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General Manager Brianna Long Offers Insight for Fans of The Industry

Pitt Street Brewing Company (PSBC) is one of 8,000-plus active craft breweries in the United States. The COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on craft breweries across the nation. The full scope of the challenge became apparent on St. Patrick’s Day, which is normally a blowout for most brewery sales. Instead it was filled with uncertainty, as North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper ordered bars and restaurants to close dine-in services in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

“The closure was anticipated, but the reality was a bit harder to swallow,” said Brianna Long, General Manager of PSBC. “We had already set up a beer pickup system. A lot more was uncertain during that period as this was unprecedented territory,” Long said.

“March and April are typically filled with spring beer releases, celebrations and parties in our backroom, and finally being able to enjoy our great outdoor spaces again. Unfortunately, that did not happen this year,” she said.

Long reports that on any given month the brewery sees 50%-75% of revenue come from the taproom. Therefore, the forced closure of dine-in service forced craft brewing companies like PSBC to adapt their business model with one major consideration in mind: the responsibility to keep consumers and employees safe. Curbside pickup, delivery, and an increase in distribution became the answer.

Closed taprooms mean fewer kegs and more canning. PSBC does not have its own canning line, so it must contract out that work, which means lower margins on that product.

“We have the means to keg our own beer and see a higher return on keg vs. package beer,” Long said. PSBC has a strong relationship with many groceries and bottle shops in Eastern North Carolina, which Long said has been “a light in the dark for us.”

A canning day is loud, long, and hard work for PSBC brewhouse staff. What follows are day-in, day-out deliveries for the PSBC sales team. “Without the dedication of Cam Medina, Darrien King, Travis Barnes, Jaime Garcia, Zack Harris – and Taproom Manager Mary Ann Ricks, the girl who’s been keeping your beer organized and social media updated – we simply wouldn’t be able to function,” Long said.

At first, PSBC had to furlough all of its servers and some full-time staff. “It was a very sobering and humbling experience,” Long said. “I want the best for my employees and co-workers. We worked hard to stay in communication with them as we looked at this period as only temporary.”

Now, most of the servers are back at work, including Stephanie Hall, Armando Gonzalez, Brandon Becker, Peyton McCruder, Lucas Weaver, Haley Kidney, Jeloni Harris, Julian Lopez, Taryn Sutton, and Peter Ramirez, as PSBC operates under a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan.

“Currently, growler sales are the highest profit item for PSBC,” Long said. “We have been able to pivot by adding more package product to our offerings, but we are very grateful to the community for those who come out to the brewery to pick up growlers to go.”

PSBC has been practicing a strict sanitation process to ensure the safety of guests and employees as to-go beer is purchased. According to Long, staff is sanitizing every step of the way. When employees arrive, their temperatures are checked before they can begin working. Gloves and masks are worn by employees when handling any beer product or package. Pens and clipboards used in curbside and delivery service are sanitized after every use.

“We want to be sure we are doing our part to flatten the curve while still operating business,” Long said.

The Brewers Association (BA), the trade and educational association for small and independent craft brewers, has done its part to support craft breweries by offering a variety of resources on their website. Additionally, the BA is lobbying with other associations to address challenges in the PPP loan that would benefit craft breweries.

The NC Craft Brewer’s Guild has formed several initiatives to support the craft brewing community as well. One in particular is the COVID-19 NCBEER Finder, which is a list of NC breweries that are offering curbside pickup or delivery.

“The NC Craft Brewers Guild has been tremendous in communicating with their members,” Long said. “We receive almost a daily email on what is happening in our industry in North Carolina. We appreciate their leadership during this time.”

Most importantly, PSBC wants to thank the community for its support during this difficult time. PSBC would not be what it is today without our supporters. We know you are anxious to get out, off of the couch, and back on to a Pitt Street barstool. We miss all of you and hope to see you soon. When we can reunite with you over a nice cold pint, we promise that we will do our best to make your brewery experience safe.