There’s a constant stream of news around reopenings, from workplaces and beaches to hair salons and entire countries. But few plans are as complex as those surrounding the food-and-beverage industry, one of the harder hit sectors in these months of Covid-19-driven shutdowns.
Much talk has focused on bars and restaurants and the complicated geometry required to reopen safely. But what of the food-and-drink-centered businesses, many of them aimed at travelers, that fall outside that purview? These wineries, breweries, distilleries, farm stays, food halls, cooking classes and food tours, face similar challenges with added factors, including changing rules across state lines, and business plans that predominantly cater to out-of-towners.
We asked several of these businesses around the United States how they’re pivoting to reopen now and in the weeks and months ahead.
“The Crick has always been a community space where people connect with each other,” said Bertony Faustin, the winemaker and owner of Abbey Creek Vineyard in Oregon, whose tasting room is called The Crick. “We’re about hip-hop, wine and chill, in that order.” He said he hopes to do the same thing, with fewer people.Credit…The Crick
Outdoor seating, reservations-only
Wineries, breweries and distilleries are attempting to reimagine the tasting-room experience. For many, that means moving operations outdoors.
Flowers Vineyard in Sonoma County, Calif., known for its coastal chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is utilizing its outdoor space for a largely “touchless” experience. Wineries received approval from the county to reopen starting May 23, provided that groups are limited to six people, social distancing rules are followed and food is served. Flowers, which reopened June 12, is offering new tasting packages that include paired “provisions” boxes from nearby Sonoma County restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Single Thread.
Guests make advance reservations for two-hour windows, prepay online and are greeted by a mask-wearing host “from a safe distance,” explained the general manager, Stephanie Peachey. “You’ll be guided to your designated patio seating. At each person’s table, you’ll have a bottle of wine, an ice bucket, if needed, and food pairings from our restaurant partners.”
Starting in July, the Flowers team is planning to offer a more traditional tasting experience, in which a flight of three wines are poured by an employee, also wearing a mask. But bottle service will remain an option for those who are uncomfortable with that degree of contact.
The winery anticipates that it will be able to host about 12 groups at a time, with tables seating two to six people. “We’re trying to figure out how we can provide a low-contact experience that’s still meaningful,” said Ms. Peachey.
Creating a meaningful experience that still captures the spirit of his brand is front-of-mind for Bertony Faustin, the winemaker and owner of Abbey Creek Vineyard. Based in North Plains, Ore., Abbey Creek’s tasting room, The Crick, was never centered around traditional wine tasting, with its family-style dinners and brunches, and monthly art nights featuring D.J.s and hip-hop performers.
“The Crick has always been a community space where people connect with each other,” Mr. Faustin said. “We’re about hip-hop, wine and chill, in that order.” He said he hopes to do the same thing, with fewer people.
Making use of the Crick’s outdoor patio, Mr. Faustin is planning on offering three reservations-only seatings on Saturdays and Sundays, for 20 to 25 people each. There will be a half-hour window between seatings, allowing time to wipe down surfaces and sanitize restrooms. This approach will also apply to Abbey Creek’s new tasting room in downtown Portland, which Mr. Faustin is opening in July.
Jester King Brewery, just outside Austin, Texas, is utilizing a similar, staggered reservation model to safely get guests placed and seated at its 165-acre brewery and ranch; it reopened on May 29.
“We have tables in our hopyard and vineyard, even by our goat pen,” said Jeffrey Stuffings, the founder and owner.
Guests book online for one of three two-hour sessions. Food and beer orders are also placed online and picked up at one of two tents. Everyone is requested to wear masks when not eating or drinking; all cups, utensils and food service items are disposable and compostable. Between each session, the brewery sanitizes tables.
One thing that isn’t in the cards yet, said Mr. Stuffings, are tours of the brewing operation and farm.
The distillery’s dilemma
Tours are also proving to be a hurdle for the distilling community.
“Distilleries want to protect their workers as much as possible,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. Tours, he said, are generally up close and personal, and may not be worth the risk. Some larger distilleries, including Angel’s Envy, plan on reducing tour size, while others are suspending tours entirely, at least for the time being.
“The fear is that someone brings the virus into the production area on a tour, and our staff has to go into quarantine,” said Jay Erisman, a co-founder of New Riff Distilling. New Riff is planning on resuming tours this week on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays when the production team is not in the building.
In addition to requiring self-administered employee screenings, New Riff has rearranged its bottling line to ensure social distancing for workers. Its gift shop is open for on-premise sales to a limited number of guests at a time, with cashless payments and masked employees. Face masks are required for tours, and recommended in the gift shop. Tastings, with disposable cups, will follow soon.
Many of those strategies can be found in the 30-page plan put together by the group that runs the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tours, The Distiller’s Association, a collection of 37 distilleries organized in road-trip-friendly itineraries throughout the state. The organization got word that distilleries would be allowed to open gift shops with no on-site consumption on May 20, and on June 8 for limited tastings and tours. But according to Mr. Gregory, timelines are varying between individual distilleries.
“I know several of the larger distilleries are waiting to mid-June or later to ramp up again,” he said. Figuring out best practices is still a work in progress.
One thing that the distilleries are well stocked in? Hand sanitizer. “We make our own … heck, we sell the stuff!” Mr. Erisman said.
Transitioning to hand sanitizer production was a major initiative at Du Nord Craft Spirits, a microdistillery based in South Minneapolis and the first black-owned distillery in the United States. Run by a husband-and-wife team, Chris and Shanelle Montana, Du Nord produces vodka, gin and whiskey and has a cocktail room. The Montanas were starting to think about reopening midsummer when mass protests surrounding the death of George Floyd overtook the neighborhood.
“We are very involved in the South Minneapolis community and we wanted to play our part,” said Shanelle Montana. “We were handing out hand sanitizer and water to the crowd.”
As the protests continued, the Montanas began putting contingency plans in place, especially as violence increased. The warehouse space was broken into, but the resulting small fires were promptly extinguished by their sprinkler system. The cocktail room was spared — Ms. Montana believes that was because the employees wrote “black-owned business” on the space’s windows.
Ms. Montana is heartened by the support they have received from the community in cleaning up and repurposing the warehouse as a temporary food pantry. Their next steps are to renovate the building.
“We’re making sure that any space we have will be able to adapt to whatever Covid restrictions are required,” Ms. Montana said. Perhaps more pressing in their future plans is a commitment to reinvesting in their community and existing as a healing gathering space. “In some ways, we have a clean slate to reimagine what it could be.”
Cooking schools and tours: targeting locals
For BLVD Kitchen, which offers cooking classes, events and catering services in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, the immediate impact of Covid-19 and “Safer at Home” orders was devastating.
“Pretty much all of our lines of business disappeared overnight,” said the proprietor, Sharon Graves. BLVD Kitchen’s customers were primarily local and initial recovery efforts, including preparing and selling “Quarantine Cuisine,” targeted that base. But as offerings expanded to a regular roster of online cooking classes, so has the geographic diversity of BLVD’s clients.
“It’s really enabled us to go beyond our neighborhood,” said Ms. Graves. “We have people from the Midwest, New York and San Francisco.”
While Los Angeles is beginning to reopen, Ms. Graves is not eager to rush back into in-person cooking classes. For now, she is planning an in-person children’s camp in August.
One thing that might be a permanent change: the online curriculum. “I’m considering converting part of the kitchen into a studio for online learning,” Ms. Graves said. “It’s not quite the same as being here, but there is something magical about cooking together online.”
Culinary Backstreets, a publisher and culinary-tour business focusing on street food and small, family-run businesses, is similarly trying to find ways to expand its appeal to both locals and out-of-towners in its 14 cities worldwide. Currently, the company is hoping to apply what it has learned from efforts made in European cities in more advanced opening phases to its business in New York City, which focuses on international food culture in Queens.
One new initiative is their “Save Your Seat” donation program. In Queens, the culinary tour leader Esneider Arevalo is working on nonperishable food boxes from businesses in the borough that will be available for shipping throughout the United States.
When tours resume — hopefully, later this summer — they’ll be available on a private basis to start, with adjustments made to avoid restaurants at peak times and keep everyone outside as much as possible.
But this fragmented reopening just isn’t worth it for all business owners.
“I’m not interested in just having four or five people on a tour, or trying to resume business until it’s safe. I’m going to be on the conservative side,” said Lynn Jaynes, the founder of Tastebud Tours, which operates in Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans.
According to Tiffany Jaynes Black, Mr. Jaynes’ daughter and Tastebud’s director of sales and marketing, the company is tentatively resuming business in August or September, but that may be “wishful thinking.”
At Eataly, relying on backup plans
Like Culinary Backstreets, the Italian marketplace Eataly will look to its European locations for insights; its market halls in Italy and Germany have recently opened their restaurants for dine-in business.
“The valuable insights we learn from these reopenings will support our U.S. stores on how to open operationally, with increased social distancing and sanitary measures,” said Nicola Farinetti, Eataly’s global chief executive officer.
While indoor restaurants, food counters and cooking classes remain closed at locations in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, Eataly’s marketplaces have remained open throughout shelter-in-place (Eataly Las Vegas, in a Park MGM property, has remained closed) and restaurants at Eataly locations in Boston and Los Angeles have opened for outdoor dining.
The built-in diversification of Eataly’s business model has not only given the business a leg to stand on, it’s provided, “a lifeline for many small, Italian and local artisanal producers,” Mr. Farinetti said.
Farm stays: back to the basics
The ability to rely on a core business is the raison d’être of the farm-stay business — the hospitality sector might offset a bad farming year, and vice versa.
“Farming is always risky,” said Scottie Jones, the owner of Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore. “What’s happened for a lot of us this year is that their hospitality has crashed, but the farming sector has picked up, thanks to requests for goods.”
Ms. Jones has been offering farm stays since 2007. Her cottage and a farmhouse tend to be booked by families, the majority from Seattle, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
While all of her guests canceled in March and April — lambing season, usually a busy time — Ms. Jones has received multiple calls for reservations in the summer and fall. But despite the rapid clip of incoming reservations, and new initiatives like locally delivered lamb boxes, Leaping Lamb lost about $30,000 in business this spring.
It’s far from alone. Ms. Jones, the founder and executive director of the U.S. Farm Stay Association, recently conducted a survey of the impact of Covid-19 on business. Of the 71 responses (out of 130 members), Ms. Jones observed that about 60 percent have not seen reservations pick up since restrictions began to loosen in recent weeks. She speculates that the ones suffering the most are larger ranches that attract out-of-state or international guests that stay for weeks at a time.
The fact that the vast majority of Ms. Jones’s customer base is within driving distance has made for a faster road to recovery. She hosted her first guests in mid-May, with some key changes.
“When we take people to their unit, we’re wearing masks. After that, it’s kind of up to them,” she said, noting that the expansiveness of the farm is helpful in maintaining social distance.
Ms. Jones has recently had guests at both the cottage and the farmhouse simultaneously (the buildings are more than 500 feet apart). She has rescinded her cancellation policy, and in general, guests can expect 24- to 96-hour windows between stays.
And she is still letting everyone help with the chores, separately. “We’re in big open spaces! I can pretty easily point at some hay and say, ‘Go feed the horses.’ But it’s certainly different,” she said. “My business tends to be more around hugs, walking close, holding hands with the kids. We’re leaving our guests alone more.”
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation.