Kelowna is in the news this week, and not in a good way. But for every local story about poor choices, there are stories of those who are trying to do their best to cope with COVID responsibly. Here’s a refreshing beer-flavoured example.
BNA Brewing Co. operates a combination Brewery (with tasting room) and adjacent full Eatery in a historic downtown Kelowna building. It’s been a solid gathering space and a good community member since 2015; the brewery turned five years old at the beginning of June. For a while, it looked like the virus might rob BNA of this long-planned anniversary, but the word came down from Dr. Henry in the nick of time and a (more modest) post-reopening celebration became possible.
COVID is not only potentially deadly to humans; it kills businesses as well. For the story of how BNA has managed to survive the pandemic, we turn to Marketing Director Jill Jarrett, who shares some compelling, candid insights into the initial shock and despair; the challenges in receiving government support; and the need for self-control on the part of the very clientele that BNA depends on for survival.
COVID Chronology: BNA's lockdown timeline
Covid Q&A with Jill Jarrett of BNA Brewing Co.
When the shutdown hit in March, how badly were you affected at first?
Badly. Having just completed a large tasting room expansion, we were frankly just lost. Almost everything we had invested into this business was aimed at having people in our space. It definitely felt like we had the rug pulled out from under us.
I guess the overarching sense was lack of control, with feelings of guilt, helplessness, and being overwhelmed.
At the time, BNA encouraged any interested followers to sign the Save Small Business petition. How did the federal support program work out for you?
It was a frustrating time as we were encouraged to pivot, but to what? And with what money? Frankly we have fallen through almost every crack there is to fall through, and are digging ourselves out of a hole we didn’t create. Relying on the government is not a fun position to be in as a business.
Once we were allowed to open up again, we felt like we had something to work with…although now that’s being threatened by folks being careless and/or irresponsible. I just hope everyone is adjusting as new [COVID infection rate] information arrives.
What was demand like for you during the lockdown? How much did you shift to retail, packaging and online sales?
We did try to encourage home deliveries, and had some success with this. Like most others, we scrambled to get an online shop up & running. We’re definitely keeping it going, as there are many who don’t feel safe to venture out yet and they still need good beer! We only have one guy and one van though, so our range is pretty local.
We’ve had many customers ask for staff to remove their masks — Jill
How have things gone with reopening? What was the most inconvenient aspect?
Both the Tasting Room and the Eatery are now back open, and operating as normally as is possible. Of course there are extra sanitization procedures and distancing measures in place, but we’re thankful to be able to welcome people for a beer and a good meal.
Things have been a bit rocky. We’re trying to balance what guests want vs. what’s best for them while keeping our staff safe. For instance, we’ve had many customers ask for staff to remove their masks.
I do feel like so much is being put on operators. We can set everyone up for success by spacing tables, providing santizer, and all that good stuff, but after that it feels like we’re babysitting people. Reminding them to keep their group small, to keep their distance from others, to go the heck home if they’re feeling sick. I wouldn’t say any of it is inconvenient, it’s just a lot.
Tourism is back in the Okanagan. How is traffic for you?
We’re of course grateful for the tourism, and Dr. Henry has said it’s okay, however I think the people coming into our community are keeping a lot of locals at home. Of course there are responsible and respectful tourists, but unfortunately there are also many that act as though because they are on holiday, so is coronavirus, and obviously that’s not the case.
What’s your policy around growlers and refills?
More or less the same as it’s always been. We are accepting growlers for refill, although now instead of just rinsing the inside of the bottle, we do spray a bit of sanitizer in there before we rinse. Taps, caps, and everything else gets the same treatment. The other major difference is the filler wears a mask.
Have you managed to keep many of your staff employed during this time?
Now that we are back open, yes; we are close to being back to pre-pandemic levels. It feels good to have our crew back in the building doing what we do best.
We all need to learn to live with this virus. With re-opening, it’s inevitable that we’re going to see more cases. We have to continue to make the smart decisions that allowed us to re-open in the first place.