not the most organized person, so I had to master a new habit that scared me, and that would require me stepping outside my comfort zone. I had to be organized. It was a necessity for my businesses to survive.
We are in a time where change and organization need to happen on a grand scale for the soul of our country to survive. Things simply must change and change now. I know that I do not and cannot understand how a large part of this country feels. George Floyd was my age. We grew up in the same decades, in the same country but I still found myself, midway through my forties, never once being worried I would be arrested or even killed for the simple act of needing to pee somewhere inappropriate.
Several weeks ago, about two weeks before the events in Minneapolis, I started doing home beer deliveries, with the exceptionally talented Lewi Longmire, co-owner of the Laurelthirst, and an insanely talented musician in tow. For twenty bucks, all of which goes toward keeping the Laurelthirst going, you get a mini set of live music in your driveway. The deliveries are zero human contact and are meant to bring a little light back into the world. I did not know Lewi very well when I approached him about the idea. I was nervous it would be too weird. It has turned out to be a success. I would like to think it has been a success for him as well. What I am most proud of abut this project is the joy it has brought to our customers, and that the seed of that idea is morphing into his own mobile concert series. The collaborative aspect is what I find special. He had to trust me, and I had to trust him.
I have no idea how we go forward as a nation. I have no idea how we reach out to each other and trust each other in order to bring about new collaborative efforts that result in real change. I think its going to be harder than we can imagine, but we simply must adapt and change now. There is no other option. Just as we have all had to stop and reassess our business models and our livelihoods in order to survive, we need to reassess our entire system, we need to move forward. I have no grand advice, and I am not competent or educated enough to know the way forward. Its going to require us to trust ourselves to change, and make quick, scary changes for the survival of our human family.
I hoped to have some advice for my industry friends who are navigating the new world we operate in. When I started writing this two weeks ago it was a different world. I do not have much advice, other than to say to be thankful we have such a talented, passionate group of world class brewers to help make our lives easier. I have always been proud of the fact that Beer is a universal equalizer, or at least I believed that. Remember we have a passionate following of loyal customers who believe in spending their money locally, and who want to have us on the other side of this as much as we want to see them. And remember that “normal” was never a real thing. The “new normal” we get to help shape will depend on how hard we work at trusting each other to make changes.
Brian Koch is the owner of the Lombard House in St Johns, which will celebrate its fourth anniversary in September. Originally from Pennsylvania, Brian spent time working at several Portland breweries including The Commons and Upright. He lives with his wife and daughter in North Portland.