File photo.

 

When restaurants reopened in June, breweries rushed to open COVID-safe beer gardens in partnership with local food vendors, but had no idea they would be shutting down indefinitely mere weeks later. Now with LA’s craft beer industry on the brink of bust, Santa Monica Brew Works and Surfridge Brewery are fighting for the right to participate in outdoor dining.

Both companies strongly support the Save LA Brewers Campaign, launched by the LA Brewers Guild on Monday. This email and social media campaign urges the County Board of Supervisors to let breweries operate outdoors with third party food vendors, as they are allowed to do in all 57 other counties. Breweries in L.A. were allowed to open on June 1, but those without their own kitchens were ordered to shut down again on June 29th when the County rolled back reopening in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“When they shut down the second time they classified us as bars all of a sudden. They didn’t tell us why and they didn’t give us an explanation,” said Steve Leiberman, the co-owner of Surfridge Brewery in El Segundo and owner of West 4th and Jane gastropub in Santa Monica. “They just said ‘oh breweries can’t open unless you have a health department permit attached to your address’, but breweries are zoned for manufacturing. We’ve always used food vendors food trucks, and taco guys.”

Many craft breweries derive the majority of their profits from in-person visits and make the rest of their money from vendor sales and online orders. Of the 90 members of the L.A. Brewers Guild only 20 operate their own kitchen and are therefore allowed to provide outdoor service. The other 70, that typically partner with catering companies or food trucks, have had to halt all in-person service after many of them invested thousands in building outdoor dining spaces in line with COVID safety restrictions.

“They don’t really understand what a brewery is. They see us more as a bar more than a restaurant. We’re not a bar. In fact, I think we’re safer than most restaurants because of our size and our layout,” said Scott Francis, the Co-Founder, President & CEO of Santa Monica Brew Works. “If you’re going to do things like this and limit activity, do it in an educated way and do it in a fair way. I felt like they did it in a way that was arbitrary and capricious.”

In June, Santa Monica Brew Works briefly operated an outdoor dining space by partnering with a local pizza vendor. Extensive safety restrictions were put into place including socially distanced tables, temperature checks, no groups of over six people, mandatory masks, disposable menus and dining ware, symptom checks, and designated entry and exit points. During its 20 days of operation the Beer Garden & Tasting Room provided 70 percent of Santa Monica Brew Works’ gross revenue.”

“We really did everything we could to make people feel safe and be healthy. And I will tell you that almost every one of our customers commented on that. People who wouldn’t leave their house and go elsewhere ventured to our brewery and kept coming back those three weeks,” said Francis.

Prior to the pandemic 70 percent of Surfridge’s business came from in person visits. When L.A. County entered Phase 2 reopening on June 1, Surfridge invested around $10,000 in PPE and outdoor equipment to set up an outdoor dining space for locals to enjoy beer and tacos from a food truck partner.

These brewers argue that the County’s restrictions are not only hurting the owners and staff, but also their food vendor partners and the many local organizations and residents that are part of the brewery community.

“We’re all very family friendly, dogs are allowed, kids are allowed. It’s a place for the community and a lot of the breweries are giving back money into their communities and doing charity events,” said Lieberman.

“All of our beer names and artwork represent the place where our beer is made in Santa Monica. We support local charities, we celebrate neighborhood businesses, and we partner with the Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Monica Travel and Tourism Bureau. We really provide a gathering place for the community,” said Francis.

For the past week these two brewers, alongside other members of the LA Brewers Guild, have been sharing the Save LA Brewers Campaign on their social media with links to send emails to L.A. County Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl, and Janice Hahn. They fear that if a change in policy is not enacted soon, many of L.A.’s craft brewers will no longer be able to pay the overhead to operate their large brewing facilities and will have to shutter doors permanently.

Clara@smdp.com